Wilmer Kearns


Episode #3: Bess introduces Wilmer Kearns on “Suffrage Storytelling” on Vimeo.

by Marguerite Kearns

Wilmer Kearns had no idea of what would be ahead of him when he first met Edna May Buckman in 1903 at a Philadelphia art exhibit. They were both students, but the fact they hadn’t been “properly introduced” upset Edna’s family. During the couple’s secret meetings at a teahouse on Market Street in downtown Philadelphia, the roar of conversation around them lowered when Wilmer launched into one of his tales. Wilmer couldn’t claim to be directly connected to the old Philadelphia Quaker establishment, but he could stand his ground as far as being a master storyteller, in addition to the respectability of the Kearns family back in Beavertown, Pennsylvania where Wilmer had been raised.

John Preston Kearns, Wilmer’s father, owned and operated a horse and buggy company, the Beavertown Carriage and Harness Works, a business well known for quality custom horse-drawn wagons. J.P. Kearns had established quite a reputation in Central Pennsylvania for producing carriages and buggies for friends, neighbors, and regular customers over several decades.


After the completion of the railroad in central Pennsylvania,  young Wilmer Kearns left town to attend business college in Philadelphia. To his mother Henrietta Kearns’ dismay, he never returned to live back in Beavertown, though Wilmer would visit and write to his parents John and Henrietta often.

wilmerWilmer registered for the course of study at Pearce College of Business that included English, bookkeeping, penmanship, business correspondence and forms, business law, math, ethics, commerce, and trade. Prior to marrying Edna in 1904, Wilmer also studied economics, history, biography, philosophy, and music. Some subjects were self taught and other subjects were mastered through classes sponsored by Cooper Union in New York where Wilmer lived after accepting his first job as an accountant in Manhattan.

The crash courses transformed Wilmer Rhamstine Kearns, someone who had received his early schooling at a one-room school with lessons primarily conducted in German. Photographs in the Kearns family archive show Wilmer with friends from the Philadelphia business college, images of Kearns family members back in Beavertown, along with special portraits he and Edna had taken together at a center city Philadelphia photography studio.

COMING SOON: Bess and Edna, her best friend, argue about the downside risks of marriage, but their friendship remains strong.

Follow the entire “Spirit of 1776” suffrage storytelling series.

TeaParty2Follow Suffrage Wagon News Channel on Facebook and Twitter. Quarterly newsletters just by signing up. Suffrage Wagon News Channel has a video platform on VimeoMeet your friends at the Suffrage Wagon Cafe. Follow SuffrageCentennials.com 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.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.