American Masters


Unladylike2020: The Changemakers

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 and 26 digital short films featuring courageous, little-known and diverse female trailblazers from the turn of the 20th century.

AIRED: July 10, 2020 | 0:53:55


O0 C1

Announcer: "Unladylike2020: The Changemakers"

has been made possible in part by a major grant

from the National Endowment for the Humanities,

bringing you the stories that define us.

Support for this program and "American Masters"

provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,


Karnath: We take many things for granted today

without recognizing how manyshoulders these were built upon.

Lindsey: Life in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century

is quite a complicated story.

Rapid industrialization,


immigrant communities,

new employment opportunities,

educational opportunities,

but also racial violence.

Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow,

xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment.

And so being able to have a voice politically

became increasingly important.

Women are organizing everywhere,

committed to these different struggles --

voting rights, anti-lynching campaigns,

racial uplift.

Women demanded new space and pushed the boundaries

of what being a lady means.



Woman: ♪ They say I don't act right

♪ It's unladylike

♪ How I wanna live my life



Kimberley: In 1895, there are women being arrested

for wearing pants in public

and actually being jailed for it.

Unger: The notion that mothersshould not work outside the home

was omnipresent.

The percentage of women working

rises from 15% in 1870

to about 24% in 1920.

So it really tells you how much there was a taboo.

González: Men were representatives

of their families in the public square.

They were the ones who had access to the vote.

They were the ones that could run for office.

Kimberley: People believed at the time

that if women participate in education,

all of their energy will be sucked out

of their reproductive system,

which would eventually render the United States infertile.

González: There were women who left the home,

justifying their activities as reform

that needed to happen in a society

where the politicians were not paying attention

to issues that women cared about.

Margulies: 100 years ago, many women defied the odds

to assume leadership

without a roadmap --

to fight for suffrage, serve in government,

and lead the struggle for civil rights.

Among them, five courageous changemakers

whose impact continues to shape U.S. society today.

Unger: These women are facingan enormous amount of criticism,

efforts to silence them,

tell them to go back to their rightful place.

This is an era of firsts.

It's really quite remarkable what they were able to achieve.

Margulies: Few women in the 19th century

had run for public office, let alone won.

But some decided that getting elected

was the best way to effect change,

and Martha Hughes Cannon --

the country's first woman state senator --

was one of them.


Martha "Mattie" Hughes was born in Wales in 1857,

to a family that converted to the new religion of Mormonism.

They emigrated to the U.S. when she was 2 years old,

seeking religious freedom,

and joined church settlements in the Rocky Mountains.

Reeder: The second half of the 19th century

was a really exciting time for Mormon women.

Martha grew up in a time

where suffrage had been given to Utah women in 1870,

in local elections.

They were the second territory that gave women suffrage.

Wyoming was the first.

The West gave women different experiences, in the sense

that they are building their frontiers,

their settlements from scratch.

Margulies: Starting at the age of 15,

Hughes worked as a typesetter forThe Woman's Exponent,

a newspaper published by women

of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Reeder: When Mattie Hughes walked to work

in the muddy streets of Salt Lake City,

she would wear men's boots and tuck up her skirt

so she didn't get muddy.

Margulies: In the paper, Hughes read

that the University of Michigan

had opened its medical school to women.

She resolved to become a doctor.

Reeder: Mattie saw her baby sister die.

She saw her father die three days after they arrived

in Salt Lake City.

And she saw in the early settlement of Utah,

many women and children die.

And I think this was a huge influence on her decision

to become a doctor.

Cannon: "Let us strive to become women of intellect

and endeavor to do some little good

while we live in this protracted gleam called life."

Margulies: After studyingchemistry at Deseret University,

Hughes attended medical school in Michigan

and a graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Reeder: She was the only female in a class of 75,

and she was often asked to sit apart

from her male counterparts, so as not to distract them.

Margulies: Hughes returned to Salt Lake City

with her medical degrees in 1882,

and at age 25 opened a private practice

out of her mother's home.

Reeder: Women in Utah soon realized

that they needed a space

where they could practice medicine and care for women,

and so they created the Deseret hospital,

with female doctors and female nurses.

In 1882, Martha Hughes became the head surgeon.

She also practiced midwifery,

and she had the fastest horse that she could find

so that she could get to women who were in labor

as quickly as she could.

Cannon: "I would be one of the toughest

and most rugged women in the Rocky Mountains."

Margulies: Hughes fell in love with a prominent church leader

serving on the board of the hospital,

who already had three wives and 21 children.

Reeder: Angus Cannon was 23 years older than she was,

and she was married to him as his fourth wife.

