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Suffrage and the Silver Screen


Amy Shore

In the 1910s, the American woman suffrage movement became a modern mass movement by using visual culture to transform consciousness and gain adherents. As part of this transformation, suffrage organizations produced several films and related cinematic projects, including four full-length, nationally distributed feature productions. This activist use was one of the first instances in the United States that a social movement recognized and harnessed the power of cinema to transform consciousness and, in turn, the social order. Suffrage and the Silver Screen discusses how the suffrage movement accomplished this formidable goal through analysis of the local and national uses of cinema by the movement. Amy Shore argues that these works must be considered as part of a political filmmaking tradition among feminists. The book contextualizes the films within the politics and practices of the suffrage organizations that produced them in order to understand and assess the strategic role of these films. By examining these works, the history of both suffrage and cinema is necessarily reconsidered and expanded. Suffrage and the Silver Screen is an essential resource for those studying early cinema, women and cinema, the woman suffrage movement, and the use of visual media in social movements.
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Chapter 3. Making More than a Spectacle of Themselves



A March 20, 1913 article in The New York Times announced an event that would, in the reporter’s opinion, have long-term historical significance for the American woman suffrage movement and the future of the film industry: “In the year 2013 the world will know that the suffragists of 1913 could make five good suffrage speeches in five minutes. Suffragists went to the Edison Studios yesterday morning to act and talk before the moving and talking picture machine. … The meeting began at the sound of the cocoanut [sic]—a couple of cocoanut [sic] shells clapped together—and each time the women came out on time in their minute speeches. What interested the moving picture men in charge of the work was that, while the women kept to the time limit, their speeches were so far impromptu that they never gave them twice alike.”1

Only a little over two weeks later, the Edison kinetophone, Votes for Women, premiered in the Fifth Avenue vaudeville theater where it once again was identified as a generator of historical significance. The headline in Variety read: “The Last of ‘The Talkers’ With This Week’s Series: ‘Suffragette’ Subject Hooted, Jeered and Hissed Wherever Shown. Only Instance of Rowdyism at Fifth Avenue Created by ‘Edison Talking Picture’ Monday.” The suffragette kinetophone did more than just generate rowdyism at the theaters where it was screened. It also, according to the article, was a critical component in the pending downfall of the 1910s experiment...

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