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Films about First Wave Feminists/Feminism

This discussion of educational films about first wave feminists/feminism took
place on WMST-L in September/October 2009. At the end of the file is one message
from 2008. For more WMST-L files available on the Web, see the
WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Tue, 15 Sep 2009 09:27:54 -0400
From: Coralynn V Davis <cvdavis AT BUCKNELL.EDU>
Subject: educational film recommendations: first wave
Hi all,
I am looking for recommendations for educational films on 19th-early 20th
century [USA]-based struggles for women's empowerment/women's rights/etc. Most
of the films I'm aware of ignore issues of class and race (or romanticize
the relationship between the women's movement and anti-slavery movements) to
a large degree.
- Coralynn Davis


Coralynn V. Davis
Director, Women's and Gender Studies Program
Associate Professor of Women's and Gender Studies and Anthropology
Bucknell University Lewisburg, PA 17837
Email: cvdavis  AT  bucknell.edu
Date: Tue, 15 Sep 2009 11:03:22 -0400
From: Sheila Lintott <sheila.lintott AT BUCKNELL.EDU>
Subject: Re: educational film recommendations: first wave
How about http://www.pbs.org/stantonanthony/ ?  It doesn't deal very much
with race/class, but it doesn't entirely skirt the issues.  

Sheila Lintott
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Bucknell University
Lewisburg PA 17837
Date: Tue, 15 Sep 2009 12:45:42 -0500
From: Hannah Miyamoto <hsmiyamoto AT MSN.COM>
Subject: Re: educational film recommendations: first wave
"Iron Jawed Angels" is a 2004 documentary by HBO Films featuring
excellent performances by Hilary Swank, Angelica Houston, Julia
Ormond, Frances O'Connor, and Patrick Dempsey.  Early in the film,
as the young suffragists prepare for their first big national
protest march in 1913, the film illustrates the issues of class and
race by 1) showing the "college girls" (Paul had a Ph.D) trying to
recruit marchers outside a garment factory, and 2) portraying Alice
Paul refusing Ida B. Wells permission to march with white women from
Illinois (dramatic license taken here).  The commentary by the
director and screenplay writer--who actually annotated their script
with historical references--is so valuable, it might be worthwhile
to have students watch the show with that also.

BTW, as I develop the history of the woman suffrage movement in the
Territory of Hawai'i, I am convinced that the 1848-1890 movement and
the 1910-1920 movements are so dissimilar that they can be studied as
different movements: Success in the last decade owed little to
late-19th century suffrage activism (however courageous), and was due
more to the arrival of a new generation of energetic and progressive
young women and men, holding dramatically different values and
perspectives than Americans of the late 19th century.

In short, America became Modern, a Generation Gap opened, and women
got the vote.

Hannah Miyamoto
Graduate Studies, Sociology
Univ. of Hawai'i at Manoa
hsmiyamoto  AT  msn.com
Date: Sun, 4 Oct 2009 15:42:56 -0400
From: harrison AT GWU.EDU
Subject: First Wave films
I wouldn't use Iron Jawed Angels. It's not a documentary -- it's a 
Hollywood version that invents a relationship with a man for Alice Paul. 
I haven't seen it in a long time, so I can't detail the other problems, 
but One Woman, One Vote, which is a documentary, does a much more 
accurate job.
Cynthia Harrison
Associate Professor of History, Women's Studies, and Public Policy 
George Washington University
Date: Sun, 4 Oct 2009 18:49:32 -0500
From: Hannah Miyamoto <hsmiyamoto AT MSN.COM>
Subject: Re: First Wave films
Permit me to make another point about teaching the Woman Suffrage
movement: Hagiography of Anthony and Stanton.

Every documentary of which I am aware avoids one painful honest fact:
By the time Anthony died in 1906, the American woman suffrage
movement, as then constituted, was a spectacular failure.

Read the primary sources and contemporary histories, and take yourself
back 100 years ago.

In 1909, the U.S. had 46 states, and women could vote in only 4 of
sparsely-populated western ones.  Referenda had failed in Oregon,
Washington, South Dakota, New Hampshire.  Legislative efforts were
unavailing in New York, Illinois, or any other industrial state.
Woman suffrage was almost anathema in the South.

