The HBO film Iron Jawed Angels is a contemporary revision
of a key chapter in the history of the United States: a recount of
the struggle of suffragists (advocates of the extension of
political voting rights) who fought to have the 19th Amendment
added to the constitution.
The film focuses on Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns
(Frances O’Connor) who were considered two “defiant” women of the
times and how they broke from the mainstream women’s-rights
movement and created a more radical wing, the Congressional Union
for Woman Suffrage. This organization evolved into the National
Women’s Party in 1917.
Through this organization, Paul and Burns pushed the boundaries
of political protest to secure women’s voting rights in 1920. Swank
and O’Connor’s performances breathe life into the relationships
between Paul and Burns and make the women feel like complete
characters instead of one-dimensional figures from a distant
The protagonists have very different personalities and
backgrounds, Paul was a Quaker and Burns is an Irish Brooklynite.
However, their devotion to the women’s suffrage unites and binds
them. Their fight was not easy as the women and their volunteers
quarrel with the older more conservative activists, especially
Carrie Chapman Catt (Angelica Houston). They battle public opinion,
in a country dominated by chauvinism, during a time of war and even
battle President Woodrow Wilson.
In 1917, they set up a daily picket line in front of the White
House and were subsequently thrown in jail. They launched a hunger
strikes that makes them headline news. They resist being force fed,
earning them the nickname “The Iron Jawed Angels.” It is clear that
their wills are what is truly made of iron and their courage
inspires our nation and eventually changes it forever.
Iron Jawed Angels is currently running on HBO and is
currently available in video stores throughout the country. The
goal is get more women out to the polls this election year.