Tag Archives: women’s suffrage

Suffrage pageants were cutting edge for their time

Hazel MacKaye (shown above) was riding high in 1914 when her pageant, “The American Woman: Six Periods of American Life” was performed at the Seventy-first Regimental Armory (sponsored by the New York City Men’s League for Equal Suffrage). This cutting-edge production milked the potential when combining drama and social commentary. Grandmother Edna Kearns was involved, not only in the event’s organization, but also the performance. Historians now note that women’s pageants shifted to beauty contents in the years following the suffrage movement. In their time, though, suffrage pageants were less confrontational than parades and demonstrations. And they were an emotional training ground for later forms of protest, such as picketing the White House.

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Forty barefoot maidens in a suffrage victory dance

Edna Kearns documented as well as participated in the suffrage movement in the New York City area. She wrote for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the Brooklyn Times and many Long Island papers. She’s shown here in a news photo, fourth from the left, in an article describing the performers in the 1914 Armory pageant. Edna noted in pencil on the clipping that she had written the article, not unusual because she was press chair for many events and campaigns. And she submitted copy to many newspapers that was printed with and without her byline. Lulu Kearns, my grandmother Wilmer Kearns’ sister from Beavertown, PA, is noted in the article as a pageant participant!

I love the part describing the “forty beautiful maidens in a final dance of victory.”

Putting their bodies on the line: Suffragettes arrested!

There came a time in the American, as well as the English woman’s suffrage campaigns, when it became obvious that without bolder action, progress couldn’t be made.

A BBC audio recording of nine minutes made in 1946 features suffragette Ada Flatman speaking about risking arrest for the suffrage campaign in England. This first-person account by a very proper English woman is not only a delight to listen to, but an insight into how the more traditional advocacy of lobbying and education hadn’t worked in London, and the movement had moved to a new level of pressure. Recent BBC coverage of the English suffrage movement raises the question of whether or not the current British government should apologize for the acts of a past administration. The commentary shows the way in which history remains a present-day consideration.

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Men joined the bandwagon for Votes for Women

Whether or not the remarkable response from men for suffrage was expected back in 1914 isn’t clear. However, this article published in the New York Herald about the huge suffrage pageant at the Armory documents a growing and more influential suffrage movement.  The article noted that support from men had grown significantly in the previous three years and how enthusiastic men had stepped forward to be patrons of the Armory ball and pageant. Even children, including little Serena Kearns, were part of the production, as well as other children of the period. As the article shows below, my grandparents demonstrated their support as patrons.

Support for suffrage pageant from many quarters

Valentine’s Day stories about suffrage, PLUS a composer who used a toothbrush to conduct a song!

The Brits have come through royally with their recent media coverage of the English suffrage movement. Especially with the first broadcast of audio interviews of suffragettes recorded back in 1977 by prominent British historian Brian Harrison. This past weekend’s BBC radio special,  “The Lost World of the Suffragettes,” reveals the character, political context, and personalities of these gutsy activists. This coverage adds much to the rich collection of Votes for Women stories.

The BBC television pieces entitled Christabel Pankhurst: “I wanted to assault a policeman”  and another recent segment called “Fight to clear Derby suffragette Alice Wheeldon’s name” are worth the five minutes or so you’ll spend watching. The BBC news magazine even has an article raising the question of whether or not the English suffragettes were regarded as terrorists in their day.

Note the valentine illustration above by American artist Ellen Clappsaddle. There’s no doubt where she stood on the issue of Votes for Women!

Stories of the suffrage movement can also tickle your funny bone. A favorite of mine is about the well-known British composer, Dame Ethel Smyth,  imprisoned for the suffrage struggle in England. When serving time in Holloway prison, Smyth leaned out of her cell and used her toothbrush to conduct the suffragettes in the prison yard singing “The March of the Women,” the work Smyth composed.

You can hear Smyth’s own voice on a special podcast from the BBC. Come on, now. This podcast is only three minutes long. Painless. And don’t forget that Susan B. Anthony’s birthday is February 15th! This link to the Susan B. Anthony Day notes the opposition to it becoming a national holiday though Susan’s day is observed or celebrated officially in several states.

We are surrounded by greatness. Do you hear the suffrage call?

I love it when examples pop up on the web where the suffrage legacy of our ancestors is cited. Kristi Rendahl says this in her Op Ed piece about her suffragist great-grandmother:

“My great-grandmother is but one example of strength. I surround myself with pictures and memories of family members–men and women alike–who have shown might in times of distress. I serve food on my mom’s trays and use my grandmother’s silverware at meals. I play from my great-aunt’s songbooks on my grandmother’s piano. I drink wine from my aunt’s wine glasses. I sleep in my grandparents’ bed. I hang my great-aunt’s artwork on my wall. I listen to music on my grandfather’s Edison player. I soak up the journalled memories of my pioneer great-grandmother.

“I am never alone, because they and an army of love and wisdom are behind me. Anything I encounter will not surpass their stories. Anything I conquer will be because of the lessons they’ve taught me. And we are all enveloped in this greatness, if we remember to see it and let it feed the core of our being. Do you hear the call? Do you hear my great-grandmother saying ‘no’ to injustice? Do you hear your own conscience saying that there are some things that are simply not acceptable?”

Edee Lemonier speaks about her grandmother being bundled up to be carried to a Votes for Women demonstration in downtown Chicago featured in this New Agenda point of view.

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How could a wealthy woman like Alva Belmont be a radical Votes for Women advocate?