I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but the snow’s lingering on the ground and one freezing day follows another. This is the time to listen to another installment of Doris Stevens and her first-person account of the suffrage movement. This isn’t a version written by a scholar years after the event. Doris was there in the thick of the action. And she tells the tale of what it was like to win Votes for Women, on the ground.
During my early years in elementary school, the suffrage movement had been summed up in a single sentence by my 8th grade social studies teacher who said: “And then in 1920, women were given the vote.” Even I knew that the teacher portrayed the accomplishment much differently than how it actually happened. Doris takes us along as she describes in Jailed for Freedom the tedious and persistent tasks engaged in by the suffragists. In this five-minute selection, Doris highlights how the suffragists lobbied U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. If they hadn’t persisted, the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution wouldn’t have been possible.
On this cold wintry night, treat yourself to this audio account by Doris that gives one respect for the hard work and sacrifice of tens of thousands of women, including grandmother Edna.
I grew up under the wing of my grandfather Wilmer R. Kearns (shown above) who told me all about Grandmother Edna who died years before I was born. One of Grandmother Edna Kearns’ forays into the world of citizen journalism was to cover a speech by Theodore Roosevelt and write it up in one of her columns. In the piece, Edna appealed to what she called “broad minded thinking men,” the very same men the suffs needed to reach for the upcoming 1915 New York State suffrage referendum. For someone like my grandfather Wilmer, it wasn’t easy marching in the men’s divisions of suffrage parades.
Being a presence in the community and monitoring public figures was part of the suffragists’ strategy. Edna’s 1914 article covering Roosevelt’s positions on issues relevant to women speaks volumes about working conditions back then, and it’s another example of grandmother Edna’s citizen journalism supporting the cause of Votes for Women.
Inez Milholland was beautiful, smart, courageous. She gave her life for our voting rights today after collapsing while on the campaign trail. She died shortly thereafter. Chances are, most people never heard of Inez Milholland. However, they may have seen photos of the magnificent woman on a horse leading the enormous 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, DC at the time of President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.
Inez Milholland is briefly featured in the HBO movie “Iron Jawed Angels.” Inez is representative of the suffragists’ style of mixing drama and beauty with their idealism. Parades were carefully planned to provide evidence of strength and determination as well as artistic impact. Suffrage activism inspired pageantry, poetry, art and music.
To Inez Milholland
By Edna St. Vincent Millay
Read in Washington, November eighteenth, 1923, at the unveiling of a statue of three leaders in the cause of Equal Rights for Women
Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more;—
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
Take up the song; forget the epitaph.
Not only did the suffragists march in huge parades, but in some events they even carried portable soapboxes (such as in the photo below) in the event an opportunity arose for them to stand up on a street corner and speak. It was a novelty for women to speak in public back then as Susan B. Anthony knew well. And it was equally daring to climb up on a soap box and speak for as long as a crowd gathered to listen. This took considerable courage. The suffragists had to duck water thrown on them and smile in the face of insults and worse. The men who marched in suffrage parades also faced jeers and insults. Critics accused them of tagging after the “girls.” One man anonymously wrote a book entitled How it feels to be the husband of a suffragette. It’s not only funny, but you get the point. And it’s free for the download.
Campaigning for Votes for Women in 1913
I’m hearing a lot about downsizing consumption this holiday season. This suggests a suffrage-themed gift could be in order. Yvonne Crumlish, whose grandmother Addie’s Votes for Women pennant was featured on “History Detectives” in September, tells me that she saw the HBO special “Iron Jawed Angels” for the first time this year. This could mean that “Iron Jawed Angels” is a potential gift idea for those becoming familiar with suffrage history, even though the HBO film has been around for a while.
Jennifer Hinton has suffrage theme gifts you can assemble yourself. Start with the upcoming holidays, a young woman’s 18th birthday, her 21st birthday, special occasions for someone of any age. And while you’re at it, plan a party around a suffrage theme during Women’s History Month.
Jennifer’s suggestions are clever, such as the “Forward into Light Gift Kit,” “Tea Time at the Pankhursts,” “Sojourner Truth Tub Soak” and more.
Lucretia Mott adored oolong tea. Elizabeth Cady Stanton made a point of mentioning this in her memoir, Eighty Years and More. So oolong tea is a special gift idea, especially when there’s great organic oolong tea available online.
How about a book about Lucretia Mott and a package of oolong tea to accompany it? The National Women’s History Project has a wide variety of books and gift items. The Susan B. Anthony House’s online gift shop features Alva Belmont’s reproduction tea set. Mrs. Belmont, an active supporter of the National Woman’s Party, built a tea house and held suffrage events there.
Planning a trip to Oregon in 2012? The state is celebrating 100 years of women voting and there’s a full program of activities and exhibits receiving considerable web attention.
