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Free Essays On Iron Jawed Angels Summary

The movie begins with Alice Paul and her friend, Lucy Burns, both are women suffrage activists who just arrived from London, meeting Carrie Chapman Catta and Anna Howard, leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in Philadelphia, 1912. Alice and Lucy are young educated woman possessing high energy while Catt and Howard are more conservative. In the meeting, Alice and Lucy express their idea of fighting for constitutional amendment enfranchising women while elder activists prefer state-by-state campaign. Alice and Lucy also argue that the activists should seek for more creative means to gain public attention to the cause of women suffrage such as parade during the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson.

However, the elder activists fear the possibility of the young activists to employ militant means once used in England. They argue such methods will be counterproductive to the fight for woman suffrage as it will reduce public sympathy and the support of the ruling party, the Democrats. Alice assures that she can guarantee she will not break any law upon marching the parade. Finally Alice and Lucy are permitted to organize a parade and to take over NAWSA’s Washington D.C. committee, provided they raise their own fund.

Soon after moving to D.C., they begin preparing their parade by raising funds and recruiting volunteers, including Alice’s college friend Mabel Vernon, a Polish factory worker Ruza Wenclawska, and a social worker Doris Stevens. The young activists begin raising funds in a party at an art gallery, where they meet Inez Milholland, a labor lawyer, and convince her to serve as a figurehead for the parade. They also meet a Washington newspaper political cartoonist, Ben Weissman, with whom Alice has a crush.

The day of the parade finally arrives. The activists march down the  Pennsylvania Avenue. The public gives various responses to the parade as women and children mostly give sympathy while many men mock them. Indeed, the parade draws much of public attention as President Wilson is welcomed only by few crowds since most people prefer watching the parade. However, the parade turns into a riot when some men attack the activists. The police do not do much to prevent the attack and some activists are injured because of the attack.

Alice and other young activists are pleased with the resulting front page publicity and, despite the objection of the elder activists, seek to press their advantage by leading a delegation to see President Wilson. Unfortunately, President Wilson does not support the cause, arguing that other issues such as currency revision and tariff reform take precedence over women suffrage. The activists begin lobbying the members of the Congress to get the cause of women suffrage on the floor but it does not succeed in the committee.

Considering all the process taken, Alice thinks that they should form a separate committee dedicated to amendment of the Constitution. The committee, which is named Congressional Union, starts publishing newspaper and raising funds. Their aspiration is to boycott President Wilson in the next election since he is reluctant to support the amendment. Such a stance clearly infuriates the elder activists since they consider President Wilson as an ally and take ‘peaceful method’ to lobby him. The relationship becomes even worse since Congressional Union take some of important sponsors of NAWSA.

The relationship between the elder and the young activists deteriorates when in a meeting Catt questions why the fund raised by the Congressional Union is not forwarded to the NAWSA treasurer. Catt then calls for a NAWSA board investigation into the expenditure of the union. As a result, Alice and Lucy leave the organization and form the National Woman’s Party (NWP), which opposes any political candidates who refuse to support the proposed constitutional amendment.

The Party employs various methods to fight for its cause such as disrupting President Wilson’s speech in the Congress and speaking tour in several states. Sadly Inez died during one of her speeches and Alice feels that she is to blame for it. Alice down for a while but her mother and Lucy strengthen her and her spirit revives.

In January 1917, the members of the party begin standing at fence of the White House with banner stating their demand for constitutional amendment. The picket draws much of public attention but the NAWSA disagrees with such a method. Catt even states in a NAWSA meeting that the NWP is “the single greatest obstacle to the suffrage amendment.”

The NWP keeps doing the picket even when the United States declares war against Germany in the World War I, despite objections from some of its members. The public opinion turns against the suffragists as they consider protesting the President for another cause in war time is ‘unpatriotic’. Some activists are even arrested in charge of obstructing traffic, even though they stand on the sidewalk.

The arrested activists are put on trial and they refuse to pay a fine for a crime they consider not commit and therefore they are sentenced to sixty days in Occoquan, a woman prison in Virginia. In spite of the arrest of their partners, some other activists keep doing the picket, resulting in their being arrested by the police as well. In the prison, the activists go on hunger strike and some of them are forced fed by the prison officers.

Meanwhile, Catt frequently meets President Wilson asking him to support the amendment but he insisted on not supporting it. The news about forced feeding leaks out to the public when Senator Leighton, whose wife is also arrested, makes a public speech informing the suffering of the victims. As a result, the activists gain public sympathy. On the other hand, Catt uses this massive publication to press President Wilson, telling his officer that the news will be exposed to the international world and if he still refuses to take action it will harm his reputation. President Wilson finally makes a speech in the Congress announcing his support for women suffrage. The activists then are released and their crusade for women suffrage continues.

