I heard the story about the Tennessee governor when I was young. Yes, in back in 1914 the governor of Tennessee listened to grandmother Edna Kearns’ suffrage speech in the rain. No one bothered to tell me where this happened. It could have been at Long Beach on Long Island for all I knew.
Even worse, I didn’t know enough to ask, but I got the message. The Tennessee governor was important. He listened to Edna speak. Therefore, my grandmother Edna must have been important. Not much to pass on in my storytelling, at least until 1oo years passed and the other day I delved into researching exactly what happened in November 1914.
I know nothing about what the delegates discussed at the National American Woman Suffrage Association annual conference in Tennessee where Edna served as a NYS delegate in the proceedings from November 2 to 17, 1914. But I know now that Long Island suffragist Rosalie Jones set up suffrage street speeches all over Nashville, the first time that street speaking for the suffrage cause had been tried in a Southern city. Edna Kearns put herself in the thick of the street corner action.
Edna Kearns, who’d made a reputation for herself back in New York as a popular suffrage speaker, captivated the attention of the Tennessee governor, Ben W. Hooper (1870-1957). He served the state from 1911 to 1915. His administration was so controversial, documents say, that armed guards were required in the state legislature. In 1920 the State of Tennessee legislature provided the final ratification vote to bring about the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So all of this Big Picture explanation is now viewed by me in retrospect.
It was a novelty for women to speak in pubic on Nashville, TN street corners 100 years ago. So Governor Hooper must have been fascinated to listen in the rain to a determined activist like Edna Kearns who didn’t fold up shop when the rain pelted the sidewalks. It was a big deal, just as I’d heard about as an impressionable youngster –and even more so now that I’m aware of the details. Back in New York in November 1914, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran a long article about the contingent of Long Island women who took Nashville by storm in November 1914. And we’re enjoying hearing about the details 100 years later.
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