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.