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Iron Jawed Angels

Updated on April 25, 2009

Iron Jawed Angels

Women’s Suffrage was a large movement geared towards gaining women the ability to vote. Anna Shaw and Carrie Catt together helped the National American
Woman Suffrage Association grow to over two million by 1971. They believed it was best to go state by state to achieve each states approval individually. After the movement grew, they enlisted the help of Alice Paul to run the headquarters in Washington D.C. Alice Paul had her own ideas on how to gain the vote, she believed we needed to go to congress and have an amendment passed to get the vote throughout the country.
    Iron Jawed Angels was a very politically correct film depicting the struggle of the suffragette’s. Hilary Swank plays the role of Alice Paul, a defiant and brilliant woman who puts her life on the line for the right to vote. Although her views weren’t popular she kept at her cause. Alice and others petitioned a war president outside of his own house for months at a time through hard weather and even harder disapproving crowds. No one believed what they did was moral, and so not even the police would protect them. After some time, the protestors were forcibly removed under charges of “obstructing traffic”, and sent to Occoquan Workhouse for three months. While imprisoned, they were forced to work in a horrible environment without speech and were treated possibly worse than they would have been in their own homes. Alice chose to engage in a hunger strike and was force-fed raw eggs through a plastic tube several times. She was then later questioned to explain herself. She responded, “ You asked me to explain myself. I just wonder what needs to be explained. It should be quite clear. Look into your heart. I swear to you mine’s no different. You want a place in the trades and professions where you can earn your bread. So do I. You want means of self-expression. So why are you satisfying your own personal ambitions. So do I. You want a voice in the American government in which you live. So do I, so what is there to explain?” (Iron Jawed Angels, Hilary Swank, 2004).
    In the textbook historians discuss that as a whole most women believed that they were made to live as the mother, wife, and homemaker and that was their only purpose. To go against that was inhumane and it was not their place to defy their husbands, or to put their children through something dangerous. Other woman believed that getting the right to vote should only make sense if it was kept into well-born family’s, and woman who were well educated. They didn’t see how it could help the country or them if there were immigrants and other “base” groups able to gain the right to vote.
    Throughout the movie there were several parts that were extremely correct. When Alice Paul is stroking the desk in which she says was claimed to be Susan B. Anthony’s personal desk the film direction crew actually went out in search of and found Susan B. Anthony’s desk for the movie. The director’s main focus was to make this movie so close to history as she could because she felt this story was so important to film. When Alice threw the parade for Woman’s Rights, which was on the day of President Wilson’s inauguration, almost the entire town showed up to see what was happening downtown or to protest the women who were trying to gain something for what they felt was inhumane. Very few people were standing outside to greet the new President, that event really occurred. People seemed so unaware of the new president. The women who couldn’t be a  part of the marching still felt they needed to help. These women, usually wealthy, would go into a store and buy a hat and then make a deal with the hat sales person. They would tell the sales person to keep the hat, give them back the money, and send their husband the bill. These woman would then leave the store with the cash to donate to the suffrage office. This was one of the only ways women could give money because during this time period woman were not allowed to own anything. They didn’t have homes, cars, not even a bank account. Everything belonged to their husband and everything was under his control. A bit further into the movie, the first set of women are imprisoned at the work camp and this first night was called by many the ‘night of terror’ because of how horrible it was. One woman began protesting by kicking over chairs and screaming demands. The guards took her by the wrist and hung her on the bars with handcuffs and threatened to silence her if she dared speak. The other suffragists with her protested and held their hands crossed over their cell bars signaling that if one was to be tortured they all would. Finally, congress came to a vote after fifty years of fighting to attempt to pass an amendment and the only way it went through was a final vote by Mr. Burns, who only voted ‘yea’ because of a telegram sent to him by his mother. It is  unknown what that telegram said, but it must have been quite powerful to change a stubborn man’s mind on such an important issue.
    Unfortunately, like most of Hollywood movies, Iron Jawed Angels is not perfect. There were several mistakes or add-ons to real life history. Throughout most of the movie the music which was a more current rock music score was inappropriate for the seriousness by which the suffragists conducted their campaign.  For example, the song “Ain’t She Sweet” wasn’t introduced until 1927 by Paul Ash in Chicago. Not to mention that rock was inapposite to the 1910’s. Another factor of inaccuracy was the everyday items that were not yet a part of their time.  In a scene for a brief moment in you can catch a glimpse of a small woman’s wrist watch on the wrist of Alice Paul.  Also included with the press involved scenes was a Crown Graphic camera. Both the watch and camera did not exist in 1918. Most importantly,  I noticed an American Flag hung backwards in a scene where Wilson is talking to congress. Another flaw noticed was the hair styles of  the women in the movie. Their hair was worn  flapper style which was not true to that time period. This was highly noticeable in several scenes just of them doing their hair to get ready for pictures and the rally. Alice Paul was nowhere near what would be considered a flapper. Throughout the movie there was a woman by the name of Emily Molly Parker, this woman is in fact a complete fictional character. There is no one by that name in history, she was merely an addition to the movie. Although, Doris Stevens was a real person who happened to be one of the women on the night of terror and ended up writing a book detailing all the trauma that had occurred. During their time in Occoquan a note was leaked out to the press telling the world of their treatment. In this film, the note was leaked through to the senator by his wife. In actuality, this famous note was smuggled out by a worker of the prison to the press. The only notes received were by Alice Paul and another woman by the name of Brusa.  The final flaw captured was near the very end of the film where Carrie Cat stands up and has the women next to her move down so that Alice Paul may sit while listening to a presidential speech. This couldn’t have been more false because from the moment Alice Paul detached her group from the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to form the National Woman’s Party (NWP)  in 1916 the two never spoke again, at least no words were ever documented. After all the turmoil and suffering, on August 26, 1920 the nineteenth amendment passed and gave woman the right to vote.
    Iron Jawed Angels had a very significant point to show to us. It showed the audience how difficult it was for these woman to fight for something they believed in. The filmmakers wanted to show how today everyone is equal by law. They want everyone to realize that this didn’t just happen one day because some random person thought it should be that way. This gender fought for over fifty years, to the point where the original few who began the journey had already died and were never able to see what their work  created. The quest wasn’t just the work of white women, the black woman wanted to be equal as well. Their husbands and sons had finally achieved equality after the civil war and this was their fight just as much as it was the white women’s and it’s believed that the African-American woman had to fight even harder to gain equality in this country. After a long stretch of time, we are so very fortunate to be able to speak our minds and have our place in this world.                                                   

Works Cited
Brinkley, Alan. American History A Survey. New York, NY: Lyn Uhl, 2007.
Iron Jawed Angels. Dir. Katja Von Garnier  Perf. Hilary Swank, Frances O’Conner, Julia     Ormond, and Anjelica Huston. HBO Films Presents a Spring Creek Production,
Gideon, Barnes III’s. “Made-for-TV Rubbish.” Amazon. Oct. 2006.
    10 Sep. 2008     <>


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    • profile image

      Sally Smith 

      7 years ago

      Hey call me Pete Maida...775-670-4546

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 

      9 years ago

      It is amazing how much is covered up in history.


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