Mormon women, because they were polygamist,

interestingly enough, they were able to let go

of some of their domestic duties

and allow their sister wives to do more

public and civic and political things.

Cannon: "A plural wife is not half as much a slave

as a single wife.

If her husband has four wives,

she has three weeks of freedom every single month."

Reeder: Only 30% of the population in Utah

actually practiced polygamy,

but plural marriage at this time was a tricky thing for Mormons.

While they firmly proclaimed their right

to religious freedom,

federal legislation put serious repercussions on polygamy.

Margulies: In 1882,the U.S. passed the Edmunds Act,

which made polygamy a crimepunishable by 5 years in prison.

Reeder: As a result,when Mattie was married in 1884,

she had to do so in secret.

She couldn't even tell her parents.

Margulies: As part of a federal crackdown

against polygamous families,

Angus Cannon was arrested and put on trial in 1885.

Hughes was summoned to testify against him

and other Mormon fathers whose children she had delivered.

Cannon: "I am considered an important witness,

and if it can be proven that these children

have actually come into the world,

their fathers will be sent to jail."

Reeder: She didn't want to testify against her husband.

And the way to counter this was to go into hiding,

or what was known as "the underground."

Margulies: In 1886, Hughes fled with her first child,

under a false name -- Maria Munn --

while her husband served his prison sentence.

[ Cell door clangs ]

She lived in hiding in England for two years

among other Mormons in exile.

Cannon: "You could never realize my present situation

unless you were suddenly banished 7,000 miles,

your identity lost, afraid to audibly whisper your own name.

My nervous system has received a shock

that it will never entirely recover from, I fear."

Reeder: She also learned through letters,

always written in coded words,

that her husband Angus had taken both a fifth wife

and then later a sixth wife.

She was very discouraged in her marriage.

Cannon: "I grow heartily sick and disgusted with polygamy.

I should have given the whole plural system a wide berth.

If, after a marriage of nearly four years,

a man can't provide a wife and child with a home,

he isn't worth having."

Margulies: Despite her ambivalence about polygamy,

Hughes resumed her marriage to Cannon

upon her return from England in 1888.

But she briefly went into hiding again

when their second child was born.

In 1887, the federal government

increased its pressure on the church

by passing more anti-polygamy legislation.

Reeder: This act actually removed suffrage

from all women living in Utah,

whether they were plural wives or not,

and put serious repercussions on all those

who were practicing polygamy.

Margulies: In order to protect its own survival

and help the Utah Territory achieve statehood,

the church officially repudiated polygamy.

The Manifesto of 1890prohibited new plural marriages,

but allowed existing polygamists to live more openly.

Hughes came out of hiding

and dedicated herself to social reform.

Reeder: Suffrage still had not been given back to Utah women.

So Mattie Hughes became actively involved

in the Utah Women's Suffrage Association.

Cannon: "One of the principal reasons why women should vote

is that all men and women are created free and equal.

All persons should have the legal right

to be the equal of every other."

Margulies: In 1896, Utah became the 45th state of the Union.

Its constitution banned polygamy

and reinstated women's right to vote.

Hughes campaigned for a seat

in Utah's first elected legislature.

In a strange twist of fate,

she was pitted against her husband on the ballot.

Reeder: Mattie Hughes Cannon was running as a Democrat.

Her husband, interestingly enough,

was running as a Republican.

Democrats won the most votes, which means

that Martha Hughes Cannon defeated her husband.

Cannon: "It has proved to the world

that woman is not a helpmate by the fireside,

but she can, when allowed to do so,

become most powerful in the affairs of the government."

Margulies: On November 3, 1896, Martha Hughes Cannon

became the country's first female state senator.

Right after taking office,

she established Utah's first Board of Health.

Reeder: She acted to protect the health of women,

which was very progressive at that time.

She worked to improve sanitary conditions,

including clean water and clean air.

She wanted to improve the health conditions of schools,

and she worked to certify doctors.

Martha established

the State School for the Deaf and Blind,

for people with disabilities.

She introduced bills to the state legislature

that continue to influence Utah today.

Cannon: "Women will purify politics.

Women are better than men

and will do the world of politics good."

Reeder: Just as Martha's political career was rising,

she became pregnant with her third child.

For a state that had banned polygamy,

this ended her political career.

Margulies: Angus Cannon, who still maintained

illegal polygamous marriages with six women, was arrested.

Hughes retired from politics

soon after their third child was born.

Cannon: "Life is made up of profit and loss,

and loss seems to be the prevailing element

in my career at present."


