TV stations ramp up local productions tied to women’s suffrage movement

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“Unladylike2020,” a multimedia series from “American Masters,” will provide classroom materials on the women it profiles.

As PBS and its member stations prepare for the summer centennial marking ratification of the 19th Amendment, producers and education specialists are creating educational content on the women’s suffrage movement in America. 

With the content, stations aim to build on the theme of “pioneering women,” which will be the focus of PBS’ summer primetime schedule.  During a Jan. 28 session at the National Educational Telecommunications Association conference, panelists from four stations discussed their plans and shared works in progress.  

Most of the content presented at the session was educational media designed for classroom use. Both panelists and attendees said they aim to create resources that will help teachers get students interested in history lessons that star women. 

Among other projects, Alabama Public Television will hold a live streamed interactive songwriting event with a local songwriter. Students will vote on lyrics to help create a protest song. Iowa PBS is developing a series of eight video vignettes that dive into the suffragist movement, including interviews with a diverse group of women across generations.

“Women’s history is American history,” said panelist Sandy Goldberg, education director at WNET in New York City. Bringing the voices of more women into classroom settings is one goal of the content strategy, she said.


Goldberg discussed Unladylike2020, a multimedia series produced and directed by Charlotte Mangin for American Masters, the PBS series that profiles artists across many disciplines. Unladylike, which will include a one-hour documentary for broadcast and 26 video shorts, features “extraordinary unsung women from the turn of the century and the women who now follow in their footsteps,” she said. The Unladylike team is also creating a PBS Learning Media resource for each of the women featured in the series, with primary sources and interactive lessons that teachers can use.

Iowa PBS is producing the documentary Carrie Chapman Catt: Warrior for Women, featuring the Iowa educator and movement strategist who led the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Produced by Laurel Bower, the documentary is expected to debut in the spring. Tiffany Morgan, instructional media designer, said Iowa PBS producers are also creating a series of short videos for classroom use. These will profile women who were active in the movement and provide accounts of historic events, such as the Boone Suffrage Parade of 1908. Organized by the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association and held in Boone, it was one of the first marches for women’s suffrage in the nation.  


“This [series] is for kids in Iowa who think, ‘History doesn’t happen here, history happens somewhere else,’” Morgan said. “History happens in Iowa.”

Alabama Public Television plans to produce multiple interactive events, according to Heather Daniels-Whitson, director of education production and digital media. One is Unstoppable, a virtual field trip that follows two female student reporters on a journey to learn about the suffrage movement. They visit the building in New York State where the Seneca Falls Convention was held in 1848, talk about the 19th Amendment with representatives from the White House Historical Association and tour the office of Alabama Representative Terri Sewell. 

“So many of the learning resources that we create for PBS Learning … are about bringing underrepresented groups into the classroom and into the history classroom in particular.”

Sandy Goldberg, WNET

Alabama Public TV issued a casting call to select the student reporters for Unstoppable. “It’s really important to us that we do … these with young people as our on-camera presence, since we’re presenting them to young people and want them to be able to see themselves,” said Daniels-Whitson. 

WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., plans to partner with the city government to produce a 10-minute video tour of the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, said Marion French, VP of education and interactive services. She encouraged NETA attendees to reach out to other local organizations about  commemorations of the centennial.

“Find community organizations. You may have groups that are already planning to do something,” said French. “If not, be the convener.”

WXXI also created a website that curates national and local content on women’s history.  The station has launched a yearlong initiative, “Celebrate 2020,” that also marks Susan B. Anthony’s 200th birthday on Feb. 15. The website is a resource for local educators, but French said other stations may want to borrow the idea.

One challenge of discussing the suffrage movement for contemporary audiences is its focus on securing the vote for white women and exclusion of African Americans. At the NETA session, panelists and audience members discussed how to reflect diversity in producing content about the movement. Daniels-Whitson said it’s difficult to convey the racial dynamics of the movement in short segments intended for elementary classrooms.  But “it’s something that definitely needs to be addressed,” she said.

Arkansas Educational Television Network is producing a piece on African American women’s suffrage as part of its coverage of ratification of the 19th Amendment, according to an attendee who spoke from the audience. 

Some of the productions presented at NETA will feature women of color. The “greatest strength” of Unladylike is the diversity of the women it showcases, and how it recognizes women of color for their role in changing history, according to Goldberg.

“So many of the learning resources that we create for PBS Learning … are about bringing underrepresented groups into the classroom and into the history classroom in particular,” said Goldberg.

This article has been updated to include details about WXXI’s website for Celebrate 2020 and to correct the title of Unladylike2020.

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