Tag Archives: Edna May Buckman

The book that got Bess in trouble: Women’s suffrage storytelling special!

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On the street where Edna grew up in Philadelphia, her best friend Bess became an outsider compared to most of the other young women interested in marriage and starting a family at the turn of the 20th century. Bess insisted on remaining single because of the limited rights for married women. This caused considerable distress for Bess because she loved men and romance and fashionable dresses. But Bess drew the line in terms of what she’d have to sacrifice in terms of her freedom. And so in her mid teens Bess announced to family and friends that although she invited love and romance into her life, she drew the line at marriage.

MR. WEISS WANTED HIS DAUGHTER BESS TO CHOOSE MARRIAGE, NOT FREEDOM

In the larger world, Bess wasn’t alone. Many young women like Bess longed for choices and opportunities. Increasing numbers of them, like Bess, were in a position to receive an education paid for by their fathers. Mr. Weiss wanted his daughter to be the best possible wife for a man. This included becoming a clever conversationalist, someone skilled in household management, music and art –all of the skills and opportunities that could be acquired with a proper education. And so at home, Mr. Weiss caved into pressure from his wife and daughter for Bess to attend high school, an opportunity denied to most young women of that generation.

BESS RAIDED THE PUBLIC LIBRARY SHELVES FOR BOOKS BY WOMEN WRITERS

Suffrage Storytelling features tale about how Bess got in trouble with her parents! on Vimeo.

When Bess attended high school with her best friend Edna, Bess raided the public library shelves and borrowed books from teachers. She read radical women writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Margaret Fuller. Bess also heard stories about Lucretia Mott who turned the heads of old Philadelphia fogies with her radical abolitionist organizing. Many men quaked in their boots when hearing about the ways in which Lucretia Mott and her husband James Mott practiced equality in their marriage relationship. The word got around about how James played an essential role at the 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.

YOUNG WOMEN LIKE BESS WANTED TO LIVE A FULL LIFE & THIS GOT BESS IN TROUBLE

Young women like Bess traveled to New York City to witness for themselves the outrageous bells of Greenwich Village who strutted and pranced and showed off their liberated views about women’s equality and freedom. To her father’s dismay and regret, Bess turned out to be exactly what her father despised: an independent thinker, someone committed to remaining single and spending all her free time looking for cracks in the family’s armored existence. All of this came to a head when Mrs. Weiss found the book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft under Bess’ mattress in her bedroom.

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN WILMER KEARNS ENTERED THE PICTURE . . .

Young Edna Buckman followed in the footsteps of her best friend Bess and announced her intention not to marry. But this resolve was eroded when she met Wilmer Kearns at an art exhibit in Philadelphia. We’ll find out about how this disagreement about marriage impacted the friendship of Bess and Edna on “Suffrage Storytelling.” The ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft and other women writers weren’t taught in school during my youth. Today I find it fascinating to discover the impact they had on my grandmother Edna and other young women like Bess, as well as the previous generation of Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and many others.

COMING SOON: THE BOOK THAT GOT BESS IN DEEP TROUBLE WITH HER PARENTS. You’ll be able to experience the book yourself on audio.
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Suffrage Storytelling series to be launched at Suffrage Wagon Cafe on July 8, 2015

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Suffrage Wagon Cafe is introducing its women’s suffrage storytelling series on July 8, 2015. Are you subscribed? This long-awaited series links story to facts. People who follow the Suffrage Wagon love the details and how the cafe is opening its doors. Meet your friends at the Suffrage Wagon Cafe.

Check out past story videos and start following the adventures of Edna Buckman Kearns and Wilmer Kearns. Teachers and students who follow the suffrage wagon tell us that they love the facts best when delivered with story. And Bess is a rebel girl, someone who challenges her best friend Edna Buckman who’s determined to become an activist in the women’s suffrage movement. Bess views herself as an outsider, and she’s headed out into the world as a free independent woman. No marriage for Bess. But Edna had romance on her mind.

Links to Suffrage Wagon News Channel‘s updates and announcements: Our second year of telling the story of the July 4th co-conspirators. National award for “Spirit of 1776″ music video, plus other video highlights for women voters. Path through History weekend in NYS includes programs on women’s rights. Women’s history myth and free ebook, “Jailed for Freedom” by Doris Stevens. June special program from Suffrage Wagon Cafe about the perks of visiting Seneca Falls, NY. Get prepared for the upcoming “Suffragette” film from the UK by checking out the BBC series, “Shoulder to Shoulder.”

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Valentine’s Day Special: My grandmother Edna May Buckman loved Wilmer Kearns, but she didn’t want to get married!

