This book, to be released by SUNY Press (State University of New York) on June 1, 2021, is part of the expanding subset of activist descendant nonfiction literature. It's providing a broader perspective on the 100 years since the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920.
Marguerite Kearns, the author and granddaughter of New York suffrage activists Edna and Wilmer Kearns, tells the story of how this 20th century social justice movement impacted four generations in her Quaker family.
At the age of ten, Marguerite Kearns constantly asked her grandfather about her activist grandmother, Edna Buckman Kearns. She posed questions that her grandfather answered with his stories of Edna, with whom he fell in love after meeting her in 1902. Edna had warned him, however: “We’ll only be friends.”
Their friendship and later romance moved slowly for several reasons, especially their differences. Buckman family members were Quakers who believed in nonviolence, arriving from England in 1682 with William Penn, Pennsylvania’s first governor. Wilmer’s ancestors and extended family members enlisted in the military during the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. His mother, Henrietta Kearns, was enrolled in a Civil War orphan school after her father’s death at the battle of Petersburg in Virginia.
Wilmer and Edna Kearns established a family commitment based on idealism, a belief in equality, nonviolence, simplicity, and a reliance on direct contact with a divine inner light. Their granddaughter, Marguerite Kearns, devoted herself to the research and the telling of this story.
As Marguerite listened as a child, she translated her grandfather’s stories into what she imagined happened in the past. Decades later, she wrote the memoir and family history by highlighting these narrative scenes based on her grandfather's stories, including dialogue and character development, bringing this family history to life. Her grandfather’s struggle to become a Quaker and the drama of Edna becoming a suffrage activist are woven into the highs and lows of the family stories.
Voting rights campaigning involved tens of thousands of women and many men, petitioning, marching, lobbying, writing, and in other ways standing firm about their determination to win votes for women.
The story shows a Quaker family attempting to navigate the challenges of marriage, the birth of a first child, and participation in a decentralized social justice movement. The uphill struggles of daily life merge with an active role in women’s rights advocacy efforts as the routines of daily life mix with family secrets and a scandal.
Marguerite, as author, carries the story forward with her development as a writer when she accepts a job as a newspaper reporter and editor in Woodstock, NY in the aftermath of the 1969 Woodstock music festival in the Hudson Valley. She covers women’s suffrage history of the Hudson Valley, suffrage-related stories associated with performer Pete Seeger, activist Sojourner Truth, and suffrage activist Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The horse-drawn suffrage wagon Spirit of 1776 used by her grandmother Edna is now part of the permanent collection of the New York State Museum, and the book, An Unfinished Revolution, fulfills the author’s quest for a personal connection to Edna.
The family tales, legends, challenges, and characters provide human interest to keep the tale moving forward to a conclusion in which the author participates in a present-day women’s rights march carrying a large photo of her grandparents in a women’s march in 1914, more than 100 years before.
The book is an example of what contemporary families are doing today with an increased access to communications tools and resources.
Marguerite Kearns is a freelance writer and journalist who can be contacted by email (MargueriteKearns at gmail.com). The book’s web site is: Unfinished-Revolution.com. The book includes more than 100 vintage photos, most from the author’s personal collection. Kate Seburyamo handles production review copies and other special requests for SUNY Press (email@example.com). Photos available on request for book reviewers and writers of feature articles.