Biographical Movies about Women

Comments (0) December 2019 KW Magazine, Women In History

Two feature films have been released in recent months telling the stories of the lives of historical women – Judy and Harriet – about Judy Garland and Harriet Tubman, respectively.  In addition, a documentary has qualified for Oscar consideration of another historical woman – Marilyn Van Derbur Atler – an incest survivor whose documentary is titled Miss America By Day.  These women join a number of others profiled in our book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America whose stories have been told through feature films or documentaries including:

  • Julia Child (Julie and Julia)
  • Shirley Chisholm (Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed)
  • Dian Fossey (Gorillas in the Mist)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG and On the Basis of Sex)
  • Katharine Graham (The Post)
  • Temple Grandin (Temple Grandin)
  • Helen Keller (Helen Keller in Her Story and The Miracle Worker)
  • Maya Lin (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision)
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony (Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony)
  • Gloria Steinem (Gloria: In Her Own Words).

Let’s discover some of their film-worthy stories.

Actress, dancer and singer Judy Garland (nee Frances Ethel Gumm) is best remembered by many for her role as Dorothy in the 1939 classic movie The Wizard of Oz, for which she won a Juvenile Academy Award.  Already on the vaudeville stage at two years old, Garland performed with her parents and two sisters.  The “Gumm sisters” made their film debut in 1929 in The Big Revue.  Garland played Dorothy when she was sixteen years old.  Garland had a difficult adulthood and struggled with alcohol and substance abuse.  She nevertheless continued to perform and was nominated for a 1955 Best Actress Oscar for A Star is Born, and a 1962 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Judgment at Nuremberg.  She became the first woman to win a Grammy in the category of Album of the Year for her 1961 album, Judy at Carnegie Hall.  After her untimely death, Garland was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first female African-American elected to the U.S. Congress.  Representing the 12th Congressional district, she made additional history four years later when she became the first black candidate to put her ‘hat in the ring’ for a major party’s nomination for President of the U.S.  Chisholm received 152 votes at the Democratic National Convention although she was not successful in her quest to be the party’s nominee.  Chisholm continued service in the House of Representatives until 1983.  Her 1970 autobiography is titled Unbought and Unbossed, which later became the foundation of the title of the documentary – Chisholm ’72:  Unbought and Unbossed.  Chisholm has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and received the President Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2015.

Architect Maya Lin won the competition for the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 198, while she was still an undergraduate student at Yale University.  Known most broadly for her sculpture and land art, her body of work consists of memorials, public and private buildings, landscape and sculpture.  Her work reflects significant environmental awareness focusing on the relationships that people have with their environment.  Much of her recent work concentrates on global warming, endangered bodies of water and animals faced with extinction.  Although her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was controversial when it was selected, in 2007, it was named #10 on the list of America’s Favorite Architecture.  Lin has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  Her documentary, Maya Lin:  A Strong Clear Vision, won the 1995 Best Documentary, Features Oscar.

A co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Gloria Steinem is well-known for her journalism career that included founding both New York and Ms. magazines.  A graduate of Smith College, Steinem had taken care of her mother as a small child and thus was not interested in marrying and experiencing the traditional homemaker role.  In 1971, she helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus which works on behalf of women’s issues.  Ms. Magazine was launched as an independent magazine with its January 1972 issue.  Still actively working on social justice and women’s issues worldwide while in her 80s, Steinem has received many awards including induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Incest survivor Marilyn Van Derbur Atler has given hope to many through her recovery from years of abuse.  The 1958 Miss America, representing Colorado, Atler revealed in 1991 that she was a survivor; she established the Survivor United Network to help others with emotional help and support to start their recovery process.  Her book Miss America by Day received Writer’s Digest Most Inspirational Book Award.  Atler has been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame. An earlier version of the 2019 documentary, An Incest Survivor’s Odyssey, won the 2018 Los Angeles Film Festival Most Inspiring Woman in Film Award.

Women participate and contribute to every area of our lives.  These women whose lives have been told through a movie, as well as many others, almost all of whom we have not heard about nor learned about in school, across all fields of endeavor, are profiled in our book, Her Story:  A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America.  Help us by continuing to tell women’s stories.  Write women back into history!

Jill TietjenJill S. Tietjen, PE, is an author, national speaker, and an electrical engineer.  After 40 years in the electric utility industry, her professional focus is now on women’s advocacy, worldwide.  She blogs for The Huffington Post, speaks nationally on the accomplishments of women, nominates women for awards, and continues to write books (8 published to date), following in the footsteps of her bestselling and award-winning book, Her Story:  A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America (written with Charlotte Waisman).  She is a frequent keynote speaker as her positive energy and her ability to relate to the audience result in inspired and energized listeners.  The recipient of many awards, her induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010 remains one of her most treasured.

Charlotte WaismanCharlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. is a national champion and advocate for women as a professor and keynote speaker. A corporate leader, executive coach, and facilitator, she conducts leadership workshops nationally.

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