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Unladylike2020: Unsung Women Who Changed America

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Illuminating the stories of extraordinary American heroines from the early years of feminism, American Masters — Unladylike2020 is a multimedia series consisting of a one-hour special for broadcast (Unladylike2020: The Changemakers) and 26 digital short films featuring courageous, little-known and diverse female trailblazers from the turn of the 20th century. These women achieved many firsts, including earning an international pilot’s license, becoming a bank president, founding a hospital, fighting for the desegregation of public spaces, exploring the Arctic, opening a film studio, and singing opera at Carnegie Hall. Presenting history in a bold new way, American Masters — Unladylike2020, produced and directed by Charlotte Mangin, brings these incredible stories back to life through original artwork and animation, rare historical archival footage, and interviews with descendants, historians and accomplished modern women who reflect upon the influence of these pioneers.

The Changemakers One-Hour Special

Timed with the 2020 presidential election and the women’s suffrage centennial, American Masters – Unladylike2020: The Changemakers, narrated by award-winning actor Julianna Margulies (ER, The Good Wife, Billions), and featuring the voice of Lorraine Toussaint (Selma, Orange is the New Black, The Glorias) is part of PBS’ summer celebration of women trailblazers. This hour-long documentary focuses on political change, examining the ways women accomplished amazing milestones over 100 years ago, overcoming incredible odds and great resistance, to map a national future of equality and to improve life for Americans. It features the rich biographies of five little-known trailblazers, including some of the first women to hold elected office, and women who fought to ensure that citizens are treated equally and protected by the same rights. The lives of these unsung heroes are brought back to life through captivating original artwork and animation; rare archival imagery; and interviews with historians, descendants, and accomplished women and modern-day thought leaders, who reflect on the influence of these pioneers, and the status of suffrage and equality today.

A little over a century ago, women in the United States did not have universal suffrage. From the 1890s to 1920s, the country experienced rapid industrialization, urbanization, technological innovation, and reform that resulted in increased opportunities for women, including their participation in political institutions. It was also a time of resistance to change, defined by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, racial violence and Jim Crow, efforts to limit immigration from non-Anglo nations, and campaigns to assimilate American Indians and immigrants. Overcoming unthinkable challenges, some women used their voices and power to become changemakers – running for elected office, organizing for civil rights, citizenship rights and anti-lynching campaigns, and fighting for the right to vote.

The women highlighted in American Masters – Unladylike2020: The Changemakers are Martha Hughes Cannon, the country’s first female state senator; Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress; Mary Church Terrell, a leader in the anti-lynching movement and a founder of the NAACP; Jovita Idar, a journalist, and president of the first Mexican American women’s civil rights organization; and Zitkála-Šá, also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, who lobbied for U.S. citizenship, voting rights, and sovereignty for American Indians a century ago.

The hour concludes with the perspectives of contemporary women thought leaders, who consider the lasting impact of these trailblazers’ accomplishments on our nation, and the work they began 100 years ago that is unfinished today. Interviewees include Rep. Deb Haaland (NM-01), one of the first American Indian women in Congress; former Rep. Mia Love (UT-04), the first African American Republican woman in Congress; Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; and Brittany Packnett-Cunningham, member of the Ferguson Commission formed following the police shooting death of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri.

Digital Video Shorts

Also narrated by Julianna Margulies (ER, The Good Wife) and Lorraine Toussaint (Selma, Orange is the New Black), the series of 26 8-to-10 minute animated shorts features stories of activists, musicians, artists, and scientists. See the complete list of subjects below, and start by watching the video on Charlotta Spears Bass, the first Black woman to run for Vice President of the United States:

Read on for more about these projects, and PBS’ summer-long celebration of female trailblazers here.

Learn about more unsung women who changed America at unladylike2020.org.

Meet the Unladylike Trailblazers

 

Funding for Unladylike2020 Print

Major funding for UNLADYLIKE2020 is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Support is also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Wyncote Foundation, California Humanities, HumanitiesDC, Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, Made in New York: Women Film, TV, & Theater Fund, the Harnisch Foundation, Humanities Nebraska, Humanities Montana, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with New York State Council on the Arts, South Dakota Humanities, Virginia Humanities, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Utah Humanities, Ohio Humanities, South Carolina Humanities, Humanities New York, JetBlue Foundation, Awesome Without Borders, and IFP. Any views expressed in this series do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or other supporters.