Tag Archives: women’s suffrage

Washington’s Spies and the link to the “Spirit of 1776” wagon: Suffrage Wagon Cafe special program

TURN: Washington’s Spies shows Long Island in 1777 and Suffrage Wagon Cafe program shows what happened 100+ years later on Vimeo.

Special Program: Suffrage Wagon Cafe

“TURN: Washington’s Spies” Foreshadows Suffrage Wagon Confrontation in 1913 by Marguerite Kearns

Activist Rosalie Jones was a loose cannon on Long Island back in 1913. She was controversial in public and in her own family. Rosalie Jones appeared often in the newspapers for her stunts and unusual Votes for Women demonstrations, such as marching to the state capitol and demanding to see the governor in 1912 and 1914. Without Rosalie Jones, we wouldn’t know that after more than 100 years after the American Revolution, some people on Long Island still supported English King George III.


Back in school, no teacher ever mentioned that during the war for independence significant numbers of Americans identified themselves with the British. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly today than Long Island as portrayed in the A&E television series, “TURN: Washington Spies” that goes into its second season on April 13, 2015. The tensions within Rosalie Jones’ own family on Long Island made the issue of Tory loyalties simmer and spill into the public arena in 1913.

If it hadn’t been for the “Spirit of 1776” suffrage wagon and its 1913 journey for Votes for Women organizing on Long Island, the continued polarization of the population might not have come to light. This confrontation in Huntington, NY is featured in this special article I wrote for New York Archives.


The players in July 1913: Suffrage activist Edna Kearns who drove the horse-drawn wagon called the “Spirit of 1776” into Huntington, NY and Mary Livingston Jones, the mother of suffragist Rosalie Jones. Mrs. Jones identified herself as the descendant of Long Island Tories and demanded the activists stop immediately in their use of the “Spirit of 1776” wagon. Edna Kearns told a Brooklyn Daily Eagle reporter (who covered the incident) that Mrs. Jones’ tirade made her fear for her life.

Mrs. Jones insisted the old horse-drawn wagon had been in the possession of Tory descendants the previous century, and she threatened legal action against the New York State Woman Suffrage Association for misrepresenting its history. The confrontation at the Huntington, NY parade had been provoked, no doubt, by the disagreements suffragist Rosalie Jones had with her mother and sister. Jones family members considered themselves the elite of Long Island for their long-time residency and old money. Rosalie didn’t view the Tory position and the anti-suffrage position as linked together. Her mother and sister did, however. In a 1913 article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mrs. Jones spoke of Tories and their prominence on Long Island as if the war for independence just happened yesterday.


Long Island was divided in loyalties in 1776. A significant number of colonial sympathizers moved away after the Battle of Long Island. And the island became even more entrenched in loyalist support in the aftermath of the British capture of New York City. This was well portrayed in “TURN: Washington’s Spies” during its 2014 first season, enough for the intrigue and spy thriller to hook two million Americans and have them glued to their TV sets. So the TV series going into its second season performs a much-needed service of expanding the understanding of American history, even if some of the details have been crafted to meet the storytelling requirements of Hollywood.

Mrs. Mary Livingston Jones halted the Votes for Women parade in July 1913 with her claim that the “Spirit of 1776” wagon had been in the possession of her ancestors, the Hewletts, before the suffrage movement decided on the vehicle’s use for grassroots organizing on Long Island. It was, therefore a Tory icon, not a patriot one, Mrs. Jones insisted.

The suffragists disagreed and proceeded to carry their own message of patriotic protest to towns and villages all over Long Island during the summer of 1913. More than 20 newspapers, including the New York Times, covered the splash caused by the “Spirit of 1776” wagon and its supporters at suffrage demonstrations, rallies, and special fundraising events. See representative media. No legal action resulted, despite Mr’s Jones’ threats. Without the confrontation in Huntington, NY, we wouldn’t be privy to the fact that Long Island remained polarized between loyalists and patriots, on some level at least, more than a century after the end of the war for independence.


If you’ve been following “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” the Hewlett name should be familiar to you. He’s the TV character wearing a red British uniform, not a bad guy actually –more like a decent guy in an extremely awkward situation. It’s not politically correct these days to make our former enemies, especially the English, look too bad. This happened back in 1917 with filmmaker Robert Goldstein, and a controversial trial that sent Goldstein off to federal prison for ten years. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson later commuted Goldstein’s prison sentence to three years. But the filmmaker’s crime had been specific: making the English look like brutes during the war for independence in his silent film, a crime not addressed under the First Amendment during World War I.

A 1913 Long Island history clearly identifies the Hewletts as the largest and most powerful of all Tory families on Long Island. So it shouldn’t have been necessary for the TV series to import a Hewlett from England to wear a red coat. In actuality, Hewlett represented a well-known household name for Tory support on Long Island. Hewlett family members remained on Long Island after the American war for independence after they officially declared their loyalty to the new nation.


