Huntington history buffs and town officials gathered downtown on Tuesday to commemorate a historic rally turned family feud that played a critical role in the women’s suffrage movement.
Huntington Town officials unveiled a new historic marker sign at the corner of Wall and Main streets April 24 that tells the tale of a 1913 women’s suffrage rally in what’s now Huntington village.
“Here we are now, 105 years later, and this controversial event for women’s rights is going to be commemorated for all to see,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Signs like this show you what a progressive area Huntington was and continues to be, especially when it comes to civil rights.”
In July 1913, there was a clash in the fight for women’s voting rights in downtown Huntington. It was fueled by a family feud between a mother and daughter over a wagon and whether women should have the right to vote.
Activists Rosalie Jones and Edna Buckman Kearns staged a suffrage rally at the intersection of Wall and Main streets that was attended by more than 1,000 people. There was a wagon named the “Spirit of 1776” used by the women who were upset about taxation without representation. Mary Jones, Rosalie’s mother and a virulent anti-suffragist, stepped in front of the wagon and began to heckle the crowd. She was upset that the suffragists were using a wagon that was once owned by members of her family, all of whom were against giving women the vote.
There were less anti-suffragists compared to women suffragists in the early 20th century according to Antonia Petrash, president of the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association, but they were just as adamant and animated as their counterparts.
“They were very vocal and active,” Petrash said. “They used the same tactics as the suffragists such as hosting conventions and calling politicians.”
Women in New York State would be given the right to vote in 1917, three years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed.
“I think it’s so fantastic that we have this monumental placement of the marker,” Jillian Guthman, Huntington’s receiver of taxes, said. “But it does leave me in awe that in this wonderful country that we’re in, that just a short time ago, there was an issue of the right to vote for women.”
The sign was funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, a Syracuse-based foundation that provides grants for historic signs. Petrash and Marguerite Kearns, a historian and granddaughter of Edna Buckman Kearns, helped secure the funding for the historical marker.
Town Historian Robert Hughes said that signs like these are part of an effort to give historical notoriety to minorities and other overlooked groups in Huntington.
“This is the 125th historical marker in the town of Huntington,” Hughes said. “In the early years they would always commemorate Colonial sites, but in more recent years we’ve tried to make a concerted effort to commemorate those unknown parts of our history, such as African American sites like the Jupiter Hammon House, and now with this marker for women’s suffrage.”
The wagon involved in the July 1913 parade was donated by Marguerite Kearns to The New York State Museum in Albany. It will be on display through May 13.