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Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema, a Documentary Film

Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema. Director: Kay Sloan. Women Make Movies, 2003.

Era: Suffrage Era | Media: Documentary Film, Video

This 35-minute documentary takes the viewer back to a time and place when film was silent—and when movie makers used silent film to support and oppose the women’s suffrage movement.

Conceived and directed by scholar Kay Sloan, an accomplished authorSuffragettes in the Silent Cinema contains clips from a variety of surviving silent films that addressed the question of women’s voting rights. These films include A Lively Affair, which depicts women abandoning their kids and stealing bicycles to ride to suffrage meetings, and, as featured on this site, A Busy Day, which stars Charlie Chaplin playing a suffragist in drag.

“It was seen as a deeply threatening issue then,” Sloan, the filmmaker, told the Cincinnati publication City Beat in an interview. “If women voted, the whole family structure was endangered. The fabric of our society was at risk.”

But the documentary also includes examples of pro-suffrage silent films, like What 80 Million Women Want, a silent film about a detective who investigates corrupt officials. The detective’s name is Harriot Stanton Blatch, played by none other than Harriot Stanton Blatch, a notable suffragist and the daughter of women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In the film, Blatch is also an ardent suffragist, in addition to her work as a sleuth.

The DVD of the film is available for $19.95 directly from the film company that made it. It is also available in many academic institutions and libraries. Search for the closest library copy on WorldCat. 

Watch this four-minute clip about the movie, courtesy of Women Make Movies,



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