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by Marguerite Kearns
The United States is racing to catch up with the United Kingdom that has been far ahead in terms of bringing awareness of the historic women’s suffrage movement to public attention in recent years. Keep in mind that American audiences haven’t seen a home-grown major motion picture on the suffrage movement since 2004 with the HBO production “Iron Jawed Angels.” Excellent documentaries, especially independent productions, are being produced on the American shores, as well as YouTube and Vimeo offerings.
Public interest in the American suffrage movement has increased dramatically since the announcement about the U.K. “Suffragette” production team casting Meryl Streep in the role of Emmeline Pankhurst, the pivotal leader of the militant wing of the English suffrage movement.
THE SEPTEMBER 2015 “SUFFRAGETTE” FILM FROM THE U.K. HAS SHAKEN THINGS UP
The U.K. “Suffragette” film production directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan has announced the film’s release in September of 2015. In previous announcements, the release date had been in January 2015. Already there’s speculation among entertainment commentators about the production’s Oscar potential in 2016. While the United Kingdom has had the edge in terms of public attention, there’s a growing audience of those who want to know more about long and difficult struggle for U.S. women to win the right to vote from 1848 to 1920. Suffrage centennial events and celebrations in the U.S. and abroad are taking on an increased importance.
The 2004 HBO film “Iron Jawed Angels” introduced millions of Americans to the 1917 picketing of the White House by Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party. This led to the suffragists’ imprisonment, force feedings, and a round of publicity that wore down opposition to women winning the vote. The bold activism led to the eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 that expanded the franchise for American women. The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial project is organizing to honor this period of the suffrage movement in its fundraising to have a suffragist memorial completed and operational by the 2020 suffrage centennial.
THE U.K. HAS GRABBED THE LEAD IN SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT AWARENESS
The U.K.’s prominence in suffrage movement awareness has a lot to do with the “Suffragette” film as well as the high-profile media attention showered on the centennial observance of the death of English suffrage martyr Emily Davison in 2013. By comparison, the American suffrage martyr, Inez Milholland, is much less known. The centennial of her 1916 death in 2016 may bring Milholland out of obscurity. However, it’s too soon to tell if U.S. suffrage martyr Milholland will ever have the same public recognition as Emily Davison in the U.K.
The second season of the BBC suffrage sit com “Up the Women” has made the suffrage movement familiar to a broader segment of British television audiences. And the recent release of a major book, “Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary,” by Anita Anand (Bloomsbury) focuses on an Indian princess, the goddaughter of Queen Victoria and a high-profile player in the English suffrage movement.
The book “Sophia” is a great read, and this book doesn’t stand alone. There’s also a growing body of scholarly research about the U.S. suffrage movement that has eroded the movement’s relative obscurity. Some excellent books have been published in the U.S. over the past few years. The close ties between the American and English suffrage movement from 1900 through 1914 are also of increasing interest on both sides of the Atlantic. Projects in the process of development in the U.S. include the proposed national suffragist memorial in Lorton, Virginia and a statue of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in NYC’s Central Park.
A LONG LIST OF THOSE PLANNING FOR UPCOMING SUFFRAGE EVENTS AND CELEBRATIONS
Various advocacy organizations and historic sites are already busy planning upcoming suffrage events from now through 2020. These include the National Women’s History Project, the Alice Paul Institute, AAUW, SUNY, the NYS Museum, New York City government, the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Foundation, the National Park Service, the New York State Council on the Humanities, NOW, the NYS Cultural Heritage Tourism Network, WAMC public radio Albany, Vision 2020, Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, Sewall-Belmont House, the Girl Scouts, historic sites and local historical societies, the New York History blog, Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, Votes for Women 2020, Newseum, feminist and voting advocacy organizations, scholarly journals, and many individuals, community organizations, media outlets, public officials, state agencies, and those offering special content such as theatre, workshops, and conferences. If you are aware of suffrage events and programs, let me know at suffragewagon at gmail.com so I can add them to the expanding list.
ACTIVITY AND AWARENESS HAS INCREASED DURING 2015 IN THE U.S.
State centennial celebrations held west of the Mississippi in recent years have brought considerable attention to how American women there first won the right to vote. Delta Sigma Theta made a major contribution to awareness of the participation of African-American women in the movement when it organized record numbers of its members to participate in the centennial parade observance in Washington, DC in 2013.
Susan B. Anthony’s 195th birthday was observed in February 2015 by suffrage movement fans across the U.S. Ambitious plans are also in the works to celebrate Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s 200th birthday in November of 2015. The Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, New York has announced an active program schedule throughout the year.
Tens of thousands of activists were responsible for American women winning the right to vote. It’s a remarkable accomplishment that deserves to see the light of day. And this means opportunities to mobilize on the local, state and national levels. Don’t forget to bring memories and stories from family archives out of the closet and down from the attic. And support ALL suffrage-related events. If you demonstrate support for the efforts of others, the support will also be there for you.
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