DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT from Charlotte Mangin
UNLADYLIKE2020 is an innovative multimedia series featuring little-known American women from the turn of the 20th century, set to launch in 2020 for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Our 26 animated documentary shorts will be released digitally on a weekly basis by PBS’s flagship biography series American Masters for the 26 weeks between March 1, the start of Women’s History Month, and August 26, 2020, a day known as Women’s Equality Day, named to commemorate the 1920 ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, and also will be repackaged into a public television broadcast hour. Each 5-to-7 minute episode will profile a female trailblazer from the Progressive Era in U.S. history (1890s through 1920s) who broke barriers in then-male-dominated fields such as science, business, aviation, journalism, politics, medicine, exploration, and the arts, including the first woman to found a hospital on a Native American reservation, serve in the U.S. Congress, become a bank president, earn an international pilot’s license, explore the Arctic, sing opera at Carnegie Hall, or direct a feature-length movie. The collection of short films will excavate available historical archives to present the rich history of 26 women of very diverse professional and historical experiences, geographical, racial-ethnic, and class backgrounds, and gender identities.
For the most part, the record of these women’s accomplishments and their personal narratives, that provide contextual history for the period, are absent from public knowledge of women’s history and American history, and from the history curriculum that is generally taught. Because the women we plan to feature were behaving in ways that placed them outside the mainstream of expected behaviors for ‘ladies’ at the time, the title for the series is derived from the negative perceptions which their contemporaries typically held of them. As journalist and political activist Louise Bryant (1885-1936) proclaimed in 1919, “I do not want to be treated like a lady, but I want to be treated as a human being,” and as historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich echoed more recently, “well-behaved women seldom make history.”
Through 26 individual portraits, UNLADYLIKE2020 will explore the historical forces and social conditions that incubated the little-known accomplishments of women such as Bryant, and will examine their impact on U.S. society as a whole. UNLADYLIKE2020 is innovative in its format, presenting humanities information in a short form that will be available digitally, designed to appeal to younger audiences and to inspire their interest in history and the humanities. The series will also showcase a unique visual storytelling template, bringing these stories back to life through rare photographs and films pulled from the rich historical archive, as well as captivating original artwork and animations, narration and voice-over, and interviews with historians, scholars, descendants, and accomplished women of today who are informed by the achievements of their predecessors. The resulting series will be pioneering in its approach, vision, and impact, bringing women’s history to a broad, diverse, and intergenerational 21st century audience.
Spanning the humanities fields of U.S. history, women’s history, gender studies, and multicultural American and ethnic studies, the UNLADYLIKE2020 series will interrogate the following four humanities themes: how and why women’s engagement in public and professional life increased during the Progressive Era, how and why gender roles changed during that period, how women’s status within American society was affected by changing notions of what it meant to be an American, and how and why the Western United States became a key location for women’s rights. These themes have been chosen in close conversation with our academic advisory board of eight respected scholars of Asian American women’s history, African American women’s history, Jewish women’s history, Latina women’s history, Native American women’s history, Gay and Lesbian history, Progressive Era history, and the history of immigrant women.
Produced and directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker and public television veteran Charlotte Mangin, in partnership with the nonprofit media organization The Futuro Media Group, UNLADYLIKE2020 will ensure that audiences gain a nuanced, inclusive understanding of U.S. history and women’s contributions to various fields during the Progressive Era, and how this history continues to resonate and shape American lives today. The digital and broadcast release by American Masters will be accompanied by a humanities-rich interactive website; educational curricula made available for U.S. history instruction in middle and high schools nationwide; a vibrant social media campaign; and community engagement events across the country including screenings, audience dialogue, and panel discussions with historians and women thought-leaders; all intended to expand the public’s understanding and appreciation of the historical period, how women shaped it and were shaped by it, and what it can teach us about today.