An Unfinished Revolution: Edna Buckman Kearns and the Struggle for Women’s Rights (SUNY Press, coming in June 2021) covers the life of a reporter and activist during a tumultuous time in American history — the early women’s rights movement.
Edna Kearns captured her stories in notes, diary entries, letters and newspaper articles that together create a portrait of a woman dedicated both to radical social change and to her family and community. She was one of the tens of thousands of women in New York and throughout the country who saw Votes for Women as their “leading” and devoted years of their lives to it. In Edna’s case, she had the full support of her husband Wilmer, who backed her vision and absorbed some of the resulting consequences.
New research by Kearns’ granddaughter Marguerite Kearns, an activist and journalist in her own right, adds significantly to the body of material emerging about diverse social justice and activist movements in the United States. Her book will be released by SUNY Press on June 1st, 2021.
“The addition of descendant perspectives to the record is an encouraging sign that lends depth and perspective to how we understand our own history,” Marguerite Kearns told New York Almanack. Descendant points of view include inter-generational activism and how volunteerism in prior generations was often a family affair that contributed to the incremental development of shifts in the larger culture.
An Unfinished Revolution is the story of a Quaker family involved in the suffrage and peace movements of the early 20th century. Quaker women and family involvement were significant in the early women’s rights movement, and this grounding and commitment to equality, nonviolence, and social activism didn’t disappear after the 19th century.
“I was fortunate to have my grandfather’s stories about the involvement of my maternal grandmother, who died before my birth,” Kearns said. “He was also there to tell me of his experiences including marching in the men’s divisions of the suffrage parades. He awakened the passion that resulted in this book.”
Kearns’ ancestors and family members on her grandfather’s side participated in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War before becoming Quakers after marrying Edna May Buckman in 1904. They moved from Philadelphia to New York City.
The author notes that “many people like my grandparents considered themselves Quakers first and activists second.” She explains that their commitment to what they called “The Cause” was infused with spiritual values that informed and grounded them personally. Their concerns intersected with other themes such as nonviolence and a belief in the equality and unity of all people.
To lump together tens of thousands of women who were suffragists, Kearns believes, doesn’t shed light on the “difficulties and complications of a decentralized movement” that involved those who agreed on one point only — that women should vote. “That’s why studying a larger movement through the lens of one family’s experience provides distinct insights on a significant national effort that operated within a social and economic order that valued hierarchy over equality,” she said.
Kearns says that there were hundreds of women’s voting rights organizations, and they operated in the context of a fragile coalition. “When I was very young, few people other than scholars were knowledgeable about the suffrage and peace movements, which were marginalized and considered boring and irrelevant in the larger sweep of American history. Now, new source material is being unearthed and interest is at an all-time high. It’s thrilling and respectful of all the American women and men who worked for decades and scored important victories before handing the effort over to future generations.”
Visit the author’s website for the upcoming book from SUNY Press. The book has 354 pages and 100+ vintage images, many from the author’s personal collection. Contact Marguerite Kearns directly at (505) 982-0241.