It’s women’s history month, and I have thought long and hard about how I want to celebrate it here on the blog. I’ve decided that it’s the perfect time to celebrate AU alumnae on film.
The first alumnae on my list is Alice Paul. Alice Paul was a suffragist, feminist, and a founder of the National Woman’s Party – she also earned three degrees from American University. First a law degree in 1922 (from WCL), a master of laws degree in 1927, and civil law PhD in 1928. She’s currently prominently displayed on the pillars of the Kerwin Building.
Paul was born to a Quaker family in New Jersey in 1885, and learned the values of public service and suffrage from her parents. After graduating from Swarthmore College, she spent a year as a social worker in New York City before moving to Britain, where she became active in the suffrage movement, specifically civil disobedience. Once she returned to the United States, she threw herself into the American suffrage movement, organizing the 1913 Woman Suffrage procession in DC. After clashing with the leadership of National American Woman Suffrage Organization (NAWSA), Alice eventually left the organization to form the National Woman’s Party in 1916. There, Paul pushed for more militant tactics in order to enshrine women’s right to vote in the Constitution. She was even arrested in 1917 for “obstructing traffic” while picketing.
After achieving the constitutional amendment in 1920, Paul turned her attention to advocating for an Equal Rights Amendment. Paul would champion this cause for the rest of her life, and it was partially through her advocacy and influence that gender-based discrimination was included in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Paul died in 1977, but her legacy lives on in the fact that I and millions of other American women can vote, and in film and media. One of those films, Iron Jawed Angels, is currently available to rent from Media Services. It stars Hilary Swank as Paul, along with a great ensemble cast that includes Angelica Huston.
Currently, Iron Jawed Angels is the only biopic/historical drama about an AU alumnae, but there’s another in the works. A Woman of No Importance is set to star Daisy Ridley (of Star Wars fame), and will tell the story of Virginia Hall, an AU alum/Allied superspy in WWII France. Hall played a crucial role in organizing the French Resistance, and eventually had to flee France after the Nazis put her on their most wanted list. She crossed the Pyrenees into Spain on foot, a feat all the more remarkable due to her wooden prosthetic leg, which she nicknamed “Cuthbert.”
I’ve been a Virginia Hall fangirl since the age of eight, when I saw a display about her at the International Spy Museum. A Woman of No Importance is supposed to be released this year, but given the fact that no supporting cast has been announced, I doubt it’ll be in theaters anytime soon.
And… that’s it. That’s the list. Which makes me kind of sad, because this short list is indicative of the rest of the film industry write large. There aren’t nearly enough biopics about women in history.