Until 1920, AMERICAN WOMEN did not have the constitutional right to vote. IRON JAWED ANGELS, a new movie by HBO Films chronicles a key chapter in the struggle for women’s suffrage in the U.S.  The film focuses on two visionary activists, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who broke from the mainstream suffrage movements and created a radical new organization of their own, The National Woman’s Party.  They staged the first-ever pickets at the White House, defied a wartime President, and played a crucial role in securing support for the 19th Amendment (the Susan B. Anthony Amendment).

          The film draws its title from the nickname a Congressman gave to the “iron-jawed” women who launched a hunger strike after they were imprisoned for picketing the White House.  The film, which premiered on February 15 – the birthday of suffrage pioneer Susan B. Anthony – IRON JAWED ANGELS will introduce the public and especially students to a riveting chapter in U.S. history.  Not only does this film celebrate the contributions of the two heroic women, but it also highlights the process by which a constitutional amendment is ratified.

          Professor Edith Mayo, Curator Emeritus in Political and Women’s History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, served as an advisor to Iron Jawed Angels.  Mayo shared her thoughts on the importance of Suffrage History and the Film’s appeal to young people.


          “These women pioneered tactics of nonviolence that were later used by the civil rights movement.  It’s profound.  Martin Luther King and Gandhi both said they had adopted a number of nonviolent protest techniques from the suffrage movement.  Gandhi had witnessed the British suffragists when he was in Britain; King picked up from the suffrage movement through Gandhi’s writings.  I doubt that King would ever have read about these women in any sort of history courses that he took in the United States, because the suffragists were pretty much written out of American history.  But the parallels between the movements are very dramatic.


 WHAT CAN YOUNG PEOPLE TAKE AWAY FROM IRON-JAWED ANGELS? This film makes immediate and compelling a crucial segment of American history that is virtually unknown.  It makes Alice Paul and Lucy Burns look like vital, dynamic, exuberant women who were politically committed and intellectually really sharp.  It also makes them look modern, so that it’s not old, tired, dead history.  I think the film shows the women’s organizational talents, their strategies and their commitment to the cause extremely well. And the film makes this history relevant or modern women and young people today, in a way that I don’t think ready any book can possibly do.  Having said that, I don’t think Alice would every have worn those gorgeous clothes..but never mind, that’s dramatic license.