Margulies: She moved to California

to raise her children and work again as a doctor.

She died of cancer in Los Angeles in 1932,

at the age of 75.

Reeder: Mattie was a woman of grit,

who recognized the needto speak up and to speak loudly,

to protect the things that she cared about.

She inspires women to run for office,

she inspires women to vote,

and she reminds us that there was a price to pay

for all of those things.

Margulies: A statue of Martha Hughes Cannon

has been standing at the Utah State Capitol since 1996,

and plans are under way to install one

in Washington, D.C.

Cannon: "I am willing and not afraid

to tread the paths of my destiny,

whether they be rugged or whether they be smooth.

I have no regrets."

Margulies: Mexican American women

from the turn of the 20th century

were early advocates of women's rights, too.

But they had to fight racism,

as well as anti-immigrant sentiments,

in their struggle for equality.

González: Immigrant women were working

to improve conditions for la raza.

By la raza, I mean

both Mexican American and Mexican immigrant people.

Margulies: Prominent among them

was journalist and civil rights leader

Jovita Idar.

[ Horn blows ]

Margulies: Jovita Idar was born in Laredo in 1885,

40 years after Texas became a state.

González: This territory that becomes the U.S. Southwest

was actually part of Mexico.

You have the U.S.-Mexico war in the 1840s,

which Mexico loses, and they have to give up

about half of their sovereign territory

to the United States --

territory we now know as Texas, New Mexico,

Arizona, California, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.

So Texas, or "Tejas,"

was part of that Spanish Mexican world.

But regardless of how long Mexican American families

had been in the United States,

they were often seen as foreigners in their own land.


Margulies: One of eight children,

Idar grew up in an educated middle-class family

with a strong sense of social justice.

González: Her father was egalitarian

in terms of women's rights.

He believed that women had a right

to have a political voice,

and he was very proud of Jovita Idar,

proud of all of her knowledge,

all of her education and her daring.

Margulies: After attending Protestant schools,

Idar became a teacher in 1903.

González: Ethnic Mexican children had no choice

but to attend these schools

that were second-rate in every way.

The buildings were falling apart.

They didn't have school supplies.

And the history that they were learning

taught them Mexicans were the bad guys

and Davy Crockett and other Anglo-Americans

were the good guys.

Jovita Idar quickly grew frustrated

with the lack of resources and support.

Idar: "Mexican children in Texas need an education.

But if they are taught the biography

of Washington but not Hidalgo,

the exploits of Lincoln but not Juárez,

that child will be indifferent to his heritage."

González: And that's when she decided to join

her father and her siblings

in human and civil rights activism through journalism.


Margulies: Idar became areporter for the family's weekly

Spanish-language newspaper, La Crónica.

González: As muckraking journalists,

they took on racism, they took on white supremacy,

political corruption, economic malpractice.

She used a pseudonym

in order to not be criticized for participating

in what was considered to be unladylike critiques

of the political culture in Texas at the time.

She wrote about women's rights, education,

working to end Jaime Crow or Juan Crow,

which is the Mexican American equivalent of Jim Crow.

Lindsey: Jim Crow is the segregation of society

based on race,

of public accommodations, of education,

of institutions important to public life.

Schools, water fountains, bathrooms,

restaurants, et cetera, at that time

would have been marked "colored" and "white people."

González: Signs that stated "No Mexicans or Dogs Allowed"

were everywhere.

Margulies: In 1911,

a 14-year-old Mexican American boy

was brutally lynched in Thorndale, Texas.

González: We have an understanding that

a lot of African-American men and some women

suffered this horrific form of death.

Less known is the unfortunate reality

that ethnic Mexican men were also lynched.

Some people were burned alive,

dragged across town --

really horrific ways of killing people

and mutilating their bodies,

to intimidate ethnic Mexican people

so that they would not vote,so that they would not complain.

Margulies: In response, Idar and her family organized

a conference that kick-started

the modern Mexican American civil rights movement.

González: The First Mexicanist Congress,

El Primer Congreso Mexicanista, lasted several days.

And it was basically a human rights Congress

that attracted leaders from the United States

and Mexico who wanted an end

to the discrimination and the lynchings.

[ Flash bulb pops ]

Margulies: Shortly after the Congress,

Idar founded the League of Mexican Women

and became its first president.

The organization's main causes were women's suffrage

and quality education for Tejano children.

Idar: "We want our work to be significant,

contributing to the formation of character

and the cultivation of the minds of future generations."