By 1920, 35 states have ratified the amendment, thus one more stated is needed since in order to amend the Constitution, three-forth states are needed to ratify the amendment. Tennessee becomes that state when a member of the Congress makes a surprising decision after receiving a telegram from his mother as he was previously predicted to say “no” but ultimately says “yes” during voting. On August 26, 1920, the Suffrage Amendment finally becomes law.

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By yogaslavianarmy • Posted in Essay
Iron Jawed Angels

DVD cover

Directed byKatja von Garnier
Produced by
  • James Bigwood
  • Laura McCorkindale
  • Denise Pinckley
Written by
  • Sally Robinson
  • Eugenia Bostwick-Singer
  • Raymond Singer
  • Jennifer Friedes
Music by
CinematographyRobbie Greenberg
Edited byHans Funck


  • HBO Films
  • Blue Dominion Productions
  • Bluebird House
  • Spring Creek Productions
Distributed byHBO Films

Release date

  • January 16, 2004 (2004-01-16) (Sundance)
  • February 15, 2004 (2004-02-15) (United States)

Running time

125 minutes
CountryUnited States

Iron Jawed Angels is a 2004 American historical drama film directed by Katja von Garnier. The film stars Hilary Swank as suffragist leader Alice Paul, Frances O'Connor as activist Lucy Burns, Julia Ormond as Inez Milholland, and Anjelica Huston as Carrie Chapman Catt. It received critical acclaim after the film premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.[1]

The film focuses on the American women's suffrage movement during the 1910s and follows women's suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Lucy Burns as they use peaceful and effective nonviolent strategies, tactics, and dialogues to revolutionize the American feminist movement to grant women the right to vote. The film was released in the United States on February 15, 2004.


Alice Paul and Lucy Burns return from England where they met while participating in the Women's Social and Political Union started by radical suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst and led by her daughter Christabel Pankhurst. The pair presents a plan to the National American Woman's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to campaign directly in Washington D.C. for national voting rights for women. They find that their ideas are too forceful for the established suffragette leaders, particularly Carrie Chapman Catt, but they are allowed to lead the NAWSA Congressional Committee in D.C. They start by organizing the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession on the eve of President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration.

While soliciting donations at an art gallery, Paul convinces labor lawyer Inez Milholland to lead the parade on a white horse. Paul also meets a Washington newspaper political cartoonist, Ben Weissman (a fictional character), and there are hints of romantic overtones. In a fictional scene, Paul tries to explain to Ida B. Wells why she wants African American women to march in the back of the parade in order to not anger southern Democrats and activists, but Wells refuses, and she comes out of the crowd to join a white group during the middle of the parade (Wells did refuse to be segregated, and marched with her state delegation, but never met with Paul about it.[2]). After disagreements over fundraising, Paul and Burns are forced out of the NAWSA, and they found the National Woman's Party (NWP) to support their approach. Alice Paul briefly explores a romantic relationship with Ben Weissman.

Further conflicts within the movement are portrayed as NAWSA leaders criticize NWP tactics, such as protesting against Wilson, and their sustained picketing outside of the White House in the Silent Sentinels action. Relations between the American government and the NWP protesters also intensify, as many women are arrested for their actions and charged with "obstructing traffic."

The arrested women are sent to the Occoquan Workhouse for 60-day terms. Despite abusive and terrorizing treatment, Paul and other women undertake a hunger strike, during which paid guards force-feed them milk and raw eggs. The suffragists are blocked from seeing visitors or lawyers, until (fictional) U.S. Senator Tom Leighton visits his wife Emily, one of the imprisoned women. News of their treatment leaks to the media after Emily secretly passes a letter to her husband during his visit. Paul, Burns, and the other women are released.

Pressure continues to be put on President Wilson as the NAWSA joins in the NWP call for passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Wilson finally accedes to the pressure rather than be called out in the international press for fighting for democracy in Europe while denying democracy's benefits to half of the U.S. population. During the amendment's ratification, Harry T. Burn, a member of the Tennessee legislature, receives a telegram from his mother at the last minute, changes his vote, and the amendment passes.

Origin of title[edit]

The film derives its title from Massachusetts Representative Joseph Walsh, who in 1917 opposed the creation of a committee to deal with women's suffrage. Walsh thought the creation of a committee would be yielding to "the nagging of iron-jawed angels" and referred to the Silent Sentinels as "bewildered, deluded creatures with short skirts and short hair."[3] The use of steel holding open the jaws of the women being force-fed after the Silent Sentinel arrests and hunger strike is also a plot point in the film.


