Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Iron Jawed Angels

I have been dying to do a post on this movie. I cannot say enough good things about Iron Jawed Angels. When I got to visit The Henry Ford Museum this past summer a friend and I saw a clip of this movie in the Civil Rights section. We both made a mental note to get the movie from Netflix. As shocked as I was that HBO was capable of doing a great movie it was wonderful.

I love history but between my busy schedule and my short attention span I don't do well with documentaries. So I love it when Hollywood does a historical movie and actually does the history behind it justice. I watched the movie and loved it and then spent a ton of time researching to see how accurate it was. Then after spending way too much time on the research I found out there was extra stuff on the DVD itself that explained what parts of the movie were true and what was not.

I was pleased to learn that movie was very accurate. The lady who wrote the script read 15 books trying to make the movie as historically accurate as possible. There were 2 characters that were representative of people of that time but not actual people. And they had to compress some time & events to get it all in the movie but otherwise it was pretty true to life.

Hillary Swank plays the main suffragist Alice Paul who really was instrumental in getting women the right to vote. The movie was extremely inspiring in depicting women fighting so passionately for a worthy cause they truly believed in.

They showed the divide between the older suffragettes who wanted to implement change non-aggressively and the younger group who was tired of waiting. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns were part of the younger group who started out by restraining themselves and joining the older group known as the National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in the hopes of making headway. But when the older women from NAWSA undercut them they went off on their own and started more aggressive action like the suffragist movement in Britain. They started their own group entitled the National Woman's Party (NWP). Their main goal was to get a constitutional amendment passed giving women the right to vote.

One of their big events was a parade they had on March 3, 1913. Here is an excerpt from an Alice Paul biography that describes their early efforts and about the parade:
"In 1912, Alice Paul and two friends, Lucy Burns and Crystal Eastman, headed to Washington, D.C. to organize for suffrage. With little funding but in true Pankhurst style, Paul and Burns organized a publicity event to gain maximum national attention; an elaborate and massive parade by women to march up Pennsylvania Avenue and coincide with Woodrow Wilson's presidential inauguration. The parade began on March 3, 1913, with the beautiful lawyer, activist, and socialite Inez Milholland, leading the procession, dressed in Greek robes and astride a white horse. The scene turned ugly, however, when scores of male onlookers attacked the suffragists, first with insults and obscenities, and then with physical violence, while the police stood by and watched. The following day, Alice's group of suffragists made headlines across the nation and suffrage became a popular topic of discussion among politicians and the general public alike."

Then they began picketing the White House in the hopes of pressuring President Wilson to help pass a constitutional amendment. At first Wilson ignored them but they persevered and then he began to have them arrested. While in prison Paul and others staged hunger strikes which was met with being violently force fed. This was a hard part of the movie for me to watch since I saw this soon after I had gotten out of the hospital where I had a tube down my nose and throat. It showed the lengths to which these women were willing to go to advance their cause. Here is another excerpt from Paul's biography which shows that eventually their torture and imprisonment turned the tide in their favor:
"When news of the prison conditions and hunger strikes became known, the press, some politicians, and the public began demanding the women’s release; sympathy for the prisoners brought many to support the cause of women's suffrage. Upon her release from prison, Paul hoped to ride this surge of goodwill into victory."

This was the turning point where Wilson finally gave in. Here is another excerpt that describes how it all went down:
"In 1917, in response to public outcry about the prison abuse of suffragists, President Wilson reversed his position and announced his support for a suffrage amendment, calling it a "war measure." In 1919, both the House and Senate passed the 19th Amendment and the battle for state ratification commenced. Three-fourths of the states were needed to ratify the amendment. The battle for ratification came down to the state of Tennessee in the summer of 1920; if a majority of the state legislature voted for the amendment, it would become law. The deciding vote was cast twenty-four year-old Harry Burn, the youngest member of the Tennessee assembly. Originally intending to vote “no,” Burn changed his vote after receiving a telegram from his mother asking him to support women’s suffrage. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment. Six days later, Secretary of State Colby certified the ratification, and, with the stroke of his pen, American women gained the right to vote after a seventy-two year battle. August 26th is now celebrated as Women's Equality Day in the United States."

In the movie they actually show Burn changing his vote after hearing from his mother. I thought surely that didn't happen so imagine my surprise to find out it actually happened. It was fascinating!! And the title of this movie Iron Jawed Angels was an actual name given to the suffragettes by the media while they were imprisoned.

The movie was an inspiring account of one of the most exciting events in our nation's history. It inspired me to fight for what I believe in and not give up.

Unfortunately, as many of you are probably aware I was disappointed to find out in my research that many of these suffragettes were also socialists, pacifists and Eastman was even a fan of Margaret Sanger. I realized that many of them were Quakers which would explain the anti-war stance but the socialistic beliefs were disappointing. And Alice Paul was the author of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) which I'm not a fan of. But despite these flaws I think their cause was noble and I for one am thankful that because of them I have the right to vote today.

While watching the movie I pondered on whether I would've been a suffragette or not. I think I would've but I would've had more conservative views like Susan B. Anthony and others did. Also, many of the early suffragettes were also anti-slavery and fought for the rights of African-Americans to be free. Both were just, worthy and inspirational causes.

Shoprat made some excellent points in the comments section that I thought were worthy of adding to this post. He says exactly what I was thinking about their beliefs.
"Most of the women who fought for the right to vote would be sickened by what modern feminism has become. Susan B. Anthony (a great feminist hero) was fiercely against abortion and infanticide as well as divorce. Of course Margaret Sanger was a follower of Hitler but leftists don't like to acknowledge that little piece of trivia.

Yes some were Socialists, but at that point in time Socialism was not yet proven wrong and inhumane. It was quite possible for a Christian to be a socialist until the middle of the 20th century when Socialism was proven unworkable and inherently inhumane. I like to think that they would have been horrified at what socialism really did and would have repudiated it, as many others did."

Iron Jawed Angels
Woman's Suffrage
Alice Paul: Feminist, Suffragist and Political Strategist
List of suffragists and suffragettes
Photo Credits--Suffrage History
Leaders in the Women's Suffrage Movement

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