González: One of the most significant roles

that Jovita had was to invite ethnic Mexican women

to participate in La Liga Femenil Mexicanista

at a time when many Mexican American

and Mexican immigrant women

would have found it challenging to step into a public role,

to be a part of the women's liberation process.

Margulies: In one fateful encounter in 1914,

Idar put herself in harm's way to protect the presses

of the Spanish newspaper for which she worked.

El Progreso had published an editorial criticizing

U.S. military intervention in the Mexican Revolution.

González: And for that, the Texas governor ordered

the Texas Rangers to destroy El Progreso.

They were a police force meant to protect

the Anglo-Texan economic and political elites,

who would shoot first and ask questions later.

[ Gunfire ]

But when they arrived, they found Jovita Idar

standing proudly there,

and she was not about to let them infringe

upon their First Amendment rights as a free press.

Idar: The Rangers said, "Please step aside."

And I said, "No, I'm standing here.

And you cannot come in because it's against the law."

González: A Mexican American, Spanish-speaking,

bilingual brown woman stood up to the Texas Rangers

at a time when they were committing terrible crimes

against people of color, and specifically ethnic Mexicans.

Margulies: Idar stood her ground, and the Rangers left.

But as her brother Aquilino later described,

they returned early the next morning.


Margulies: Idar continued writing

for various Spanish-language newspapers,

and in 1916, launched her own, titled Evolución.

Idar: "I bought a press worth more than $1,000,

and plenty of type.

I can make a seven-columnnewspaper, and will start soon."

Margulies: Jovita Idar handed over the operation of Evolución

to her brother Eduardo when she and her husband

moved to San Antonio in 1921.

There, Idar helped undocumented workers

obtain naturalization papers

after the Border Patrol was created in 1924.

She also founded a free nursery school

and tutored young children.

She died of pulmonary hemorrhage in 1946, at age 60.

González: She used her voice to encourage women

to be politically involved within the American system,

to be proactive,

to join organizations,

to seek an education,

to craft a better future for their children.

And she devoted her entire life to that project.

Idar: "Women recognize their rights,

proudly raise their chins, and face the struggle.

The times of humiliation have passed.

Women are no longer men's servants,

but their equals, their partners."

[ Cheers and applause ]

Margulies: Suffrage was seen as the most important strategy

that would allow women to be equal partners in public life.

Lindsey: You have this energizing of activism

among women who believe in the power of the elective franchise

and in the power of electoral politics

to reshape the nation.

Margulies: A key player in bringing the vote

to women nationally, was Jeannette Rankin,

the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.


Jeannette Rankin was born on a ranch

outside Missoula, Montana, in 1880.

Unger: She comes from a very well-to-do family.

[ Children laughing ]

She is expected to devote much of her time

to helping raise her sisters and brother.

Margulies: But her parents also promoted her education.

In 1902, Rankin graduated from Montana State University

with a degree in biology.

Unger: The expectation wasn't

that she was gonna become a biologist,

but that a woman of a certain class

should have a good education

because this will allow her to be a better wife and mother.

But she's very unusual in that she doesn't feel compelled

to be married, to have children,

which was what women were told was the only goal in life.

Margulies: After working briefly as a teacher and a seamstress,

Rankin moved to New York in 1908

to train at the country's firstgraduate program in social work.

Unger: It's just a few blocks from the Lower East Side.

So she is seeing firsthand the tenements,

the conditions of poverty,

this enormous divide in American cities

between the haves and the have-nots.

And she's really struck by this.

She starts thinking that women need

to be involved in politics.

Rankin: "I saw that if we were to have

decent laws for children,

sanitary jails, safe food supplies,

women would have to vote."

Margulies: Rankin became a field secretary

for the National American Woman Suffrage Association,

crusading for the vote in 16 states.

[ Car horn honking, engine purring ]

Unger: As the suffrage movement is really heating up,

Jeannette Rankin is coming in just at the right time.

She is traveling the country,

buttonholing members of Congress.

She's going to conventions, ladies' organizations,

standing on street corners.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Her great strength was as a speaker,

and apparently, she was just mesmerizing.

Rankin: "Is it not possible that the women of the country

have something of value to give to the nation?

It is time for our old political doctrines

to give way to new visions."


Margulies: In 1911, Rankin was assigned

to lead the suffrage campaign in her home state, Montana.

But she faced stiff resistance from men -- and women --

opposed to women's vote.

Unger: Many women believed that it would undermine

their authority in the home, in society.

There are a million different cartoons

of husband wearing an apron,

holding a crying baby,

while the wife

is smoking a cigar.

It will make men effeminate, women masculine.

It's unnatural.

It's wrong.

Margulies: But the tide of history was turning.

