by Marguerite Kearns
The first week in July of 1913 represented a high point in bringing the issue of Votes for Women to the public. This is when the campaign suffrage wagon, the “Spirit of 1776,” left the Manhattan office of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association at 108 Madison Avenue in the care of Edna Buckman Kearns and headed to Long Island.
From this point on, campaigners under the state suffrage association’s umbrella barely rested. They barnstormed on foot, gave speeches on street corners, decorated and traveled in automobiles, and hitched horses to wagons to make themselves visible throughout Long Island. Agitating for change and interacting with a wide variety of people was exhausting –but oh, so stimulating– in the July 1913 heat.
Votes for Women activists stayed in touch with each other by phone, letters, and in person. They developed relationships with local and city newspaper reporters, as well as anyone else who would listen. If reporters couldn’t or wouldn’t cover suffrage news, suffragists themselves became reporters and press agents themselves. They stormed through every open door.
Suffragists learned how to make their own news and then participate in the process of gathering it as volunteers in the service of a cause. For many, like Edna Kearns, it wasn’t paid work. But it was an exciting time to be learning about the Big Picture. Starting about 1911, Edna Kearns wrote suffrage columns and edited special newspaper reports about Votes for Women that were published on Long Island and in New York City papers. She was also a squirrel and saved as many of her speeches, news articles, letters, photos, leaflets, and suffrage memorabilia as she could. . .
Watch for more selections from the ongoing story of what happened 100 years ago with organizing for the vote and how the “Spirit of 1776” theme and wagon played an important role in the unfinished American Revolution. For more information, check out our story and news source: Suffrage Wagon News Channel.
I was also moved with excitement when I read your post of how the women were busy preparing for campaigns, how they were positioned on street corners, handing out leaflets, decorating autos, making themselves get noticed. There certainly was an air of excitement and anticipation around at that time, and I wish we could give more acknowledgement to all those women, and men who worked tirelessly to allow us to enjoy some of the rights we take for granted today.
Thanks so much for writing what you do. It is much appreciated.
Reading your posts really makes me sit up and get a feel for what was happening at that time. I can picture the excitement and the buzz all around, with the women busying away at getting the word out, and being inventive in their ‘PR’ methods. For a moment I would loved to have been living in those times, if only just to get a feel of all the excitement and changes which were taking place right in front of you. I have to give credit to all those women for their tenacity and persistence in fighting and campaigning for something which most of us all take for granted in our country today. Well written!