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“The Spirit of 1776”

By Jamie Hiber

I am often asked about the Suffrage Movement here in Orange County and it’s a difficult question to answer. There just isn’t a whole lot of documented history on suffragists here. There’s Nita Carmen of Laguna but much of her activism wasn’t even in Orange County. Therefore, on this election day I “elect” to share the story of how Heritage Museum of Orange County campaigned to save the famed Suffrage Wagon “The Spirit of 1776” from a life in storage! 

One hot summer day not long after I had acclimated into my new role as Wedding and Event Coordinator at HMOC I received a call from my (and many of yours’!) good friend Adam England over at The Muck. He said a peer of his, DJ Eighty Bug, had a project and she was looking for a place with a wagon, nature, and a historic home… well, we sure knew a place that had all of that! I contacted Eighty and we arranged a time that weekend to meet at the museum so I could show her around and see if we could help…

Photo from the 90s when it was just in storage. Courtesy of http://SuffrageWagon.org.

Eighty arrives for our meeting and she is kind, fun, artsy, bubbly, and really, really excited-I already loved her! I had yet to learn much regarding her project so I was all ears. She began to explain that there was this wagon that was in storage, and it was a historic wagon. A woman she knew was a descendant of a woman that rode on that wagon. Eighty was writing a song to help the campaign to get it out of storage, which is where we came in, visit http://SuffrageWagon.org to see the full video. Whoa! This was a lot more interesting than I had anticipated and I immediately needed to know every…single…detail! Here’s the history:

July 1, 1913 “The Spirit of 1776” was donated to Edna Buckman Kearns and the suffrage movement in New York. It was a wagon with the ability to be led by a single horse, thought to have origins during the American Revolution (but that has not been confirmed). Edna loaded up her young daughter Serena, her Votes for Women partner Irene Davison and hit the road for six straight months to gather support for women to vote. Led by their horse aptly named “Suffragette”, they not only rode the wagon, but hosted speeches from it as well! After a successful campaign and the passing of the 19th Amendment, Edna and her husband Wilmer opened up a family nursery and proudly displayed the wagon on the grounds to share its history and importance with guests and visitors. The wagon eventually wound up in the care of the New York State Museum, but locked away in storage. It was brought out for display in 2010 and 2012 but there was no plan to make that permanent. 

So here was Eighty sitting at my desk and the year was 2014. Apparently the NYSM was about to undergo a 14 million dollar renovation (wonder what that’s like!) and it was time to campaign once again-this time, to get a permanent display of“The Spirit of 1776” happening with these renovation plans. How did she have all of this incredible information and how did she get involved? Well, she happens to be friends (through art and activism!) with Marguerite Kearns, granddaughter of Edna! This was a really big deal and the sudden understanding that we were about to be a part of something SO BIG had me giddy. Now *I* was the excited one! 

Edna Buckman Kearns and Serena Kearns. Courtesy of http://SuffrageWagon.org.

After our extensive chat on the history, I showed Eighty around our beautiful museum- inside and out. We shared ideas, laughter, smiles, shook hands (back when you could do that) and suddenly our world got a little bigger. HMOC was about to head to the Big Apple (digitally, of course)!

Two weeks later we were “on set”- musicians, friends, and several other HMOC staff members who volunteered to be “extras” for the day. And yes, Adam England was here, too! Eighty had sashes hand made for us to wear that read “Deeds not Words” and “Spirit of 1776”, we sipped elderberry wine in the dining room of the Kellogg House, we pushed our Gold Rush wagon through the wetlands- an overall lovely July day! But what made it so special was that we all knew WHY we were there and what we were doing. Marguerite, Serena, Wilmer, and Edna were on our minds. Irene and all of the other women who fought for the right to vote and EARNED this right along side Edna were in our hearts. We knew we were doing something important and there was a magical tone (pun intended) to the entire day.  

Eighty’s song titled “Spirit of 1776: A New Suffragette Anthem” so beautifully captures pride, honor, and respect to suffragists through a simple yet hauntingly upbeat Americana vibe. She had the accompanying campaign video made quickly and it was a masterpiece.The creative team for the music video includes Eighty Bug (production), Edwin Carungay, Lesha Maria Rodriguez (Directors), Jon Lagda(Art Director), the Suffragist Sisters, featuring Eighty (Banjolele, Ukulele, Bass and Lead Vocals), Lisa Lui (Violin) Savannah Creech (Backing Vocals), Ashli Lee Christoval, and Laura Guaico, Max McVetty(percussion), JRAT (guitar, mixing and mastering). These talented folks wererecipients of a first-place award from New Mexico Press Women at their annual conference and awards ceremony. The NMPW, the largest of New Mexico’s inclusive media organizations, is also the largest state chapter in the national organization, the National Federation of Press Women. NMPW judges said that the music video, “’Spirit of 1776’: A Suffragette Anthem” was “a high-quality, engaging video with a great story well done.”Wow! 

On display in lobby at NYSM. Courtesy of http://SuffrageWagon.org.

Furthermore, Eighty’s campaign video assisted in getting our favorite wagon back out on display for the years 2017-2018, then again this year- 2020. The NYSM currently remains closed to the public due to Covid-19 and “The Spirit of 1776”had no visitors for this historic centennial year of the 19th amendment. But you know what? We can still sing along to this lovely and meaningful tune! We can still find ways to support local museums and their efforts to preserve, promote, and restore our history! And WE CAN STILL VOTE! For more information, please visit the following links:

http://80Bug.com

http://SuffrageWagon.org

And be on the lookout for Marguerite Kearns’ new bookAn Unfinished Revolution: Edna Buckman Kearns and the Struggle for Women’s Rightsset to release on June 1, 2021.