Women had already won the vote in nine states.

And when Montana granted women suffrage in 1914,

Jeannette Rankin was inspired to campaign for a seat

in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rankin: "Nothing else will go so far

toward overcoming the prejudice against women in office,

and nothing would be a greater aid to the feminist movement,

than to have the higher offices led by women."

Unger: The fact that women have the vote in Montana

really works to her advantage

because she's promoting the kinds of things

that most women support.

But first and foremost, she wants the vote

for women across the nation.

Margulies: Rankin won her campaign by 10,000 votes,

and on April 2, 1917, at age 36,

was sworn in as the first woman

elected to national office

in the United States.

Rankin: "I may be the first woman member of Congress,

but I will not be the last."

Unger: I cannot imagine what it would've been like

to be the one woman working with 434 men,

many of whom are not happy to see a woman among their ranks.

She's barely taken her hat off,

and she has to vote on whether or not the United States

should enter into World War I.

Margulies: On Rankin's very first day in office,

President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to vote

for a declaration of war against Germany.

Unger: And when it's time to vote,

she breaks a precedent of 140 years.

You're just supposed to say yea or nay,

but instead she makes a speech.

Rankin: "I want to stand by my country,

but I cannot vote for war.

I vote no."

Margulies: Even though 49 male members of Congress

also voted no, Rankin's vote was especially controversial.

Unger: She really sets off a whole firestorm.

It's just pandemonium.

And for many, particularly in the suffrage movement,

there is just so much anger and outrage.

"You've ruined it for us."

"You are giving the message that women are sentimental,

that they can't be trusted with important decisions."

Margulies: Despite the backlash,

Rankin pursued an agenda of reform,

introducing a number of bills

to increase the rights of women and children.

But her biggest goal remained securing the vote nationally.

Rankin: "How shall we explain the meaning of democracy,

if the same Congress that voted for war

to make the world safe for democracy

refuses to give this small measure of democracy

to the women of our country?"

Margulies: She created a congressional committee

on women's suffrage,

initiating the legislation thatlater became the 19th Amendment.

But, like many white women of her day,

Rankin's record was not as stellar around issues of race.

Unger: The very racist Mississippi Senator

John Sharp Williams tells her,

"If we pass your amendment, then Negro women could vote."

She responds,

"But couldn't you keep them from voting the same way

you keep the Negro man from voting?"

It's very disappointing for someone

who is so concerned about women's rights,

that she succumbs to the racism of the day.

Margulies: By the time the 19th Amendment became law

in 1920, Rankin's two-year term was over

and she had lost her re-election campaign.

In 1925, Rankin moved to Athens, Georgia,

and focused on antiwar activism

as a founding member of various peace organizations.

Rankin: "The work of educating the world for peace

is a woman's job,

because men are afraid of being classed as cowards.

At the present time, I can see no more urgent cause

than outlawing war."

Margulies: In 1941, at age 60,

Rankin campaigned to represent Montana in Congress again.

Unger: As World War II in Europe is expanding,

there's real fear that the United States

will once again be sucked into a war.

So this is a good time for her to be re-entering politics.

She wants to be at the center of power.

Margulies: Rankin won.

Back in Congress, this time among nine other women,

she made history again.

Unger: Jeannette Rankin is the only person in Congress

to vote against U.S. entry into World War II,

which makes her the only person in American history

to have voted against U.S. entry into both wars.

This time, she is really vilified.

She is so harassed after her vote

that she actually takes refuge in a phone booth,

and she has to call the congressional office

and say, you know, "Send security down to get me out."

Margulies: Rankin retired from politics in 1943,

but remained active in the peace movement.

In 1968, at the age of 87,

she led 5,000 women

in the Jeannette Rankin Brigade

at a Vietnam War demonstration in Washington, D.C.

Rankin: "You can't have freedom for anybody in a society

unless you have freedom for everybody.

We women should picket everything.

This is no time to be polite."

Margulies: Rankin died in 1973,

days shy of her 93rd birthday.

A decade later, her statue was installed

at the U.S. Capitol.

Unger: It's hard enough for anyone to really step up

and try to create meaningful change.

She chose a very difficult path

and she met with a lot of vilification

and she continued on.

Rankin: "You don't do the right thing

because of the consequences. If you are wise,

you do it regardless of the consequences.

I have nothing left but my integrity."


Margulies: While the 19th Amendment guaranteed

voting rights for women,

millions of women of color,

in particular African-Americans in the Jim Crow South,

were denied that right and shut out of the polls.