Pressures to become patriots didn’t make the Hewletts revolutionaries overnight any more than the threat of death convinced many Jews to willingly convert to Christianity at the time of the Inquisition. This had been Mrs. Jones’ point (indirectly) when she confronted the suffrage activists on the streets on Huntington, NY in July 1913, a perspective preserved by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reporter’s account. Mrs. Jones made it clear that her relatives, the Hewletts, resented being linked to the colonial cause.

Long term, the Hewletts’ conversion to patriots seems to have been enough for family members to continue living on Long Island after the American Revolution without limping around, tails between their legs. Later, Hewlett family members became the source for stories told to the suffrage activists that the “Spirit of 1776” wagon had been a symbol of patriotism, not Tory loyalties. The suffragists took advantage of the opportunity to spread this patriotic protest message in 1913. Patriotic protest had been a key theme of the suffrage movement going back to 1848 when the Seneca Falls, NY signers of the Declaration of Sentiments linked their civil rights struggle to the spirit of 1776 and the American Revolution. In 1913, Edna Kearns and other activists dressed in colonial costumes and milked the patriotic protest theme for all it was worth in the cause of votes for women.

But the Hewletts couldn’t shed their loyalist associations easily. The state education department, back when the agency was in charge of historical street markers, produced one marker to stand in front of the home of Richard Hewlett in Rockaway, NY. There, Richard Hewlett was acknowledged as the local Tory who planned the capture of General George Washington. Long Island newspaper accounts during the 1920s suggested that Tory loyalties and the threats on the life of George Washington were, in the opinion of many local residents, best forgotten. But with the second season of “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” we’re treated to a new spin on an old story.

RESOURCES: Videos about Rosalie Jones demonstrate how her support for Votes for Women might have annoyed her mother and sister who were avid supporters of the state and national anti-suffrage cause. “Rosalie Jones and her band of activists marched to Albany, NY in January 1914″; “Rosalie Jones’ hikes to Albany get people’s attention”; “Rosalie Jones; High-Profile Long Island Suffragist.”

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Meet your friends at the Suffrage Wagon Cafe. Follow SuffrageCentennials.com for news and views about upcoming women’s suffrage centennial events and celebrations. 

“Choose it and Use it” is a video reminding us of how the past is linked to what we do today and its impact on the future.


Season 2 of “TURN: Washington’s Spies” has “Spirit of 1776” wagon wrinkle!

Program on TURN at Suffrage Wagon Cafe



The A&E television series, “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” opens its second season on April 13, 2015. The series in its first season introduced an awareness of the nation’s first spy ring to a broad audience. The spy ring, the Culper Ring, dates to 1778 and the war for independence. Its informants provided essential information to General George Washington and his army.

The spy ring was based, in part, on Long Island that English troops occupied when they held New York City. Long Island residents were significantly divided between loyalty to the colonists and loyalty to the British.

The drama of this A&E television series foreshadows what happened more than 100 years later in 1913 when women’s suffrage activists drove the horse-drawn wagon the “Spirit of 1776” into Huntington, NY on Long Island. They had no reason not to expect that local residents would greet them warmly. So they didn’t anticipate that a local resident might provoke a confrontation.


Many Long Island’s old families hadn’t forgotten the American Revolution by 1913 as well as the sympathies of their family members and ancestors toward the British king. Some descendants still carried resentments over the American Revolution’s outcome. And they weren’t hesitant to express themselves about their then controversial points of view.

Edna Kearns and other women’s suffrage activists left the Manhattan office of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association in early July 1913 and headed to Long Island for a month of Votes for Women organizing. They drove the
Spirit of 1776 suffrage campaign wagon. The name of the wagon and its alleged controversial origins lured descendants of former Tory sympathizers out of the closet to a confrontation with some descendants of Patriot sympathizers in Huntington, NY.


The April 8, 2015 Suffrage Wagon Cafe program will give the details about Mary Livingston Jones, the well-known descendant of Long Island Tories, who was involved in this confrontation. Mrs. Jones also opposed the movement to extend voting rights to women, and she viewed the two issues as related. What makes this tale distinctive is that Mrs. Jones’ daughter, Rosalie Jones, was a well-known women’s rights activist associated with Long Island’s Votes for Women organizing campaign.

After the battle smoke cleared from the war for independence, most people conveniently forgot or dismissed their family members and ancestors’ sympathies with the English. Not so on Long Island. This fascinating story clearly demonstrates the repercussions.

The New York State Museum will exhibit the “Spirit of 1776” wagon in Albany, NY during New York’s suffrage centennial celebration in 2017. The “Spirit of 1776” wagon was used as a speakers’ platform for Votes for Women organizing, in suffrage parades in New York City and on Long Island, as well as for exhibits, rallies, and special events.

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What was suffragist Edna Kearns concerned about 100 years ago? Suffrage films!

