“Just show up.” That’s the advice for us today in all aspects of our lives. It was the motto of the suffragists who used community events such as the county fair to show up and use the occasion to advocate for human rights.
Check out the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 22, 1915. What’s Edna Buckman Kearns up to now? She’s making her presence known at the Mineola Fair, and here’s what the Brooklyn paper had to say about it.
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.
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
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.
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.
Maude Malone at a 1914 suffrage meeting. Photo: Library of Congress.
When activist Maude Malone stood up at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in October of 1912 to interrupt Woodrow Wilson’s campaign speech on monopolies taking over the country, she yelled: “How about votes for women?” She then repeated her questioning: “You just said you were trying to destroy a monopoly, and I ask you what about woman suffrage? The men have a monopoly.” Wilson replied that this wasn’t an issue the national government needed to be concerned about. The suffragist continued: “I am speaking to you as an American, Mr. Wilson.” Although Malone was hauled off to jail, the incident didn’t go unnoticed.
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