Lindsey: There was a real ideology

that emerged in this era

that was deeply rooted

in white superiority

and Christian superiority.

The Ku Klux Klan is terrorizing black communities,

to really re-establish a racial order

that they thought was being threatened post-slavery.

So you see black women having to rethink their organizing

around the reality of third-class citizenship

for black women.

Margulies: One of the most prominent organizers

who fought for first-class citizenship

for African-Americans

was suffragist and civil rights leader

Mary Church Terrell.


Mary Church Terrell was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1863.

Her parents, both former slaves, were mixed-race.

Lindsey: Mary Church Terrell

comes from a very privileged and affluent background.

Her father had made considerable money

doing real estate,

and becomes one of, if not the first,

African-American millionaire in the South.

Also, because this family is fair-skinned,

they are able to have access to certain spaces

that most people of African descent would not have had.

Margulies: After earning bachelor's and master's degrees

at Oberlin College, Church Terrell spent two years

studying classical languages in Europe.

Moving to Washington, D.C., in 1890,

she taught at one of the first public high schools

for African-Americans

and soon married the chair

of the language department,

Harvard-educated Robert Terrell.

Terrell: "I enjoyed assisting him

in the Latin department so much,

I made up my mindto assist him in all departments

for the rest of my natural life."

Lindsey: At first, she thinks about removing herself

from public life because she's gotten married,

which was an expectation for a lot of women.

Margulies: But an event in 1892 in her hometown of Memphis

changed her life forever.

Church Terrell learned that one of her childhood friends

had been killed by a lynch mob

because his business was seen

as competition by local whites.

Lindsey: The lynching of Thomas Moss

is this turning point for Mary Church Terrell.

His death is not just a symbol of racial violence,

but also the ways that black business owners

were not shielded

from the terrorizing of African-Americans.

[ Glass shattering ]

So this fundamentally radicalizes her

and how she's thinking about racial justice.

Margulies: Church Terrell and her journalist friend

Ida B. Wells were among the first to speak out publicly

against the thousands of lynchings

that occurred at the turn of the century.

Terrell: "Hanging, shooting,

and burning black men, women, and children

in the United States have become so common

that such occurrences create little sensation.

Tom Moss was murdered

because he was succeeding too well.

He was guilty of no crime but that."

Lindsey: And she's gonna galvanize

around the pressing issues of the day

and become a force in the founding

of numerous organizations and campaigns

that would ultimately reshape American history.

It's quite phenomenal.

Margulies: In 1892, Church Terrell

and scholar Anna J. Cooper

co-founded the Colored Women's League

to address social problems facing the black community.

Lindsey: It becomes a platform for her

to think about the future of the race,

one that's anchored in and created by and for black women.

Margulies: Two months after the Plessy v. Ferguson

Supreme Court decision upheld racial segregation in 1896,

Church Terrell co-founded

the National Association of Colored Women.

Bringing together black women's clubs from around the country,

it advocated for reforms to improve African-American life,

including an end to segregation.

Church Terrell became its first president,

coining the motto,

"Lifting as we climb."

Lindsey: Lifting as we climb refers to continuing

to climb out of the stereotypes about African-Americans,

and specifically African-American women,

that proliferated during this era,

and lifting those communities

most deeply affected by Jim Crow.

This idea that these women who were educated and powerful

could be the ones to really uplift

those who did not have those resources.

Terrell: "The work we hope to accomplish

can be done better, we believe, by the mothers,

wives, daughters, and sisters of our race."

Margulies: Mary Church Terrell saw voting rights

as critical to the empowerment of African-Americans.

She sought support from white suffragists

like Susan B. Anthony, whom she had met in the 1880s

during her travels in Europe.

She also picketed the White House

with the white-led National Woman's Party.

Terrell: "My sisters of the dominant race, stand up

not only for the oppressed sex,

but also for the oppressed race!"

Margulies: But her attempts to forge solidarity

across racial lines were rebuffed.

Margulies: During one of the largest

women's suffrage marches in 1913,

like other black suffragists, Church Terrell was forced

to walk in the segregated section at the back.

Lindsey: Mary Church Terrell is there marching

with these young women from Howard University

and being a part of this very historical moment,

because it was only a few years after this march

that the 19th Amendment is ratified.

But she knows that black women

still don't have the status that white women do.

So her activism around racial justice

really intensifies.

Terrell: "Colored women are the only group in this country

who have two heavy handicaps to overcome --

that of race, as well as that of sex."

Margulies: As a founding member of the National Association

for the Advancement of Colored People,

or the NAACP, Church Terrell traveled the country

to speak out for civil rights.