Marguerite's Musings

Edna1914ArticleTennesseeby Marguerite Kearns

I’m not saying that my grandparents wore these particular coats shown below, but they certainly glanced at the winter styles and were, I suspect, influenced by the fashion.

The styles appear on the same page as an article about Grandmother Edna and her suffrage movement organizing and activities.

If I transpose my grandparents onto the couple in the newspaper, I imagine Edna thinking in 1915 that Wilmer turned out to be quite a supportive and loving husband.

BUT WHAT ABOUT EDNA’S DETERMINATION NOT TO MARRY?

In 1904 one of Edna’s letters to Wilmer Kearns (then working in NYC) described friends and family members’ puzzlement by the couple’s  infatuation with each other and they wondered if the relationship could be moving in the direction of becoming serious. After all, Edna had announced her intention not to marry early in her teenage years. And Wilmer and Edna came from very different backgrounds. Many young women, like Edna, preferred to be free and independent, unless, of course, they found the exceptional guy, which Wilmer turned out to be.

The conscious decision to remain single wasn’t all that unusual in the 19th and early 20th century. Edna’s childhood friend Bessie, for example, found support in other women, who like her, preferred to remain single. And this recent article from Massachusetts also documents the larger context. Edna’s friend Bessie at the turn of the 20th century was fascinated with the Cult of Single Blessedness, another variation of the same trend.

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Tennessee governor listened to suffragist Edna Kearns’ speech in pouring rain 100 years ago!

Story of Tennessee governor listens to Edna Kearns in pouring rainby Marguerite Kearns

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.

Marguerite's Musings with Marguerite KearnsEdna 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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“I walk on my suffragist grandmother’s carpet”: Marguerite’s Musings

Marguerite's Musingsby Marguerite Kearns

My writing space at home has two pieces of Oriental carpet –sections of the rug Grandmother Edna Kearns had in her home over 100 years ago. The carpet feels sturdy under my feet.  Though these remnants are now frayed and attract dog hair, I’d never expected this floor covering to have  lasted so long. But it has, just like the suffrage stories  Grandmother Edna passed down to me through my mother and of course, Edna’s own articles, stories and writings.

I can identify only a few things as having been touched by my grandmother. There’s the carpet, Edna’s tea tray, her silverware and letters, and suffrage archive. I walk on Edna’s carpet daily. Often I’m down on my knees tucking under frayed edges. When others mention how important it is to walk in other people’s shoes, I stand on Grandmother Edna’s carpet, listening to voices now faint (but growing louder) in this fast-moving world.

Suffrage stories are exciting. And they’re threatening. They’re a reminder of a time of grassroots organizing –people united in their determination to make change. We live in a time again of women rising, and at the same time, we are witnessing the last hurrah of a social system losing ground that no amount of legislation and other obstacles placed by backlash movements can change.

Grandmother Edna Kearns’ life has transformed me. The suffrage stories that have come down from her generation suggest the many ways in which it must have been a heady experience to have been involved in the suffrage movement. It represented a rush of sensation in a dead environment where education, marriage, political and personal power were limited, or for many, non existent. Women made many compromises, but the cat was out of the bag. Equality was on the horizon, and there was no turning back.

Women understood the value of working together, building constituencies, power and control through a nonviolent social revolution. As I walk on the carpet each day, I remember the legacy of our grandmothers and great grandmothers, as the power of their suffrage stories grow larger in spirit. The carpet’s surface is worn and beautiful in its strong threads.

Stay up to date with Marguerite’s Musings, plus news/views/stories  of the suffrage movement at the suffrage “go to place,” Suffrage Wagon News Channel.

Marguerite’s Musings: “Long Island and the Woman Suffrage Movement”

Marguerite's MusingsIf there’s a book that’s rocking the cradle of the women’s rights movement in NYS, it’s Long Island and the Woman Suffrage Movement by Antonia Petrash. The work was recently published by The History Press, and it adds volumes to what has been revealed in the past about what has happened out on the island.

Long Island historian Natalie Naylor has also covered a lot of ground going back to the earliest accounts of Long Island women; she touches on the suffrage movement, especially with her excellent research of suffrage activist Rosalie Jones. Antonia Petrash picks up on this and takes off with subject matter she clearly loves. An entire book featuring individual suffragists is an important contribution to what is known. Antonia approaches the subject as a journalist and storyteller, and she’s really good at what she does.