Fictional characters[edit]

Fictional characters in the film are Ben Weissman; his child; Emily Leighton; and Senator Tom Leighton.[6][7]


Critical response[edit]

Film critic Richard Roeper gave the film a positive review, writing, "Iron Jawed Angels is an important history lesson told in a fresh, and blazing fashion."[8] Scott Faundas of Variety gave the film a negative review, writing, "HBO's starry suffragette drama, Iron Jawed Angels, latches on to a worthy historical subject and then hopes noble intentions will be enough to carry the day. Alas, there's no such luck in this talky, melodramatic overview of the dawn of equal rights for women in America. Gussied up with a comically anachronistic use of period music on the soundtrack and flashy, MTV-style montage sequences, pic misguidedly strives – but ultimately fails – to belie its instincts as an assembly-line movie-of-the-week."[9]

Robert Pardi of TV Guide gave a mixed review, "All the elements for a splendid film about the early days of the women's rights are in place, but director Katja von Garnier's use of distracting cinematic trickery and jarringly modern music meshes poorly with the period setting... Blessed with a flawless physical production, von Garnier distorts her epic tale with music that belongs on a Lilith Fair tour; it sometimes feels as though she and her writers conceived the fight for women's suffrage as a 1912 version of Sex and the City. Only when the anachronisms finally subside in the film's final third is the moving core is allowed to shine."[10]


The film was nominated for five awards at 56th Primetime Emmy Awards, none of which were won; three awards at the 62nd Golden Globe Awards, winning one; and two awards at the 9th Golden Satellite Awards, winning one. Anjelica Huston won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film and the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film for her performance in the film.

2004Primetime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie, or a SpecialJanet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins, Liz Marks, Kathleen ChopinNominated
Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or a MovieRobbie GreenbergNominated
Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie, or a SpecialCaroline Harris, Eric Van Wagoner, Carl Curnutte IIINominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a MovieAnjelica HustonNominated
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic SpecialSally Robinson, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, Raymond Singer, Jennifer FriedesNominated
Casting Society of AmericaBest Casting for TV Movie of the WeekJanet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins, Liz MarksNominated
Humanitas Prize90 Minute or Longer CategorySally Robinson, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, Raymond Singer, Jennifer FriedesNominated
OFTA Television AwardsBest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture or MiniseriesAnjelica HustonNominated
Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture or MiniseriesBrooke SmithNominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture or MiniseriesHilary SwankNominated
Best Motion Picture Made for TelevisionIron Jawed AngelsNominated
2005Golden Globe AwardsBest Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television FilmAnjelica HustonWon
Best Miniseries or Television FilmIron Jawed AngelsNominated
Best Actress – Miniseries or Television FilmHilary SwankNominated
American Society of CinematographersOutstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Movies of the Week/Mini-Series/Pilot (Basic or Pay)Robbie GreenbergWon
Screen Actors Guild AwardsOutstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television MovieHilary SwankNominated
Satellite AwardsBest Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television FilmAnjelica HustonWon
Best Miniseries or Television FilmIron Jawed AngelsNominated
PEN Center USA West Literary AwardsTeleplaySally Robinson, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, Raymond Singer, Jennifer FriedesWon
Costume Designers Guild AwardOutstanding Period/Fantasy Television SeriesCaroline HarrisNominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^"Interview with Paul Fischer at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004". Film Monthly. 
  2. ^
  3. ^"HOUSE MOVES FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE; Adopts by 181 to 107 Rule to Create a Committee to Deal with the Subject. DEBATE A HEATED ONE Annoyance of President by Pickets at White House Denounced as "Outlawry."". The New York Times. September 25, 1917. 
  4. ^Skipper, Elizabeth (November 1, 2004). "Review of Iron-Jawed Angels". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015.  
  5. ^DVD Verdict: In this movie, Alice is given a fledgling romance with political cartoonist Ben Weissman. According to the audio commentary, he is another completely fictional character, created to give Alice a (sort of) love interest.
  6. ^"Iron Jawed Angels: Characters". Iron Jawed Angels Media Smarts. Retrieved March 21, 2015. 
  7. ^"DVD Verdict Review – Iron Jawed Angels". DVD Verdict. November 1, 2004. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015. Retrieved March 21, 2015. 
  8. ^"Iron Jawed Angels Review". TV Plex. February 17, 2004. 
  9. ^"Review: 'Iron Jawed Angels'". Variety. January 22, 2004. 
  10. ^"Iron Jawed Angels Review". TV Guide. Retrieved October 25, 2014. 

External links[edit]