Anthony explained part of the problem at the 1900 NAWSA convention,
when she pointed out that in New York, the most populous state in the
nation, not one woman was willing or able to serve as press secretary.
A movement that cannot communicate without a media strategy will not
be an insurgency.

Other problems were that the woman suffrage movement was out of touch
with the Progressive movement, trade unionists, even socialists and
intellectuals, to say nothing of African-Americans, Jews or youth--the
latter who had been developing their own culture and identity since
the 1890s.

This is why I think the 1906 founding of the national College Equal
Suffrage League marked the start of the third and final phase of the
American woman suffrage movement.  The growth of CESL tracked the
entry of thousands of young women and men, strategically drawn from
upper and middle-class, educated, Progressive and socialist sectors of

Yes, most suffragists were over-privileged pampered women.  However,
they also had the education, eloquence, and free time necessary to
push suffrage over the top.  The victories in states like California
(1910), Washington (1911) and New York (1917) were all due to the
influx of these younger people, using more innovative and assertive
tactics than the "second phase" suffragists who had rejected and
isolated Stanton and Anthony.  Even Carrie Chapman Catt had dismissed
the very idea of parading for suffrage in 1909, comparing it to acting
like street cleaners.

Perhaps the biggest reason why documentary makers and historians exalt
Stanton and Anthony without explaining how they could have become so
marginalized by 1900, yet woman suffrage would triumph 20 years later,
is that the "third phase" suffragists consistently put forward these
names and faces over announcing their own, thus effectively dropping
from the notice of history.  By recognizing the existence of three
distinct phases of the woman suffrage movement, markedly discontinuous
in personalities, tactics, and arguments, we can fully assess the
woman suffrage movement--especially the role of educated and daring
young people in its success.  Unfortunately, the documentary film to
tell that story has not been made; this is the strength of "Iron Jawed

Hannah Miyamoto
Graduate Studies, Sociology
Univ. of Hawai'i at Manoa
hsmiyamoto  AT  msn.com 
Date: Sun, 4 Oct 2009 19:47:21 -0400
From: Cynthia Harrison <harrison AT GWU.EDU>
Subject: Iron-Jawed Angels
Honest women may disagree, but Ms. Miyamoto writes (in part): 

"The instructor is responsible for reminding students of how IJA distorts
documentary evidence, twists geography, and distorts time, which will require
her to conduct sufficient research to bring the world of IJA back into focus.
The DVD commentary track is the first place to start."

Many, if not most, instructors are not equipped to critique IJA and few will
have enough class time to show the whole film, much less the whole film in
addition to the DVD commentary.

"One Woman, One Vote" IS a documentary (and an excellent one, at that) and I
show the part devoted to the twentieth century in one class period of 75

Cynthia Harrison 
Associate Professor of History, WomenÆs Studies, and Public Policy 
George Washington University 
837 22nd Street, NW 
Washington, DC 20052 
Email: harrison  AT  gwu.edu  		 	   		  
Date: Mon, 5 Oct 2009 10:00:35 -0400
From: "[ISO-8859-1] brez.1 AT osu.edu" <brez.1 AT OSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: First Wave films
I show "How We Got the Vote" to illustrate the suffrage movement to my
students.  This film is based on historical documentation, detailing the
full length of the suffrage struggle.  It's narrated by Jean Stapleton and
even has clips of Alice Paul (as a delightful older woman) speaking about
her experience.  The only flaw I find with this film is that there is no
reference to assistance offered by African American women.

Many students seem to appreciate that the story isn't glamorized (ala Iron
Jawed Angels).  Important film, as most students have never been given this
information before.

Skylar Bre'z
MA student and GTA
Ohio State University
Date: Mon, 5 Oct 2009 10:55:28 -0400
From: Sandra Emmachild <emmachs AT SUNYSUFFOLK.EDU>
Subject: Re: First Wave films
I show both films and have found that students can appreciate and wish
to discuss both.  They are especially moved by the interview with Alice
Paul (at ninety years old) after having seen her portrayal in "Iron
Jawed Angels."