Long Island suffrage movementOf the 12 chapters featuring individual women in Long Island and the Woman Suffrage Movement, human interest abounds. The author hooks the reader on the individual activist and a particular tale –usually something with conflict and drama– before backtracking to telling about her birth and early years leading to contributions to the Votes for Women movement. Long Island claims some feisty and notable suffrage activists, including Alma Vanderbilt Belmont, Harriot Stanton Blatch, Lucy Burns, Elisabeth Freeman, Louisine Havemeyer, Rosalie Gardner Jones, Edna Buckman Kearns, Harriet Burton Laidlaw, Katherine Duer Mackay, Theodore Roosevelt, Ida Bunce Sammis, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, and others.

There’s a range of individuals from working women and grassroots activists, to wealthy women and high government officials who put themselves on the line. Antonia doesn’t claim that she has delivered a definitive survey of the Long Island suffrage movement. There’s a great deal more to say, Antonia points out, and this book is a welcome contribution, as well a delight and something worth adding to everyone’s Votes for Women library.

Antonia has her own blog about the Long Island movement. Check it out. She’s passionate about the Long Island suffrage activists. I captured some of her enthusiasm last year when I visited Antonia in Glen Cove, NY and documented some of her thoughts and comments about her work. Listen to her remarks from last year before the book’s publication. You’ll see what I mean.

Antonia’s book about Long Island suffrage movement (45 seconds). Highlights of work about Long Island suffragists (32 seconds). Edna Kearns’ contribution to suffrage movement on Long Island ( 44 seconds). The importance of New York’s suffrage movement (35 seconds). Why the suffrage movement story has been buried (39 seconds). The influential role of Long Island (NY) women (40 seconds). Celebrating the New York State suffrage centennial (42 seconds).  How Antonia became interested in the subjects of equal rights and suffrage (59 seconds). Two books Antonia wrote previously about extraordinary women in New York and Connecticut (56 seconds). Why the suffrage movement is inspiring. (60 seconds).

“Marguerite’s Musings” are a regular feature of Suffrage Wagon News Channel.

Bonded after wearing Grandmother Edna Kearns’ clothes: Marguerite’s Musings

MusingWagonby Marguerite Kearns

The first time I wore Grandmother Edna’s dresses, it was summer. I was about ten years old when we spent hours every day at the playhouse my father built –a small building in the back yard with green shingles on the roof and openings for windows Dad never finished.

My mother told me: “Here, go and play with Grandmother Edna’s dresses and her Votes for Women sashes.” I dug into the box. My brothers and younger sister weren’t all that interested in dress ups, so I had the cardboard box to myself with its musty-smelling thin fabric, lace, and flowing long skirts.

I marched in imaginary New York City suffrage parades and wrecked the dresses, tore and dragged them through mud. They’d been stored since Grandmother Edna’s death in 1934 –unwashed after she wore them. The sensation of dressing up like Edna never left me. Throughout life I’ve always loved high collars, long skirts, petticoats, and broaches worn at the neckline.

BONDED THROUGH WEARING EDNA’S CLOTHES

When my grandmother’s clothes touched mine, we bonded. I confided to Grandmother Edna Kearns in whispers, became convinced she worried about me and protected my secrets. My friends heard every story my mother told me about Edna’s horse-drawn wagon, the “Spirit of 1776,” how she wrote articles for New York City and Long Island newspapers, and marched in Votes for Women parades –especially the big one down in Washington, DC in 1913.

Edna’s archives fell into my hands in 1982. They’d been stored for years upstairs in my Aunt Serena’s closet. My mother and I sorted newspaper clippings and letters in an attempt to make sense of all this suffrage history. There were names of organizations I’d never heard of, plus events and speaking engagements spanning more than a decade from about 1911 through 1920.

GRASSROOTS ACTIVIST AT TURN OF 20TH CENTURY

Only years later did I recognize it as an archive of a grassroots suffrage activist at the turn of the 20th century. And then it became more than this. I learned about organizing for a cause as I sorted through Edna’s archives. Edna covered every inch of Long Island. In her free time, she participated in or organized events in New York City, such as a pageant at the Armory or being part of a suffrage program at the Metropolitan Opera. Though I’d never read Grandmother Edna’s writings all the years of storage in Aunt Serena’s closet, I was surprised to discover my own writing at the newspaper where I worked was almost identical in style to Edna’s. More than one person among my friends and family says I have Grandmother Edna in my DNA.

“Marguerite’s Musings” is a feature of Suffrage Wagon News Channel. 

Follow the Suffrage Wagon to stay up to date with news and stories of the suffrage movement. We’ve been highlighting events, suffrage centennials, trends, and more since 2009. Tweets about suffrage news and views since 2010. Find out about Edna Kearns, the womens suffrage movement, how the 19th amendment came about, the campaign wagon called the “Spirit of 1776″ that is today in the New York State Museum and how it is the featured suffrage centennial in 2013 on this suffrage news channel.