Edna Buckman Kearns was a grassroots suffrage organizer in New York City and Long Island, a Quaker writer and speaker best known for her “Spirit of 1776” suffrage campaign wagon, a symbol of the movement’s patriotic protest theme.
The “Spirit of 1776” suffrage wagon was on exhibit at the New York State Capitol in Albany, NY during March 2017 and then again at the state museum from November 4, 2017 through May 13, 2018.
PHOTO OF “SPIRIT OF 1776” SUFFRAGE WAGON UNCOVERED IN 2015: Special program on Suffrage Wagon Cafe.
Overview of the life of Quaker suffrage activist Edna Buckman Kearns (1882-1934). PDF Marguerite Kearns, editor of Suffrage Wagon News Channel, is a journalist and the granddaughter of Edna Kearns. Public radio features Marguerite speaking about Edna and Inez Milholland, America’s suffrage martyr.
Edna Kearns (1882-1934) learned newspaper reporting and editing when serving as press chair for New York Quakers. Later, she wrote and edited suffrage news for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and other New York City metropolitan papers. Edna developed close relationships with news editors who published her many columns and reports. During the 1915 NYS suffrage referendum campaign, she submitted news to as many as 20 papers on Long Island and in New York City.
Photo: Above July 4, 1913 in Long Beach, NY image from the collection of Rose Gschwendtner showing Edna Kearns far left; little Serena Kearns far right and unidentified woman in the middle).
Edna Kearns is best known for her horse-drawn “Spirit of 1776” campaign wagon, a suffrage movement symbol of patriotic protest. Kearns hitched a horse to a suffrage campaign wagon called the “Spirit of 1776” and took off from Manhattan to Long Island in early July 1913. The New York Times featured Edna Kearns presenting a “voiceless speech” on Long Beach, NY, published July 5, 1913. The voiceless speech presented in the surf was a novel Votes for Women organizing method. See “Long Beech Crowds Hear Suffragettes Speak in Bathing Costume.”
The wagon today is in the collection of the New York State Museum. From 1910 to 1920, Kearns worked intensely as a speaker, as a press chair for local and state suffrage campaigns, and a movement organizer on Long Island and in New York City. This web platform is dedicated to her work and legacy.
LINKS OF NOTE:
Check out videos highlighting the 1913 maiden voyage of the wagon and its trip from Manhattan to Long Island. Article from New York History blog: “Long Island’s Three Wagon Women: Rosalie Jones, Elisabeth Freeman, Edna Kearns. See more information about the wagon on this web site.
Edna Kearns, Wilmer Kearns and the “Spirit of 1776” suffrage wagon after 1920 in Pennsylvania.
Bibliography and resources for Edna Kearns and “Spirit of 1776” wagon. Edna Kearns nominee for 2014 National Women’s History Project, Women of Character, Courage and Commitment. Follow Suffrage Wagon News Channel.
In other sources—The 2017 publication of “Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State by Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello (Cornell University Press) notes: “Aside from suffrage leaders, very few workers left detailed records of their activities behind.” This makes the suffrage movement documentation by Edna Kearns that she left behind even more valuable. Her archive highlights Long Island grassroots suffrage activism and to some extent, New York City.
Meet your friends at the Suffrage Wagon Cafe.
Follow SuffrageCentennials.com, our sister site, for news and views about upcoming suffrage centennials.
“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.