Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema

A Film by Kay Sloan

2003 | 35 minutes | Color/BW | DVD | Order No. 09964


In the days before movies could talk, silent films spoke clearly of sexual politics, and in Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema, historian and writer Kay Sloan has assembled rare and wonderful footage that opens a historic window onto how women’s suffrage was represented in early American cinema.

Taking advantage of the powerful new medium, early filmmakers on both sides of the contentious issue of suffrage used film to create powerful propaganda and images about women. Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema contains clips from many films from the era, including: A Lively Affair (1912); A Busy Day (1914), which stars a young Charlie Chaplin in drag portraying a suffragist; and the pro-suffragist film, What 80 Million Women Want (1913), which includes an eloquent speech from president of the Women’s Political Union, Harriet Stanton Blatch.

Silent films may have passed into history, and their representations of feminists abandoning babies or stealing bicycles to attend suffragette meetings may now seem outrageous, but the struggle for gender equality and the issues surrounding representations of women in the media remain as fascinating, engaging, and relevant as ever.


“Very useful in illuminating the social and media context in which the women’s suffrage movement was active... [and] helps viewers consider connections to how women are treated by the media today.”

Eleanor Whitney Academic Programs Coord., Brooklyn Museum

“This film won me over. Has archival value for identifying and compiling the surviving footage, and good commentary. I see a place for this in a women’s studies or film unit on representation.”

Joyce Follet Sophia Smith’s Women’s History Collection, Smith College

“Not only does [it] breathe new life into an art form that barely even exists, but it encapsulates a very definitive time period in which women were working hard to liberate themselves.”

Michelle Groene City Beat

“Wonderfully captures the passions and cruel prejudices that fueled the debates surrounding the struggle of American women and their male allies to win the vote, while also supplying the historical highlights that led to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.”

Louise W. Knight Author, “Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy


  • Filmor Int'l Women's Film Festival, Istanbul
  • Miami Int'l Film Festival
  • Pordenone Silent Film Festival, Venice
  • Women in Resistance Film Festival, Paris
  • Women's Film Festival, Barcelona


Kay Sloan

Kay Sloan, a native of Mississippi, is a novelist, poet and cultural historian.

Her first novel, Worry Beads, won the Ohioana Book Award. Her next novel, The Patron Saint of Red Chevys, was selected for a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers designation and also won nomination for an Alex Award and the Mississippi Arts and Letters Award. Twice a recipient of an Ohio Arts Council grant for fiction, Kay was Writer-in-Residence at Provincetown’s Fine Arts Work Center in 2011, where she began her third novel, Give Me You. Portions of the novel have appeared in Fiction and Nimrod.

Kay’s first historical book, Looking Far North: The Harriman Expedition to Alaska 1899″ (co-authored with the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian William H. Goetzmann) became the basis for the PBS documentary The Harriman Expedition Re-Traced, a re-creation of that dramatic voyage.

She has made a film documentary, Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema, distributed by Women Make Movies. It’s rare footage of silent film comedies and melodramas animate some of the issues discussed in her book, The Loud Silents: Origins of the Social Problem Film. Her current historical project, We Were Not All Bigots, is a memoir of growing up in Mississippi during the 1960s.

Kay teaches creative writing, American Studies and literature at Miami University of Ohio. (8/14)


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