Posted in 60-Second History Lesson, Edna Buckman Kearns, Long Island, New York State Woman Suffrage Association, New York State Women's History, Women's Suffrage, women's history
Tagged "Spirit of 1776", Edna Kearns, Mrs. Raymond Brown, suffrage movement, suffragists, Votes for Women, Women's History, women's suffrage
Oregon suffragists visit New York, 1912, from the Library of Congress collection. These women very much wanted to be seen, just as Oregon women today are gearing up for their anniversary of women voting in 2012. You can Twitter their events: Oregon Women Vote @CenturyofAction.
Edna knew that the women of New York were making history. And when a pageant was held at the Armory in New York City involving 500 performers and broad, vast and innovative subject matter, she made sure the news was spread through her writing.
Both Edna Buckman Kearns and daughter Serena Kearns were featured in the New York Herald’s April 1914 coverage of the event. Serena played a child, and Edna, a nurse. The production, “The American Woman: Six Periods of American Life” by Hazel MacKaye was not only ambitious, but it was considered a milestone in the suffrage movement’s production of pageants with significant social commentary. Inez Milholland played the woman of the future. Susan B. Anthony would have been proud.
This blog post is yet another episode of “The Adventures of Edna Buckman Kearns,” the news about her suffrage campaign wagon (now in the collection of the NYS Museum), and another example of how my grandmother dedicated her life to bring about Votes for Women. Stay tuned!
Suffrage leader Harriot Stanton Blatch cracks the whip
and tells activists “no more pink teas.”
The suffragists didn’t wait for the editors of big newspapers to recognize them. When it happened –great. But the suffs weren’t satisfied with sitting around and biting their nails. When the number of Long Island newspapers expanded at the turn of the 20th century, the women took advantage of it. Grandmother Edna Kearns was in the forefront of citizen reporters who generated a hefty amount of suffrage material to fill the news holes of local papers.
The suffs hit the ground running at a time in history when it took considerable effort for a woman to land a reporter’s job in a news room. So they documented their own news and distributed it. The South Side Observer, for example, set aside 500 extra copies of the suffrage special issue, which the women clipped and saved. Grandmother Edna was instrumental in collecting quotes for this special issue from prominent community members who favored Votes for Women.
Suffrage advocates also published their own newspapers and newsletters; they arranged with photographic agencies to cover their events. They lobbied editors for special issues, wrote letters to newspaper editors for publication, prepared and distributed their own press releases, wrote leaflets in a variety of languages for distribution among immigrant communities. When this wasn’t enough, they carried soapboxes into the street, stood up on them, and commanded the attention of anyone who passed by.
All of this constitutes sophisticated grassroots organizing. So, for those who believe that Saul Alinsky invented community organizing, history should be rewritten to say that he stood on the shoulders of the suffragists and others. The suffs operated from outside the political system and they were brilliant in finding ways to impact it.
Many suffragists not only worked for civil rights, but they also took stands for peace –not an insignificant position during World War I. Votes for Women wasn’t a single issue for many women in the suffrage movement. They may have worked for their own civil rights, but they viewed the struggle in a broader context. Here’s an excellent article about the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize that gives an overview of the award’s history and the significance of this year’s awards honoring three women. The piece points out the importance of women being involved in bringing about an end to armed conflict and how many peace efforts lack the participation of women altogether.
Concerned in 1913 that they might be criticized for being unproper, the suffragists laid down strict rules for marchers. See the article explaining how Mrs. James Lees Laidlaw didn’t like the looks of legs in a parade. “It looked very bad last year,” she explained, to see children’s long legs “bobbing” along. “This year we won’t allow any one in line whose skirt is more than four inches above the ground.”
Even children were on the speaking circuit to win votes for women –something important to remember. After spending “Suffrage Day” in 1914 organizing an automobile parade and open-air meetings, Brooklyn suffragists sent a Votes for Women appeal to President Woodrow Wilson by carrier pigeon. The NY Times covered the pigeon release. Grandmother Edna was busy speaking that day at Union Square Park in Manhattan. The article noted that when Edna spoke, she was accompanied by her ten-year-old daughter Serena Kearns. Edna wasn’t feeling well that day, but she dragged herself to the podium, as the article notes.
Other young girls, in addition to Serena, participated in the movement. On Suffrage Day in 1913, one such youngster (Dorothy Frooks) spoke from the podium to the hundreds of people gathered. According to the account, Dorothy had been on the suffrage speaking trail since the age of seven. The NY Times reported on another of Dorothy’s speaking engagements.
It wasn’t easy being married to a suffragist. Take the article below, for example, where men were jeered from the parade sidelines and one joker handed the male marchers an armful of weeds. My grandfather Wilmer Kearns marched in that 1911 parade. And he probably had something to do with the 1915 book I found in my grandmother Edna’s archives, How it feels to be the husband of a suffragette. It’s free for a download and is available as a Google book or on archive.org
The book is funny. It’s true. It’s a great reminder about the process of social change and where change meets resistance. The article below also points out another perspective –the crowds of people watching the Votes for Women parade and how it was an enormous attraction to see women out in the streets, exposing themselves to make their point. There came a time, of course, when parades became old news. But they served a useful purpose. May 1911. from the collection of Pamela Hobbs-Glackmeyer.