She never stopped her protests against lynching,

helping to organize the 1922 'silent march'

to pressure Congress to pass

anti-lynching legislation.

Terrell: "Not a band played.

Not a sound was heard.

As I walked in silence up Pennsylvania Avenue,

I thought of Tom Moss, who had been brutally lynched.

And I said to myself,

there is at least one person in this protest

who understands personally exactly what it means."

Margulies: Church Terrell led sit-ins and protests

well into her eighties.

After being denied entry three times

at a popular downtown restaurant,

she filed a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court.

A year before her death in 1954,

the Court ruled to desegregate restaurants

and stores in the nation's capital.

Lindsey: She was someone who had a vision of justice

that was always concerned about the unique position

of black women within theframework of American democracy.

Terrell: "I cannot help wondering

what I might have become and might have done

if I had lived in a country which had not circumscribed

and handicapped me on account of my race,

but had allowed me to reach any heights I was able to attain."

Hafen: For Indian women,

female gender roles and responsibilities

are very different than mainstream roles

and responsibilities.

Singer: We never had those kind of Western ideas

of what a lady should be like.

In my culture, Navajo culture,

the women were in charge of everything.

They had power.

They were the changemakers.

Margulies: For American Indian women,

before voting rights could be won,

citizenship had to be secured.

And this was one of the major causes of civil rights leader,

author, and composer

Gertrude Simmons Bonnin,

also known as Zitkála-Sá.


Gertrude Simmons Bonnin

was born in 1876 on the Yankton Reservation

in South Dakota, to the Ihanktonwan tribe.

She later renamed herself Zitkála-Sá,

meaning "red bird" in the Lakota language.

Hafen: I don't think anything is known about her father

except that he was a non-Indian,

but her mother raised her up as an Indian girl,

and she saw herself as an Indian.

Zitkála-Sá: "I was a wild little girl

with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet,

as free as the wind that blew my hair,

and no less spirited than a bounding deer."

Hafen: The Yankton Sioux made a treaty

with the United States in the mid-1850s.

They made peace early on,

and they were not caught up in the major conflicts

that the other Sioux tribes had with the United States.

There were 60 million American Indians in 1491.

In the census in 1910, there were 200,000.

For the colonizers who were greedy for Indian lands,

there were two ways to get it --

either by killing people,

or by making them non-Indians.

Margulies: In 1884, at age 8,

like tens of thousands of other American Indian children,

Zitkála-Sá left the reservation to attend a boarding school

run by missionaries in Indiana.

Hafen: The boarding school system was an institutional way

of trying to erase tribal identity.

You had children from all these different tribes

thrown in together, made to wear uniforms,

lose their individual identities,

forbidden to speak their native languages,

forced to become Christians.

Zitkála-Sá: "Like a slender tree,

I had been uprootedfrom my mother, nature, and god.

I was shorn of my branches." [ Thunder rumbles ]

"Now a cold, bare pole,

I seemed to be planted in a strange earth,

trembling with fear and distrust.

Often, I wept in secret."

Margulies: Zitkála-Sá went on

to attend Earlham College in Indiana,

and later the New EnglandConservatory of Music in Boston.

Hafen: She was musically gifted.

[ Violin music plays ]

She performed at the White House for President McKinley.

People were fascinated with her because she was a performer,

because she was articulate.

Margulies: In 1897, she became a teacher

at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania,

the first federally-funded boarding school

for American Indian youth,

founded by military officer Richard Henry Pratt.

Singer: The idea that Richard Pratt had

was to kill the Indian to save the man.

The way you look, the way you dress,

the way you think, the way you talk,

the way you pray -- they had to cut that out,

save the soul inside.

It's tragic, really.

Native people weren't even viewed

as human beings at this time.

Margulies: After disagreements with Pratt,

Zitkála-Sá left her job at Carlisle,

and in 1900, published several exposés

about the trauma of the boarding school experience

inThe Atlantic Monthly.

Zitkála-Sá: "Gazing upon the Indian girls and boys

bending over their books,

the white visitors walked out of the schoolhouse well-satisfied.

They were educating the children of the 'red man'!

But few have paused to question

whether real life or long-lasting death

lies beneath this semblance of civilization."

Hafen: The stories are published,

and the criticisms are that she bites the hands that fed her,

that she's criticizing the boarding school education

which educated her to write the stories.

Margulies: In 1901, Zitkála-Sá also published

a book of short stories based on the Sioux oral tradition.

Zitkála-Sá: "I have tried to transplant

the native spirit of these tales into the English language,

since America in the last few centuries

has acquired a new tongue."

