We are in week three of our virtual film fest! This week, we’ll watch a short lecture put together by The Great Courses!
No More Corsets: The New Woman
2015, part of The Great Courses – America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Watch the film here:
No More Corsets: The New Woman is one part of America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era from The Great Courses. The lecture is given by Edward O'Donnell Ph.D., and it’s a fascinating look at the lead-up to the women’s suffrage movement. Dr. O’Donnell speaks about all of the social change taking place for women between 1848 and 1920.
There were all of these different factors, brought on by changes in American society due to the Industrial Revolution, that ultimately led to the women’s suffrage movement. It’s interesting to see how these factors tied into to one another. For instance, delaying marriage meant that women could spend more time as students, so America saw a significant spike in women studying at the college level. And then these college-educated women entered the workforce, spent time with other women workers and spoke about the idea of women’s rights. From there the formation of women’s groups, that evolved from meeting about literature to wanting to bring on reforms, such as women’s suffrage.
I really enjoyed Dr. O’Donnell’s lecture and found it to be very informative. I love the lectures from The Great Courses, since they are always very well-researched and the experts are great in front of the camera. Dr. O’Donnell uses some great quotes and interesting anecdotes so that it doesn’t feel like a dry, boring lecture. I particularly enjoyed when he noted that in 1908 Cincinnati tried to ban women from driving and New York City tried to ban women from smoking, but neither law was passed. This is a fantastic way to learn a little more about society in the late 19th century and early 20th century and how the changes helped pave the way for the women’s suffrage movement.
For the second film in our virtual film fest, we have a silent film from 1918!
What 80 Million Women Want
1913, directed by Willard Lewis
Watch the film here:
What 80 Million Women Want is definitely an interesting film. This one is not a documentary, but it does feature women’s suffrage activists Emmeline Pankhurst and Harriet Stanton Blatch playing themselves. Additionally, there is some footage from actual suffragist rallies sprinkled throughout the film as well. The story follows the fictional suffragette Mabel and her lawyer fiancé, Travers. When Travers gets caught up with corrupt Boss Kelly, and is accused of shooting the man, Mabel needs to use her wits to clear her sweetheart’s name.
The transfer of the film to digital is not the greatest, many actors look completely washed out for large chunks of the film and the letters written by Travers that are a key part of the plot are difficult to read. But the storyline is compelling and the main actors do a good job of expressing the action and emotion of the story without the convenience of dialogue. Some of the side characters do overact a bit, with exaggerated hand gestures and such, but they are on screen for such short periods of time it can be forgiven. The music fit the mood exactly as I expected from a film of the silent era. And I thought the production made good use of the newspapers and letters on screen for moving the plot along, it’s just a pity that they’re sometimes so difficult to read.
While this is not the best silent film I’ve seen, I still feel like it’s worthy of watching. It’s fascinating to see how suffrage was represented in film during those years right before women won the right to vote.
For the first film in our Virtual Film fest, let’s start out with a short documentary!
Perfect 36: When Women Won the Vote
2017, directed by Yoshie Lewis
Watch the film here:
Perfect 36: When Women Won the Vote gives a good concise overview of the Women’s Suffrage Movement before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and then focuses specifically on the pivotal role played by the state of Tennessee. The film’s title is a reference to the fact that 36 states needed to ratify the 19th Amendment before it could be officially added to the Constitution, and Tennessee was that 36th state.
There are some great interviews with experts, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s great-great-granddaughter, Coline Jenkins. The brief reenactments and voice-overs of the key players are simple and well-done. It’s really interesting to learn more about the women leading the fight in Tennessee who may have been lesser-known, but were still instrumental in the ratification of the 19th Amendment. And the story behind the representative that cast the deciding vote for ratification was incredible.
One thing that was brought up in Perfect 36 that many people may not know, is that those in the anti-suffrage camp were not all men. There were many women who opposed the idea of their fellow women getting the right to vote! How could one tell which side someone was on? Pro-suffragists wore yellow roses on their lapels, while anti-suffragists wore red roses. Fun fact: some of the anti-suffragists secretly gave out alcohol (this was during prohibition) to try to bribe government officials in Tennessee to their side!
I was worried that because this is such a short documentary, it would be severely lacking in information or that it would feel like everything was rushed, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was a quick, exhilarating trip back in time. I really enjoyed it and I hope you do too!
What a nice start to the Virtual Film Fest! Please free to share your thoughts with us in a comment or on the Facebook event.