Sandra Emmachild (emmachs  AT  sunysuffolk.edu)
Date: Mon, 5 Oct 2009 09:35:32 -0700
From: Voichita Nachescu <voikitza AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: First Wave films
Dear all,

I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but Women Make Movies has a
new release titled Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema.  Here's the link
to the webpage: http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c749.shtml .  I
personally haven't used this resource, but I wonder if anyone has, and
what would be your feedback.  

Warm wishes, 

Voichita Nachescu, Ph.D.
Women and Gender Studies
Grand Valley State University
Date: Mon, 5 Oct 2009 12:56:38 -0400
From: Christopher K. Philippo <CP113322 AT ALBANY.EDU>
Subject: Re: First Wave films
Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film 1900-1934, a DVD box set from
the National Film Preservation Foundation
http://www.filmpreservation.org/T3_brochure.pdf might be of interest.

Chris Philippo
cp113322  AT  albany.edu
Date: Mon, 5 Oct 2009 14:19:30 -0400
From: Dana Dabek-Milstein <ddmilstein AT ALICEPAUL.ORG>
Subject: Re: First Wave films
Posted on behalf of a collegue....

I wanted to provide a view from a historic site.  As the Director of
Heritage at the Alice Paul Institute, I am delighted that the movie Iron
Jawed Angels is being used as a teaching resource in college classrooms. The
movie was made particularly for college women, with the intent to stir their
sentiments in a way that would drive them to participate in the 2004 (and
future) elections.  Since the movie came out, we have not been able to keep
it in stock in our own gift shop.  Even four years later, we still receive
communications each month from people who have recently viewed the movie and
are inspired by it.

We do provide a PDF of "50 Facts about Iron Jawed Angels" that I would be
happy to send to anyone who requests.  This was originally part of a
viewer's guide that is currently being revised into an educator's guide by
our Educator's Advisory Council because of popularity of this movie.  Our
educator's guide won't be finished until early next spring, but we will be
sure to post an announcement when available.  In the meantime, please email
me at kmyers  AT  alicepaul.org if you would like the "50 Facts" guide. Thank

Kris Myers
Director of Heritage & Outreach
Alice Paul Institute
kmyers  AT  alicepaul.org

Honoring her legacy, preserving her home, developing future leaders.
Support a future leader with your donation today. Visit
[Though not part of the above discussion, the following message offers resources 
relevant to that discussion.]

Date: Sunday, February 03, 2008 11:52 AM -0500
From: Sheila.Hughes AT NOTES.UDAYTON.EDU
Subject: Re: readings for "Iron-Jawed Angels"
In response to your request for non-academic readings to accompany 
"Iron-Jawed Angels,"  I have a few items to suggest--if you are interested 
in web resources. I used the film in my Intro to WST course just this past 

I had assigned the following to my students:

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/vfwhtml/vfwhome.html - this archive includes 
three photographs of parades such as the one shown in the film (the photo 
of the 1912 NY parade features a black woman marching with white women, 
which is interesting in light of the Ida B. Wells Barnett scenes in the 
film). It also has a photograph of the white house picket line which is 
pretty closely mirrored in Von Garnier's film.

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/naw/nawstime.html - "Votes for Women" a 
timeline of the women's suffrage movement in the U.S. - sets the events of 
the film within a larger historical context, going back to 1776.

http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/suffrage.htm - a timeline of women's suffrage 
events internationally - sets the U.S. history in a global context.

An eager student also shared this site with us in class:  
http://www.johndclare.net/Women1_Forcefeeding_Purvis.htm - a 1995 article 
in which historian Jane Purvis compares the force-feeding suffered by the 
suffragists to rape. 

There are also a number of useful looking links at a page set up to 
support classroom use of the film: 

And there are many great sites out there on suffrage cartoons...given the 
role of the Washingon Post cartoonist (Patrick Dempsy) in the film.  The 
above-mentioned student said she thought his character might actually have 
been based on a woman, though I haven't had a chance to explore this yet. 

I hope some of this is of help!


Sheila Hassell Hughes, PhD
Director of Women's & Gender Studies
Associate Professor of English
University of Dayton
300 College Park
Dayton, OH 45469-0322
sheila.hughes  AT  notes.udayton.edu

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