An Unfinished Revolution

Edna Buckman Kearns and the Struggle for Women's Rights

By Marguerite Kearns

Subjects: American History, New York/regional, Women's Studies, Social And Cultural History
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438483320, 354 pages, June 2021

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
The Story Behind the Story

Part I

1. The March of the Women

2. Wilmer Meets Edna

3. Granddaddy Wilmer

4. "Dish Rags" and "She-Men"

5. An Unlikely Couple

6. "When Is Papa Coming Home?"

7. The Secret

8. "Don't Fall in Love with Curmudgeons"

9. The Spirit of 1776 Wagon

10. Getting to Know the Family on Edgar Allan Poe's Chairs

Part II

11. The Telephone Party Line

12. Just Friends

13. Dinner at Delmonico's

14. Many Women, Many Views

15. Learning about Interviewing

16. "Is It Always Like This?"

17. "Will Thee Marry Me?"

18. Rumblings at the Dinner Table

19. "Happy New Year to Thee and All"

20. First Chance to Be Alone

Looking Back: The Wedding

Part III

21. Charles, Angela, and the Wedding Scandal

22. Honeymoon in St. Louis

23. "I Am a Writer"

24. Civil War Orphan School

25. Sinking Spells

26. Holly, Mistletoe, and Evergreens

27. "It Is Awful. Awful. "

Part IV

28. "Trust Me"

29. The Wagon in Woodstock

30. Uproar in Huntington

31. One Woman per Century

32. Sojourner Truth in the Hudson Valley

Looking Back: In Their Own Words

33. Pete Seeger's Aunt—Suffrage Activist Anita Pollitzer

34. Inez Milholland—US Suffrage Martyr

35. The Struggle Continues

Genealogy Chart
Timeline of the Spirit of 1776 Suffrage Wagon
Selected Bibliography
About the Author

The story of the suffrage movement and the ongoing struggle for women’s rights through the lens of one family’s history.


Through the lens of one family's history, An Unfinished Revolution tells the story of the suffrage movement and the ongoing struggle for women's rights in the United States. The book opens with ten-year-old Marguerite Kearns listening to her grandfather Wilmer's stories about how he met her grandmother Edna, a ninth-generation Quaker and ardent suffrage campaigner, and how he fell in love with her. Wilmer, who became a male suffrage activist himself, also shares the story of the "Spirit of 1776" suffrage campaign wagon that Edna and others used while organizing in New York State in 1913. After sitting for years in a Kearns family garage, the wagon is currently housed in the permanent collection of the New York State Museum as a prime artifact in the national suffrage movement.

As Marguerite grows older, she draws on a wide variety of sources—from family stories and photographs to archives and scholarly histories—to piece together the real-life narrative of her family. Profoundly changed in the process, she becomes an activist herself, and when she marches in a present-day women's march, she carries a photo of her grandparents participating in a 1914 women's march in New York. With the women's suffrage movement as the backdrop, this memoir and family history illuminates how activism passes from one generation to another—and how a horse-drawn suffrage campaign wagon became a symbol of freedom and equality.

Marguerite Kearns grew up in the Philadelphia area learning about her family history. A former journalist and teacher, her award-winning writing has contributed to a support base for her storytelling. She lives in Northern New Mexico.


"In An Unfinished Revolution, Marguerite Kearns delivers a rich and nuanced portrayal of the inner workings of the New York women's suffrage movement." — New York History

"…this is not a standard biography or a focused history of suffrage and women's activism; it is a family story with many layers that invite contemplation of legacies, memories, leadings, and continuing revelation … Kearns writes with an inviting style that draws readers along." — Friends Journal

"Although the book is solidly based on primary sources, the author allows herself some imaginative leeway in reproducing her childhood conversations with Wilmer. Both their dialogue and her internal analysis are re-created, which gives the narrative an authentic feel while hewing closely to the facts. The author is a good storyteller, and she turns Edna and Wilmer into compelling and dynamic characters readers will be eager to follow from one page to the next. The work does an excellent job of telling the story of these two people in detail while also placing them in the broader historical context, showing the many ways in which personal matters illuminate sociocultural trends." — Kirkus Reviews

"…Kearns quotes from Edna's letters and speeches to give a sense of immediacy to their shared cause, and there are fascinating archival photographs." — Taos News

"An Unfinished Revolution is a beautiful, intricate weave of one woman's personal memoir and ancestor quest, an account of brave women's rights activists personified by her grandmother, Edna Buckman Kearns, and a contemplation of the Quaker principle of embodying spirit through social action, which continues to be deeply relevant today. Each strand is carefully crafted, rich in detail, and poignantly authentic. When woven together, the result is a luminous tapestry of memory and insight. An Unfinished Revolution is an expansive, informative, and inspiring reading experience." — Meredith Monk, Composer, Performer, and Interdisciplinary Artist

"The impact of the women's rights work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others in my family was profound. It also carried over to generations of descendants in my own family. This is a strong point of the story told by Marguerite Kearns. Generations into the future will be changed permanently by those who have come before us." — Coline Jenkins, Founder and President, Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust

"Edna and Wilmer Kearns's story resonates deeply today both as a slice of history and as a rare glimpse of the kind of domestic relationship, based on equality, that helps move society forward. The women's suffrage movement was a determined drive for liberty, and women like Edna were engaged as in battle. They needed backup and critical support to keep going, and men like Wilmer were there to give it. He was Edna's partner and his story reflects the experiences of men across the country who quietly shared women's long campaign for freedom. An Unfinished Revolution is a revealing personal journey that reminds us that love and cooperation are necessary elements to empower changemakers and shape a better future." — Robert P. J. Cooney Jr., author of Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement

"This book is the intimate account of several generations of a Quaker family actively involved in the extension of women's rights. The author collected the family stories, including those of her grandfather, a man fully committed to his wife's social activism. A valuable addition to the women's suffrage canon, this memoir offers a rare glimpse into the ways a movement can define a family." — Susan Goodier, coauthor of Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State

"All the great issues of life have been the outcome of 'small things,' wrote Edna Buckman Kearns. This book illustrates that truth, showing how one Quaker family contributed through their daily choices to the largest nonviolent movement for social change in US history, the movement for women's right to vote. Intertwining fascinating details about personal experiences over generations, this story uses the lives of Edna and Wilmer Kearns to show how individual actions formed the basis for a national movement for equality, offering an inspiration for all of us today." — Judith Wellman, author of The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman's Rights Convention