By Rebecca Docter, undergraduate, Louisiana State University
Marie Ernst Kennedy was an important leader in the suffrage movement who contributed both from her home state of Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. as a prominent member of the National Woman’s Party, among other organizations.
Kennedy was born in Philadelphia, on October 12, 1882. When she was a child, Kennedy was a member of the Fairmount Park Art Assocation’s Children’s Art Brigade, which was created to raise money for a bronze statue of Ulysses S. Grant.
Prior to her time in the National Woman’s Party, Kennedy was a member of the Equal Franchise Society, an organization that worked for suffrage. According to a 1914 news article, while she was part of the Equal Franchise Society, she received a letter from a young girl asking her to collect money for the wounded during World War I. Kennedy’s brother, William Ernst Kennedy, later served in the war.
In her adult life, Kennedy was a member of the National Woman’s Party. She served as the Pennsylvania chairman of the organization in 1917 and was on the National Advisory Council in 1920. From 1917 through 1919, roughly 500 women were arrested for picketing the White House; 168 received prison terms, that is, they chose a jail term over paying a fine. Of those 168, 21 women from Pennsylvania received prison terms, including Kennedy.
Kennedy participated in the “Watchfires of Freedom” in 1919, in which a flaming urn was placed on the pavement in front of the White House. Wood from Independence Square in Kennedy’s home state of Pennsylvania was lit in the urn, and President Woodrow Wilson’s words on democracy were burned in an attempt to convince him to support the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, now known as the Nineteenth Amendment. Kennedy was arrested in February 1919 for her participation in the event, and she was sentenced to five days in jail. For her contribution in fighting for the vote, Kennedy received a prison pin, an honor for suffragists who fought for women’s liberty.
Kennedy’s storyline drops off soon after her contribution to the fight for suffrage.
Information on Marie Ernst Kennedy’s childhood contributions to the Fairmount Park Art Association can be found in Ceremonies Incident to the Unveiling of the Bronze Equestrian Statue of General Ulysses S. Grant (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1899), 96. Information on her work in the suffrage movement can be found in Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), 363 and Caroline Katzenstein, Lifting the Curtain: The State and the National Woman’s Suffrage Campaigns in Pennsylvania as I Saw Them (Philadelphia: Dorrance & Co., 1955), 205-206, 305-310, 320; National Woman’s Party, The Suffragist, Volumes 8-9 (1920), 262 and Letter from Harriot Stanton Blatch to Cornelia Bryce Pinchot, 6 October 1920, online in Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000. Information about her contribution to the war effort can be found in “American Girl Pleads for French Soldiers,” Evening Public Ledger, November 11, 1914. Other information on the lives of Kennedy and her brother, William, can be found in a U.S. Passport Application and draft card accessed via Ancestry.com.
3. Caroline Katzenstein, Caroline. Lifting the Curtain: The State and the National Woman’s Suffrage Campaigns in Pennsylvania as I Saw Them (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1955), 205-206; 305-310; 320.
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