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Long Beach honors suffragette Edna Buckman Kearns

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On a warm day in 1913, Edna Buckman Kearns hitched up her horse-drawn suffrage campaign wagon and traveled from New York City to Long Beach, to raise support to gain women the right to vote.

Kearns, then 31 years old, had become one of the country’s best-known womens’ rights leaders, and her wagon, called the “Spirit of 1776,” was also a well-known sight in New York and in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Kearns lived in Rockville Centre and New York City.

The 19th amendment giving women the right to vote was approved in 1920, after tireless work by Kearns and others.

On Tuesday, a bit of Kearns’s spirit was revived in Long Beach. City officials and others put up a marker in Kearns’s name on the boardwalk at National Boulevard. The William G. Pomeroy Foundation, whose website says it is committed to supporting the celebration and preservation of community history, paid for and sponsored the plaque. The Foundation has awarded more than 1,400 grants for roadside markers and plaques nationwide.

Bob Keeler, a former Newsday editor, spoke on behalf of Edna Kearn’s granddaughter, Marguerite Kearns, who lives in New Mexico.

Keeler met Marguerite Kearns in 1978, when he was Newsday’s Albany bureau chief and she was working for the weekly Woodstock Times. Marguerite wrote a book about her grandmother, the just-published “Unfinished Revolution, An: Edna Buckman Kearns and the Struggle for Women’s Rights.” Marguerite was unable to attend Tuesday’s ceremony.

“As a Journalist, I deeply admire Marguerite’s persistence in her reporting,” Keeler said. “As a grandfather, I love the way she honors her grandmother.”

Kearns’s visit to Long Beach was noted by the New York Times, which published an article featuring the rights leader giving “a voiceless speech.”

The event was somber and at times light. Sarah Conway, 18, a senior at Long Beach High School, said from the podium that she and her parents are Irish immigrants who moved to Long Beach when she was three. She recalled during her early school years the 2008 Obama-McCain presidential race.

“All we knew was that this was something important to adults, and that made it cool,” Conway said. “We couldn’t even spell politics then.”

“I ran home and told my parents I voted for Obama,” she said. “I told them I was the reason he won.”

She said she has since learned the importance of voting. “One vote does make a difference,” Conway said.

Long Beach city councilman Michael DeLury noted that Kearns’s movement “ultimately resulted in the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S constitution on August 18, 1920.”

City Councilwoman Liz Treston got a cheer from the crowd when she said, “The women have voices and our voices matter.”

John McNally, executive assistant to the Long Beach City Manager, read a letter sent from Paulie Miller, executive director of the Pomeroy Foundation. “Today you honor Edna Kearns and her associates in the Women’s Suffrage Movement with this national vote for women’s trail marker,” McNally read. “Now your community joins a select group from across the United States with Pomeroy Foundation markers.”

Kearns died in 1934 at the age of 51. The suffrage wagon is now housed in the New York State Museum in Albany.