November 9, 2010 / Unity, Women's History

70-Plus-Year Struggle for American Women To Vote Honored In Shrine Show


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

The 2010 November election, the Day of the Dead, and the 90th anniversary of U.S. women voting all converge with a shrine on display in the “Silver City Day of the Dead Shrine Show” now underway. The exhibit, spread throughout Silver City, New Mexico in 14 businesses and galleries, showcases the shrines of 21 artists. The show runs through November 14, 2010.

“Five Generations and the Million Dollar Wagon” is an example of a contemporary shrine in the form of a 19-minute documentary honoring a New Mexico woman’s grandmother who campaigned  for woman’s suffrage in New York State. This shrine also acknowledges the thousands of American women who campaigned for the vote over more than a 70-year period, an effort which was launched in 1848 with the woman’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York. The woman’s suffrage movement focused on state by state campaigns for many years before it became clear that only a national amendment would extend the franchise to women throughout the nation.

“Five Generations and the Million Dollar Wagon” highlights one woman’s journey to find out about her suffragist grandmother who died many years before she was born. The narrative by Marguerite Kearns focuses on a horse-drawn suffrage campaign wagon which her grandmother, Edna Kearns, used to campaign from town to town on Long Island when barnstorming for Votes for Women. The wagon, called the “Spirit of 1776,” not only energized the suffrage movement, but it had a profound impact on five generations in one family.

Today, the old wagon is in a museum and it is considered a prime artifact of the woman’s suffrage movement in the U.S. The fifth generation in the extended Kearns family is represented by two boys living in New Mexico under the age of twelve who are now learning about their great-great grandmother and an important part of the nation’s history.

Interest is at an all-time high in the U.S. suffrage movement, according to Marguerite Kearns. She says she made a DVD in order to use a personal story to bring the suffrage movement to life.

“The Day of the Dead is an appropriate observance, as the suffragists are no longer with us. But their years of sacrifice continue to have a lasting impact,” she said.

“The first time I heard about woman’s suffrage in school was when my eighth grade social studies teacher announced one day: ‘And then in 1920, women were given the vote.’ I sat up in my seat. That’s not how I heard the story. My mother told me women struggled for and earned the vote. It wasn’t handed to them. The issue became a hot potato when activist Alice Paul and other American women –including my grandmother– picketed the White House. Many even went to jail.

“Many people aren’t aware of the woman’s suffrage movement at all,” Kearns continued. “When they finally learn about it, their attitude about voting is shaken to its core. Voting is no longer something to be taken for granted.”

A preview of “Five Generations and the Million Dollar Wagon” is available online at:

“Five Generations and the Million Dollar Wagon” is exhibited at Artesanos Gallery, 211-B North Texas Street in Silver City through November 14th. A map is available identifying all of  the shrine locations.

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  • marille

    marguerite, thanks for contributing this phantastic documentation from your family. to have a picture of your mom wearing the suffrage outfit is uplifting. I will keep the photographs of my daughter at age 7 phonebanking for Hillary. she was n’t the only young daughter in the phone banks.
    and you are right on speaking up against the falsification of history. the vote was not handed down by president Wilson honoring women for their war efforts. that Wilson speech did not portray the real his/herstory. without a struggle, without horrendous sacrifice and brilliant strategy by Alice Paul and her supporters like your grandmother we would have never gotten more than lip service.
    If you have not come across it yet, there is a new beautiful biography out telling the real story of Alice paul and the many women who fought with her. “A woman’s crucade -the battle for the ballot” by Mary Walton. I read it. very readable, probably the most comprehensive description, mentioning many if not all of the women who boycotted the white house and went into prison. I also learned that this was the first time anyone had staged protest outside the white house, a site we see many times now without protesters being thrown in prison. It was also the beginning of non armed (non-violent) protests, before Ghandi and Martin Luther King took on the strategy. therefore, I find it particularly misleading if people refer to the NWP/ Alice Paul’s wing of the suffrage movement as the militant wing.
    thanks again for your contribution.

  • Bes

    Thanks for writing this article. I love history.