Marching in her grandmother's footsteps - Albuquerque Journal

Marching in her grandmother’s footsteps

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Marguerite Kearns, a women’s history scholar and activist, holds a photo of a 1914 suffragist march that included her aunt, the little girl on the right wearing a cape, as well as her grandparents. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

On Feb. 6, Marguerite Kearns could be seen parading around the Rotunda of the New Mexico State Capitol with a large sepia-toned photograph of a 1914 suffragist march.

The occasion that drew Kearns to the Roundhouse was a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the League of Women Voters, founded on Feb. 14, 1920, not long after the 19th amendment was passed by Congress. (It was ratified on Aug. 14, 1920.)

But Kearns wasn’t just marking a historic anniversary; she was following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Edna Buckman Kearns, and her aunt, Serena Kearns, who both were active in the New York State suffrage movement.

The two are pictured in the poster-sized photo Marguerite Kearns brought to the Capitol, as is her grandfather, Wilmer Kearns. Serena got an early start as an activist; the little girl wearing a cape was only 9 years old when the photo was taken.

Kearns, a scholar who has been active in trying to install markers around New Mexico to commemorate women’s history, wasn’t just honoring her relatives. She thinks it’s important for people to realize that lots of women and men who aren’t in the history books were part of the long struggle to gain the vote for women.

“People have this idea that Susan B. Anthony did everything single-handedly,” Kearns said.

Lest 2020 and the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment pass without fanfare, Kearns said scholars and organizers have been working behind the scenes for nearly a decade. “We didn’t want 2020 to come and go without anyone noticing,” she said.

Edna Buckman Kearns, a New York suffragist, was the grandmother of Marguerite Kearns, who is working to install historical markers honoring women’s history in New Mexico. (Courtesy of Marguerite Kearns)

Kearns never knew her grandmother because Edna Buckman Kearns died in 1934 of breast cancer. But, like her relative, Kearns has been an activist and a writer most of her life.

Before moving to Santa Fe in 1992, she lived in Woodstock, New York, and worked with the late folk singer and activist Pete Seeger on environmental issues. Seeger’s main vessel for promoting the cleanup of the Hudson River was the sloop Clearwater, a Beacon, New York-based boat named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

A graduate of Beaver College (now Arcadia University) in Glenside, Pennsylvania, who holds a master’s degree from Temple University in Philadelphia, Kearns has worked for the New Mexico chapter of the National Education Association.

She has also served as state coordinator for the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites for the past five years and has been involved in preserving the legacy of Nina Otero-Warren. Born in Los Lunas in 1881 as Adelina Otero, Otero-Warren was a suffragist, educator and politician.

Not long after New Mexico became part of the United States in 1912, Otero-Warren and other activists wanted to gain voting rights for the state’s women, according to Kearns. However, the suffragists faced an uphill battle because the state’s constitution required that 75% of voters (all men) in each county approve any changes to the constitution, she said.

The first female superintendent of public schools in Santa Fe, Otero-Warren accomplished much for the rights of women before her death in 1965 in the City Different. Some locals may remember her because her “ghost” would surface during Fiestas de Santa Fe at the Historical/Hysterical Parade (Desfile de la Gente). There is also a Nina Otero Community School in Santa Fe, which has students in grades K-8.

Otero was married to Rawson D. Warren, a first lieutenant and the commanding officer of the Fifth U.S. Cavalry, for just two years, but she hung on to her Anglo married name because it was useful to her, Kearns said.

Although Otero-Warren has a historical marker near her birthplace, Kearns is working with the William G. Pomeroy Foundation of Syracuse, New York, to install another one in Santa Fe, where the women’s activist spent most of her life. Kearns hopes to see the marker installed near the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum by the end of the year.

According to the Pomeroy Foundation’s website, markers help spark historic tourism, which in turn can provide economic benefits to the towns where they are placed.

While some native Santa Feans may grow weary of the attention former New Yorkers receive in the City Different, there is no doubt about the outsized role played by the Empire State in the suffragist movement. The National Women’s Hall of Fame was created in 1969 in Seneca Falls, New York, because that was the site of the women’s rights convention in 1848.

Yes, Kearns notes: It took more than 70 years of organizing and marching for women to earn the right to vote.

The “Spirit of 1776” wagon used by suffragist Edna Buckman Kearns will be on display in the lobby of the New York State Museum in Albany, New York, beginning in March. (Courtesy of Marguerite Kearns)

The particular march shown in the picture Kearns brought to the Roundhouse went from New York City to Albany, New York, a distance of 152 miles. That’s a long way to walk, though there were overnight stops along the way. Sometimes, to get off their feet, Edna Buckman Kearns and her fellow suffragists would ride in a wagon called “The Spirit of 1776.”

The wagon is part of the permanent collection of the New York State Museum in Albany, and will be on display in the museum’s lobby beginning in March and will stay there through the summer.

The wagon is “considered a popular item because of its symbolic value representing the tens of thousands of activists across the nation who circulated and signed petitions, marched, lobbied, wrote plays, novels and much more,” Kearns wrote in an email. She said there are only two of these wagons, which were manufactured by Brooklyn, New York-based carriage company Remson, left in existence.

Edna Buckman Kearns may not have achieved the prominence of such suffragists as Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others, but her granddaughter is determined that she will not be forgotten. Next year, her book about her ancestor, “An Unfinished Revolution: Edna Buckman Kearns and the Struggle for Women’s Rights,” will be published by the State University of New York Press in Albany.


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