|Length:||56 minutes, 40 seconds.|
|Released:||July 6th, 1997|
Let the Women Vote! explores the struggle of Western women to win that right. The one-hour local documentary was created by independent producer Louise Degn and KUED producer Nancy Green. Let the Women Vote! is a presentation of the Independent Television Service (ITVS).
The hour-long production combines archival photographs and historical political cartoons with contemporary recreations and cinematography to bring to life the story of how women in the West gained the vote. Narrated by Shelley Thomas, former KSL anchorwoman, it illuminates the personal lives of individuals through journal readings and newspaper articles. The program includes national suffragist songs, along with Utah women's rights melodies arranged and sung by local musician Lisa Arrington. Carol Madsen, professor at Brigham Young University, served as consulting historian.
Let the Women Vote! looks at the social and political contexts surrounding woman's suffrage. From the homesteading tradition, in which western women engaged in hard labor with the men, to the drafting of new constitutions for Western territories, and the effects of the Civil War, the program reveals the many changes in America which brought about the women's movement in the West.
Wyoming blazed the trail in extending suffrage to women in 1869, partly as a way to publicize the territory, and to make it attractive to those in the East. "The noble gesture was also couched as a joke," says Green. "Wyoming men wanted more women to come to the territory, because men outnumbered women four to one." Today, the state clings to its legacy as the first to offer women the right to vote with its motto "The Equality State."
In 1870, the Utah Territory passed a bill granting women voting rights. "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was under attack by the rest of the country for polygamy, and they wanted to show the rest of the nation that women in Utah were not oppressed, but were strong individuals who had the power to vote," says Degn. National politicians first thought enfranchised women would vote to end polygamy. When they did not, Congress withdrew Utah's female suffrage, only to return it with statehood.
One surprising episode of Utah history is the unlikely alliance in the late 1800s of the Mormon polygamist wives in Utah with the leaders of the women's suffrage movement in the East. In 1871, luminaries of the suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, made an arduous train trip through the West to meet their American sisters who had won this precious political right, and to encourage other women in states not yet enfranchised. Anthony and Stanton admired the political power of the Mormon women, but disavowed their unorthodox system of marriage. Let the Women Vote! illustrates how women coming from two divergent world views united for a common political goal.
The struggle for suffrage in the 19th century sheds light on contemporary issues of women's rights, says Degn. "Even though each generation has a different issue about women working toward equality, the arguments against them have been the same since women first sought the right to vote," she says. "For over a century, the argument has been that if women step out of their homes, they will contribute to the breakdown of society. Seeing these arguments in the context of voting rights sheds a new perspective on today's issues surrounding gender roles."
Narrating a tale often forgotten in Western history was of personal importance to Green. "In many of the stories we relate in historical documentaries, one of the hardest things to do is to tell the story of women, because it is men's voices that are heard the loudest. It is gratifying to work on something that shows the story of women and their voices. Let the Women Vote! is the story of the empowerment and the politicization of women," says Green.
Let the Women Vote! is produced in association with PMN and ITVS, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding is provided by the R. Harold Burton Foundation, the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, and the Lawrence T. and Janet T. Dee Foundation.
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