Edna Kearns: 100 years agoby Marguerite Kearns, History Communicator*

New York State suffragist Edna Kearns was no slouch. Her correspondence shows this clearly. One hundred years ago New York State suffrage activists were poised on the cusp of a year-long campaign to win a referendum. New York wasn’t alone. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts women were also up against the challenges before them. And an enormous amount of effort was poured into these state campaigns. Although the prospect of votes for women in these four states were defeated, the national momentum toward victory in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was well  underway.

This letter sent to suffragist Edna Kearns in January 1915 shows that activists on the community level freely communicated their needs and challenges with each other. In this letter,  one activist reached out to Edna Kearns to pick her brains about the use of film to bring women out of their homes and introduce them to the idea of woman suffrage. What a concept!


Film is an especially important medium today. Check out Suffrage Wagon’s “Crash Course on Suffrage Film” that features film and video selections from today and yesterday, all of them extremely important in introducing the public to the suffrage movement, here and abroad.

Are you up to date about the upcoming film, “Suffragette,” from the UK that’s expected to be released in September 2015? The BBC suffrage movement sit com is in its second season. Watch the trailer. And books continue streaming out of the UK, in particular the recently-released work on English suffragette, Princess Sophia. This book by UK broadcast journalist Anita Anand is especially interesting because of its six-figure advance.


The asterisk above next to the byline refers to the link to an appeal for people to step forward as “History Communicators.” Take a close look at a passion many of us already share.

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What did suffrage activist Edna Kearns do on January 6th 100 years ago?

January 15, 1915: What Edna Kearns did that day 100 years ago

This votes for women organizing was part of an intense 1915 campaign that had activists running from dawn to dusk for most of the year. Four states –New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York– put the suffrage issue to the voters in 1915. And thousands of activists were busy doing what Edna Kearns is shown doing here: getting out in their communities and speaking to anyone who would listen. Suffrage leaders could do only so much, and they relied on grassroots organizing as this news article illustrates. Follow the Suffrage Wagon during 2015 for news and views about this extraordinary campaigning. And enjoy the 2015 suffrage centennial celebration of this extraordinary effort.


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“Suffragette” film from UK, update on video


 “Suffragette” film from the UK gets attention from Meryl Streep’s interviews! on Vimeo.

"Suffragette" film. Photo: Pathe.It won’t be long before the word “suffrage” will be understood by a wide segment of the population. This will be due, in part, to the attention to the English suffrage movement is getting because of the production and release of the “Suffragette” film from the UK where Meryl Streep is one of the stars. Streep’s recent interviews are spreading the word about the movement and the film. The “Suffragette” film is getting things warmed up for the 2020 suffrage centennial in the U.S. We’re on the case and will have more information for you soon. Photo: Pathe.

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Kearns Family Members Got Together over the Holidays: Marguerite’s Musings

Marguerite's Musings

It’s always fun to stumble on a family connection. It’s one thing to know that my Kearns relatives are still based in Beavertown, PA where my grandfather Wilmer Kearns was born. And it’s even more exciting to know the extent of their ties and how they spent the holidays visiting, either in the NYC area or Beavertown, PA

I found a social notice of Max and Peg Kearns (Wilmer’s brother and sister in law) visiting Wilmer and Edna Kearns in 1917 in the South Side Observer of Long Island, December 30, 1917. “Mr. and Mrs. Charles Maxwell Kearns, of Pennsylvania, are the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Wilmer Kearns for several weeks.”

I’m busy documenting how Wilmer Kearns served as treasurer of Kearns Motor Car Company, the family business,  when he and Edna lived in New York City. And Lulu Kearns, Wilmer’s sister, played an important part of suffrage organizing with my grandmother Edna Kearns in 1913.

A holiday video greeting.

Another opportunity to celebrate the holidays with the Suffrage Wagon on Vimeo.

FacebookFollow Suffrage Wagon News Channel on Facebook and Twitter. Quarterly newsletters just by signing up. Join the conversation by commenting on the Suffrage Wagon blog. Stay up to date with audio podcasts and videos. Celebrate women’s freedom to vote.

A video about contacting Santa with our wishes, plus Suffrage Wagon news notes

VIDEO about the annual ritual of writing down what we want for the holidays.  No news yet from the U.S. Congress about the prospect of moving the “Votes for Women” heritage trail out from the dungeon and onto the floor of Congress. But there’s been considerable speculation about the  possibility of the proposed Harriet Tubman national park passing through Congress because it has been tacked onto a defense appropriations bill. The national women’s history museum is in all of this mix. Pay attention this week to your favorite news junky sources and keep an eye on the proposed Harriet Tubman national park.

As for me, I’m stressing over the upcoming holiday. I made one breakthrough today after realizing that I have one gift idea already in Santa’s bag. Check out the posting about the new book, Remembering Inez. Visit SuffrageCentennials.com

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