Hafen: She works very hard

to make the disparate parts of her life fit together.

But she also sees herself

as being a preserver of those stories.

Margulies: In 1902, Zitkála-Sá married Raymond Bonnin,

another boarding school survivor from her tribe.

They lived for 14 years among the Ute Nation

on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah,

raising their son

and working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

[ Opera music plays ]

There, in 1913, Zitkála-Sá wrote

the first American Indian opera,

in collaboration with white composer William Hanson.

"The Sun Dance Opera" was inspired

by a sacred ceremony of spiritual healing

then outlawed by the U.S. government.

Hafen: The Sun Dance is common among the tribes on the Plains,

and it is a dance

of personal devotion

and sacrifice.

She is resisting the denial of religious ritual

and trying to elevate these tribal sacred dances and songs

to what she knowsis respected in Western society,

which is grand opera.

Margulies: The opera was staged across Utah 15 times

by a cast of American Indians and white performers.

[ Applause ]

Hafen: The opera gave a space to perform sacred dances

and songs in a public setting.

It preserved those songs.

Margulies: As she witnessed the quality of life

on Indian reservations decline,

Zitkála-Sá moved to Washington, D.C., in 1916

to dedicate the rest of her life

to political activism.

Zitkála-Sá: "Indians are virtually prisoners of war

in America.

Treaties with our government are still unfulfilled.

There is no doubt about

the direction in which I wish to go --

to spend my energies in working for the Indian race."

Margulies: As secretary ofthe Society of American Indians,

the first civil rights organization

created by and for American Indians,

she edited its journal

and served as a lobbyist in Congress.

Hafen: She gives publicspeeches, she writes editorials,

and one of her major causes

was to help get citizenship for American Indians.

Zitkála-Sá: "Now the time is at hand

when the American Indian shall have his day in court

and find his rightful place in our American life.

Wardship is no substitute for citizenship,

therefore we seek enfranchisement."

Margulies: Zitkála-Sá's work was significant to the passage

of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted

U.S. citizenship to American Indians.

Singer: Zitkála-Sá understood that there's these two worlds

that you have to be a part of.

And you want to have power in both of them.

Margulies: In 1926, she and her husband

founded the National Council of American Indians

to continue advocating for American Indians' rights

and representation.

She served as its president until her death 12 years later.

Hafen: She firmly believedthat the answer to Indian issues

lay in Indian people themselves.

Indians are still fighting for their rights --

the theft of Indian land,

missing and murdered indigenous women,

voters rights --

and that's where her voice is important.

Zitkála-Sá: "The American Indian must have a voice.

Let us teach our children to be proud of their Indian blood.

Let us stand up straight

and continue claiming our human rights."

Margulies: Despite the incredible accomplishments

of these and other changemakers,

equal representation is still a work in progress.

Unger: Many of the things that these women fought for,

we're still fighting for today.

Women do not have equal representation in politics,

and that's something that has been very slow in coming.

Haaland: I stand on the shoulders of so many women.

It's a stark reality to see

that we're not half the population here in Congress

when we're all on the floor together.

You can see that the men outnumber the women.

Love: If a young woman wants to get involved in politics,

I would encourage her to do so, at any level.

From city council to mayor,

to state legislator, governor,

to Congress --

there's so many things that you can get involved in.

Holmes: Certainly, we're seeing a lot more diversity of people

who are willing to take a swing at the political bat.

But it's still a boys' club in many ways --

where the money goes, who gets the support.

Poo: The future is women, and women of color

leading the way.

We're still fighting for voting rights

for women of color,

and voting rights across the board

are under threat again a hundred years later.

Allard: In my culture,women have always been warriors.

We would not be here if it wasn't

for the strength and integrity of these women.

And so no matter where I go, I know I'm not alone.

My ancestors are with me.

Packnett: The idea of lifting as we climb is so powerful.

It's to say there is no success

if our people don't come along with us.

It's going to take our energy,

it's going to take us being steadfast.

It's going to take us doing this for the long haul

to really see progress.


Announcer: Now streaming online at,


Woman: ♪ It's unladylike

Announcer: ...a series of documentary shorts

about the unsung women

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Woman #2: It was still before women had the right to vote.

Women were told what to do, how to speak, what to wear.

Woman #3: How far women can go in a leadership role.

Coleman: "I refused to take no

for an answer."

Woman: ♪ It's unladylike

♪ How I wanna live my life

Announcer: Look for "Unladylike2020,"

now streaming at






Woman: ♪ They say I don't act right

♪ It's unladylike

♪ How I wanna live my life



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