Here’s my grandmother, Edna Kearns, dressed as an aviator. The photo could be interpreted as quaint and perhaps a bit old-fashioned. Underlying the outfit is the message that women had decided they could wait no longer for the vote as they’d been asked to do before the Civil War. They would no longer cooperate. They would no longer submit to second-class citizenship. They would no longer be obedient to the status quo.
There were tens of thousands of down-to-earth and up-in-the-air activists like grandmother Edna. Perhaps your grandmother or great-grandmother was on the suffrage bandwagon too. This wasn’t a fad. It was a shared understanding that without the consent of half of the population, things would have to change.
When reading through Edna’s scrapbooks and clippings, I’m finding many examples of dramatic tactics. Such as Long Island suffragists who milked cows to attract attention to the movement. They flew airplanes and distributed Votes for Women literature from the air. It was critical to keep the issue of Votes for Women alive so the movement didn’t die on the vine. This wasn’t a remote possibility. The suffrage movement started with a bang in 1848. By 1900, people described the movement as in the “doldrums.”
This was another way of saying that collective begging and “pretty please” no longer worked. What began with polite persuasion developed into accelerating forms of protest. When parades no longer did the trick, some segments of the movement moved on to non cooperation (including boycotts of political candidates and parties), and then, bolder and more dramatic stands, such as picketing the White House.
See article from Edna’s collection from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. This particular piece describes women turning a Long Island airport over to a demonstration that sounds almost like a movement pajama party. The event didn’t exist in isolation. In the context of demonstrations like it across the nation, the suffs sent a clear message to those in charge. They weren’t about to give up.
Photos: Edna as aviator from the collection of Edna Buckman Kearns. Vintage photo from the public domain.
Alice Paul, suffragist.
This week U.S. Congressman Joe Baca (D-Rialto) re-introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to award the Congressional Gold Medal to suffragist Alice Paul. The Alice Paul Women’s Suffrage Congressional Gold Medal Act officially recognizes Paul’s role in the women’s suffrage movement and in advancing equal rights for women. Make sure your congressional representatives are aware of this legislation, that they support it, and move it forward to passage.
Rep. Baca first introduced legislation to award Alice Paul the Congressional Gold Medal in 2005. His legislation garnered near unanimous, bipartisan support in the 110th Congress with 406 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. This is the most co-sponsor support in history for any Congressional Gold Medal act. Unfortunately, the legislation was not brought up for a vote in the U.S. Senate. Since then, Rep. Baca has reintroduced the legislation in both the 111th Congress and the current 112th Congress.
Alice Paul spearheaded the effort to pass the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting all American women the right to vote. Her courage inspired thousands of women to join the women’s suffrage movement. She was among the first group to ever picket the White House and later embarked on a three-week hunger strike with her fellow suffragists when they were arrested for their cause. Alice Paul drafted the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923 and fought tirelessly for its passage until her death in 1977.
Rep. Jon Runyan (R-NJ), who represents Paul’s home state of New Jersey in the U.S. Congress, is the lead Republican sponsor of the legislation.
“History Detectives” was a great way to begin the week, along with Louise Bernikow’s article for the Women’s Media Center about this deep dark hole of our history. You can watch the “History Detectives” show online after the fact.
Part of the thrill of doing this work is when my grandmother Edna Kearns speaks to me, when I can hear her voice above the noise and chatter of present day. Above all, she’s saying, “Don’t give up. Lucretia Mott took a lot of flack in her day from people who said she wanted too much too soon. And take Susan B. Anthony as an example. Ridiculed often, she never wavered from her goal.” Hefty advice for the days when we feel overwhelmed, isolated, discouraged. Hang in there, says Grandmother.
Notes pioneer women’s historian Anne Firor Scott: “It is worth trying to understand the past because in the process of doing so one learns so much about the possibilities and mysteries of human existence at the same time one is learning how partial and incomplete is even the most careful reconstruction of lives, events, and social movements. Sometimes I am willing to say, with Leonard Woolf, The Journey Not the Arrival Matters.” (From Making the Invisible Woman Visible.)
Anne Firor Scott’s interview with North Carolina Public Radio commentator Frank Stasio is worth a listen. Scott speaks about her life, women’s history, teaching and her perspective on the current state of affairs in the world. She reminds us that scholars and history buffs aren’t escapists in the sense that we prefer to live in the past instead of the present. Rather, we reach out to bridge the past with the present and extract the lessons meant for us today.
