Until now, the role of men in the first wave of the women’s rights movement has been undercover. The organizing locally, statewide, and nationally also was marginalized and buried during most of the 20th century.
Only now is the word coming out about the men allies and how they kept a low profile until asked to participate. Now as before, social justice movements need unity at the very same time the overall movement is being fractured by splits and debates, campaigns won and lost over the simple issue of whether or not women should receive equal rights under the US Constitution.
WHY TELLING THE STORY OF WILMER KEARNS HAS BECOME SO IMPORTANT TO ME
This is why the writing about my grandfather Wilmer Kearns has been so essential for me. Men stepped forward in their support of the first wave of the women’s rights movement. Only now are we appreciating what’s in the record. Men have been in support in other ways than joining a men’s organization and paying dues.
In my writing about my family, the story record speaks for itself. Splits and fractures appear in families first which is when they are first noticed. This occurred with my great-grandfather Charles Harper Buckman, and my grandmother’s brother, Thomas S. Buckman. I tell the story of this split when Papa doesn’t come home for dinner the day Edna became a woman in 1895.
Personal accounts are essential ways to make points that often don’t have the same impact in biographies and scholarly accounts.
HOW MY GRANDMOTHER’S BEST FRIEND BESS ADDS TO THE TALE
My grandfather Wilmer wasn’t on the scene in 1895, as far as my grandmother Edna was concerned. She didn’t meet him in Philadelphia until after 1900. But the opposition to women not being content in their subservient roles was evident before then next door to the Buckman family. Bess (Edna’s childhood friend) challenged her father’s insistence on power and control over the women—his wife and daughter.
I’ve been reading Brooke Kroeger’s 2017 book, The Suffragents: How Women used Men to Get the Vote, and find that there are lessons for us today. Kroeger combs the record of primary documents relative to the men allies of the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage and finds something I didn’t realize. Male support of the first wave of the women’s rights movement in the 20th century was unprecedented then, and continues to be.
WHERE ARE THE MEN IN SUPPORT OF THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT TODAY?
Where are the men today? Where is the unity over women’s rights that the activists of the first wave believed would be there in the future? The year 2020 still is before us. Stay tuned!
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