‘Unladylike2020: The Changemakers’ celebrates 100-yrs of women trailblazers on American Masters

It could be the news headline today in 2020— Fighting for equality with the goal to improve life for everyone, incredible individuals raise their voices and battle for change.  But that describes the trailblazing women who became the changemakers over 100 years ago.

Jeannette Rankin, speaking from the balcony of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, April 2, 1917. Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Archives

These formidable women will get the spotlight on PBS in the documentary “American Masters – Unladylike2020: The Changemakers,” narrated by Julianna Margulies (ER, The Good Wife), and featuring the voice of Lorraine Toussaint (Selma, Orange is the New Black). Timed for the women’s suffrage centennial, and in advance of the 2020 presidential election, the show premieres nationwide Friday July 10 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) pbs.org/unladylike2020 and the PBS Video app, as 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 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 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.

Archival photograph of octogenarian Mary Church Terrell in the 1950s protesting the segregation of public places in Washington, DC.Photo Credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives

The work they began 100 years ago is still unfinished today, but hopefully their stories will inspire a new generation to carry on.

Unladylike2020 Executive Producer and series creator Charlotte Mangin describes the history featured in the special as timely and current: “Our Unladylike2020 changemakers were critical to making the equality agenda part of the national fabric of this nation.” Executive Producer Sandra Rattley also states, “Two of our heroines, Mary Church Terrell and Jovita Idar, took a stand against lynching. In 2020, Congress is still debating the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act after 120 years of trying to make lynching a federal crime. I have no doubt these unladylike women would be protesting for justice today.”

Executive Producer for American Masters is Michael Kantor. Charlotte Mangin and Sandra Rattley directed, wrote and produced the special which is based on the Unladylike2020 multimedia series of 26 documentary shorts that launched in March on the American Masters YouTube channel and continues Wednesdays through August 26, Women’s Equality Day.

Tune in  American Masters — Unladylike2020: The Changemakers for an inspiring history lesson.

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.