Film: 80 Million Women Want—?
80 Million Women Want—?. Director: Will Louis. Performers: Ronald Everett, Ethel Jewett, George Henry, Emmeline Pankhurst, Harriot Stanton Blatch. Unique Film Co., 1913.
Era: Suffrage Era | Media: Documentary Film, Film, Video
While not quite propaganda, this classic 1913 silent film (also—and perhaps more commonly—known as “What 80 Million Women Want”) had a clear political message: Allow women to vote—doing so might just clean up politics.
The film stars Ronald Everett as Will Travers, a struggling young lawyer, and Ethel Jewett as his plucky fiancé, Mabel West. When Will gets involved with corrupt district leader Boss Kelly (George Henry), he finds himself falsely accused of shooting the crooked Boss. With most of the town’s dirty politicians thoroughly wrapped around Boss Kelly’s finger, it’s up to Mabel to clear her betrothed. Luckily, she’s well placed to do so: At the behest of the New York Women’s Political Union, whose leadership Boss Kelly infuriated by denouncing suffragists to the press, Mabel has already infiltrated the Boss’s racket by posing as a secretary. Without giving away too much of the plot, Mabel clears Will’s name and brings down a corrupt politician along the way.
Though it featured big-name appearances by suffragists Emmeline Pankhurst and Harriot Stanton Blatch (the real-life president of the New York Women’s Political Union), critics often pan the film, criticizing its garbled plot, its uninspired cinematography, and the fact that the story’s connection to its titular suffragist cause is oblique and unconvincing.
Whatever its aesthetic shortcomings, “80 Million Women Want—?” offers a valuable window into how the suffrage movement tried to market itself to the cinema-going public, and it includes actual footage of suffrage rallies.
The film can be difficult to find, but a DVD version is available via Amazon.com (Potential viewers should note that the quality of the restored film is marginal). You can access the film via a college or public library account through the Kanopy films website (you can check if you have access through the site directly by clicking the “watch now” button). Public and college libraries may also have access to the film through other streaming subscription services. You can check WorldCat to see if there is a library with access to the film near you.
You can view several discrete clips from the movie in the video below.
For more on suffrage and the silver screen, see Kay Sloan’s documentary Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema.