The “Spirit of 1776” suffrage campaign wagon is a terrific jumping-off point when telling the suffrage story. New York State is not only the “Cradle” of the women’s rights movement in the U.S., but New York has its three wagon women: Rosalie Jones, Elisabeth Freeman, and Edna Kearns. All three suffrage activists drove horse-drawn wagons on Long Island and beyond that figured prominently in suffrage activist tactics and strategies of the period from 1913 to about 1915.
Only one horse-drawn wagon used for suffrage grassroots campaigning remains from this period, and that’s the “Spirit of 1776” used by Edna Kearns in the collection of the New York State Museum.
Rosalie and Elisabeth garnered considerable attention, especially in rural areas, when they traveled by wagon to Ohio and Washington, DC to generate attention for the cause. Women traveling in a horse-drawn vehicle represented a novel attraction along the road, and it enabled face-to-face contact with many rural voters who otherwise would not have heard the women’s message.
See video on Rosalie Jones. Elisabeth Freeman’s great niece, Peg Johnston, has been telling Elisabeth’s story through a web site loaded with detail. Long Island historian Natalie Naylor considers suffragist Rosalie Jones one of her favorite characters from history. See Natalie Naylor’s book that features Roaslie Jones, as does the book on Long Island suffragists by Antonia Petrash.
And of course, there’s my grandmother Edna Kearns who’s been inspiring me for years to learn more about the suffrage movement and spread the word through Suffrage Wagon News Channel. The great part is that Rosalie, Elisabeth and Edna worked together in the cause, and today we carry on the message of this early wave of voting activists. The “Spirit of 1776” should be viewed as a representation of the grassroots organizing of a century ago.
P.S. See article on New York’s three wagon women in New York History.