Whenever I hear people saying that they don’t intend to vote, for whatever reason – “My vote doesn’t matter because the whole system is too corrupt,” “The choices are between Tweedledee and Tweedledum,” “It only encourages them” – I think of the terrible sacrifices made by so many, in order that previously disenfranchised people could secure the right to vote. I remember radio interviews in 1994 with black South Africans lined up in all sorts of harsh weather for days on end, waiting patiently for their chance, finally, finally, to cast their votes for Nelson Mandela. And I think with great gratitude of the suffragists who fought so hard for so long, a century ago, so that American women like me could vote.
When my own grandmother turned 21 in 1919, the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution had not yet been passed. You can bet that the right to vote is not a privilege that I’m going to take for granted. But alas, a lot of younger American women have forgotten – or never knew – the price that our foremothers had to pay for that right. With a presidential election coming up in less than three months whose outcome will have profound ramifications for our country’s future, it makes perfect sense that the League of Women Voters of the Mid-Hudson Region has seen fit to mark Women’s Equality Day and remind us of that history with a screening of Iron-Jawed Angels.
This film about the second wave of the women’s suffrage movement in the US, directed by Katja von Garnier, was released on HBO in 2004 and was nominated for five Emmy Awards. It focuses on the efforts of Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O’Connor), first as activists in the National American Women Suffrage Association and later breaking away to form the more radical National Woman’s Party, to persuade president Woodrow Wilson and Congress to pass the 19th Amendment.
Both leaders, along with many other women, began picketing the White House in 1916, calling themselves the Silent Sentinels. The US government tried to suppress the nonviolent protest with arrests, and because it was wartime, the suffragists’ actions were condemned by many as treasonous. Both Paul and Burns endured harsh treatment in the Occoquan Workhouse, including force-feeding when they went on a hunger strike. But in 1919 the Senate finally passed the Women’s Suffrage Amendment, and the following year it was ratified by the 36 states necessary for it to take effect.
Exhausted and disillusioned by the lack of support for the movement by married women, Burns retired from activism following the victory; but Paul went on to compose the Equal Rights Amendment and fight (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) for its passage until her death in 1977. Iron-Jawed Angels also stars Anjelica Huston as Carrie Chapman Catt, Julia Ormond as Inez Milholland and Vera Farmiga as Rose Winslow.
The screening will take place this Saturday, August 25 – the day before Women’s Equality Day, the 92nd anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment – beginning at 7 p.m. at the Poughkeepsie Friends’ Meeting House, located at 249 Hooker Avenue in Poughkeepsie. Admission is free, and parking is available at the corner of Whittier Boulevard and Hooker Avenue. For more information about the event, contact the League of Women Voters of the Mid-Hudson Region at (845) 340-2003 or visit www.lwvmidhudson.org. For more details on the film, visit http://iron-jawed-angels.com.
The League of Women Voters of the Mid-Hudson Region celebrates Women’s Equality Day with a free screening of Katja von Garnier’s Iron-Jawed Angels on Saturday, August 25 at 7 p.m. at the Poughkeepsie Friends’ Meeting House. For details call (845) 340-2003 or visit www.lwvmidhudson.org.