September 8, 2008

Netflix this! “Iron Jawed Angels”: the Story of Why Women Can Vote Today.

The women’s suffrage movement in the United States took 72 years, spanning two centuries, 18 presidencies, and three wars.

It was through of all things, an email forward, that snapped me out of my focus on Sarah Palin and my taking for granted yet again my right to vote. I just moved and registered to vote in my new state, not even taking a moment to consider the stories of women who made this possible. How did this become just another piece of paperwork?

History classes often deservedly focused on Susan B. Anthony, but what about the women who took what she started and gave the fight the final push it needed to allow women to vote in 1920?

The email I received highlighted an HBO film released in 2004 but now available on DVD titled “Iron Jawed Angels” that tells their story. The central character is Alice Paul, played by Hilary Swank. (Really, how did I miss this in 2004? Also starring: Anjelica Huston, Frances O’Connor and Patrick Dempsey ). The trailer gave me goosebumps.

Under Alice’s leadership, the National Woman’s Party began picketing the White House in 1917, the first group in the U.S. to wage a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign.  Over 1,000 women peacefully protested, day and night for 18 months. Violence resulted, Alice and 33 others were arrested and sent to Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia where they endured beatings.  Alice herself went on a hunger strike that resulted in weeks of force-feedings.

As we know, the women were successful and Alice went on to have a long life of activism. Read more about her story here, and at the Alice Paul Institute.

As we’re understandably focused on where we need to go with this election, it’s good to remind oneself also of where we’ve come.


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