Movie and discussion about suffrage movement

BY Olivia Montes

Elm Staff Writer

This past Wednesday, January 29, the Washington College academic departments of Communications & Media Studies (CMS), Gender Studies, History, Political Science, and Sociology, in conjunction with the Goldstein Program of Public Affairs and the Kent County League of Women Voters in Chestertown, presented the historical fiction film “Iron Jawed Angels” in Litrenta Hall. 

“Iron Jawed Angels” displayed the complicated history of the U.S. women’s suffrage movement. There was an interactive discussion following the screening. 

The screening of the film, which starred notable actresses Anjelica Huston, Frances O’Connor, and Hillary Swank as historical suffragettes fighting for the right to vote in early 20th century America, was brought to the WC campus by Dr. Erin Anderson, associate professor and department chair of sociology, and Dr. Alicia Kozma, associate professor and department chair of CMS. 

“The film follows the conflict and cooperation between two women’s organizations fighting for the rights of women to vote, the tactics and experiences of the women involved, and the sacrifice and suffering women made to achieve passage of the 19th amendment,” Dr. Anderson said.

The effort between multiple fields and programs sponsoring the event allowed for both those on the WC campus and the surrounding Chestertown community to view what the movement looked like from both the inside and out in the early 20th century, as well as the amount of pain and strife these women had to go through to reach what seemed like an unrealistic goal for an incoming new future. 

Dr. Sarah Feyerherm, Vice President of Student Affairs, who attended the screening, remarked on how much the film itself “delivered on its goal” to promote the passionate side of the movement, particularly how it serves as the reminder to how “about the arc of history and constitutional rights in our country.”

“The film was an inspiring depiction of that slice of history where women took on the responsibility to advocate for themselves and essentially demand the right to vote, using any leverage they had to make that happen,” Dean Feyerherm said. “It raised the question of how


advocate for having a constitutional right when the system doesn’t recognize you as a person deserving of constitutional rights.” 

The film also sought to provide viewers, according to Dr. Anderson, an insight as to how hard these women fought for these basic human rights in such a restricted era for the female identity — and how the fight continues to be fought to secure further rights. 

“Now, there are differing opinions on ‘women’s issues’ and ‘women’s rights’ and conflict among women on the best tactics to achieve these,” Dr. Anderson said. 

“[And] although women have earned the right to vote and access to many other political opportunities that were once prohibited, they still aren’t treated as fully equal citizens in law and politics and many other social institutions,” she said. 

Overall, regardless of its dramatization, the film did acknowledge and touch upon the numerous complexities of the movement, and how the fight for the right to vote became the fight for being regarded as free and recognized citizens of the United States.

That wasn’t to say that there are several criticisms of the film itself, specifically how it provides direct focus to only on gender rather than intersectionality between gender and race. But the film provides the audience a sense of resilience from those same suffragettes, picketing day after day at the White House gates, establishing this feminist moment as a legitimate, American movement that must be recognized by all — and how the fight continues to be fought by their descendants to this day.

“Many of the battles women were fighting last century — enfranchisement, bodily autonomy and reproductive rights, economic independent, the right to education, and a voice in the political process—are [still] waging today,” Dr. Kozma said. “The film was an excellent reminder of the need for intersectional, ideologically-bound, and communal activism today as much as ever.”

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