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, 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 , 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 , 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, , the Suffrage Amendment finally becomes law.
Iron Jawed Angels starts off focusing on two well-to-do women named Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. After participating in the women’s suffrage movement in England as suffragettes, the two ladies decided to spread this ideal in America. At the time, there was already a National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), but the association did not go to the lengths of suffrage that they were looking for. Instead, the National Women’s Party was created.
With Paul and Burns leading this party, NWP was able to progress and share their ideas in society. They were able to work as role models and instill courage in other women to stand up for what they deserve under the constitution. Even when men yelled at them or attacked them, they kept strong.
Since Wilson did not originally give in to what they wanted, the women started to protest right in front of the White House and even had signs quoting the hypocrisy of President Wilson. This act in itself showed the valiant and brave qualities of these women; it made a statement: they will not back down without a fight. So even when Wilson declared war and became a war president, the women still continued to fight for their suffrage. However, with their relentless cause came unfair consequences as they were arrested and sent to a workhouse under the weak reason of “obstructing traffic.” Paul eventually, too, was arrested and decided to have a hunger strike like how people did back in her country.
To avoid public outrage after hearing of her death, the government ensured to feed her through tubes by force. Even still, the conditions that Paul and these women had to go through were spread throughout the media due to a note passed on to the U.S. Senator from his wife, who was held in the workhouse as well, which eventually leads to Wilson finally passing the nineteenth amendment to grant the suffrage of women.
In my opinion, I absolutely loved the movie. It was very poignant and interesting, which had my eyes glued to the screen at all times. When Paul was being tortured and force-fed- the general brutality of it all- literally brought tears in my eyes. Plus, the acting was very good- the fact that the women talked in a modern accent and even sometimes joked around, made it easier for young women to connect to them- they were just like us; just young women wanting to exercise their rights.
This movie not only helped me learn more about the details of the women’s rights movement in America, but it also had me sympathize with the women. It made me think about how the people we merely read about in history books were dedicated for their causes and even went to the lengths of choosing between life and death. Their passion and knowledge for what they believe in is outstanding and I believe that U.S. History students should give more interest and credit to them than they do today.