Posted in 19th amendment, 60-Second History Lesson, Edna Buckman Kearns, suffragette, suffragist, Susan B. Anthony, Votes for Women, voting rights, woman's suffrage, Women's Suffrage, women's history
The suffragists took risky actions in the name of Votes for Women. They did almost anything, just like I’m shamelessly promoting Tuesday’s “History Detectives” program (PBS, 8-9 p.m.) to spread the word about our exciting suffrage history. The 1909 climb to the top of Mt. Rainier also has a food angle because these same women published the Washington Women’s Cookbook. See also my most-recent posting for BUST.
The suffs acted fearlessly, not only to keep the issue of voting alive, but also to send the message that they wouldn’t give up until reaching their goal. One of my favorite stories is about a suffragist —Elizabeth Smith Miller— who planned to train a green parrot to belt out Votes for Women slogans. Miller died before she could carry out her plan. Winning the vote for women was uphill, just as it is challenging today to bring suffrage history into the crowded marketplace and compete for people’s attention.
Here’s another segment from the “Votes for Women Salon” audio interview with Louise Bernikow who’s one of the historical consultants for the “History Detectives” segment. Louise talks about the support for suffrage on the grassroots, which is what Yvonne Crumly’s grandmother Addie represents in the “History Detectives” segment. If you can’t watch the “History Detectives” post, check in with Suffrage Wagon News Channel for a link in the next post so you can watch at your convenience!
Though the term “blog” didn’t come into use until 1999, it’s just like me to tell folks that Grandmother Edna blogged suffrage news and reported it much like a citizen journalist would today. Edna wrote columns, press releases and was suffrage editor for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. She served as press chair for suffrage campaigns and had relationships with every news editor on Long Island.
Grandmother participated in suffrage events and then she raced home to write about the experience. The outcome wasn’t instant like a blog would be, but it was as fast as could be expected back then. A few women like Ishbel Ross and Emma Bugbee broke into writing through the suffrage movement. Check out this case study of Ross and Bugbee and how they got into “the exciting newspaper game.” The story of how Ross tracked down Mrs. Pankhurst led to her later comment about she owed her newspaper career to this front-page interview. Bugbee covered the 1914 march to Albany and the incident in front of the Metropolitan Opera in 1919 with Alice Paul and others where Grandmother Edna was smack in the middle of the fray.
While we’re waiting for the September 20th “History Detectives” program to air, I’m posting more audio comments from author and historian Louise Bernikow. Here, she speaks about the chronic forgetting of suffrage history.
Photo by Peter Norby.
It’s big news when the major media highlights anything to do with woman’s suffrage. The “History Detectives” show on September 20 (8-9 ET, PBS) is worth watching for the affirmation and charge you’ll get.
The 20-minute “History Detectives” segment highlights a Votes for Women banner that Yvonne Crumlish’s father gave her 30 years ago. The investigation provides an overview of the movement and delves into the story of how Yvonne’s grandmother Addie Blemly might have acquired the pennant and whether or not she was personally involved in the NYS suffrage campaigns. It was puzzling to Yvonne because her grandmother never mentioned anything the pennant. “History Detectives” took on the challenge.
I interviewed Louise Bernikow, one of the historical consultants for the segment, about the September 20th program and the general topic of suffrage history. Here’s a three-minute clip, the first of several on Suffrage Wagon News Channel. Louise is downright excited about the Votes for Women 72-year history. That’s the part I love.
Why was the suffrage movement in New York so important? Louise sums this up in a clip of four minutes that highlights how the 1917 victory was a tipping point for suffrage across the nation. In fact, when NYS women joined the fold of voters nationwide, it doubled the number of women qualified to go to the polls. But the goal of voting for ALL American women still must have seemed a stretch back then.
Louise photoshopped this great image for her Facebook page devoted to the September 20th program. Watch for other audio clips from Louise between now and then on this blog. And check out Louise’s web site.
Oregon’s 1912 victory for Votes for Women is bringing a lot of history out of the bottom bureau drawer. See excellent article, the web site devoted to the centennial — a “Century of Action” in Oregon — and the building momentum of awareness about the political potential of women voting today. The lives of Oregon activists such as Abigail Scott Dunaway (close friend of Susan B. Anthony) are highlighted in an audio program on Oregon public radio worth listening to. Discussions like this raise nagging contemporary questions about pay equity, affordable day care, paid maternity leave, women holding political office and much more.