Iron-Jawed Angels

 “Where all men are created equal“- In the early 1900s, more than a hundred years after these words became the foundation of the United States of America, women in the country continued to be less equal than me. Iron Jawed Angels (2004) is the story of two women (Alice Paul played by Hillary Swank and Lucy Burns played by Frances O’Connor) who led the struggle for the passage of the 19th amendment to the constitution which gave women the right to vote. The name ‘iron jawed angels’ was the nickname given to some of these women when they resisted being force-fed after they went on a hunger strike to protest against being imprisoned for demanding equal voting rights (‘political prisoners’) for men and women. Their hunger strike made headline news and ultimately forced President Woodrow Wilson to accept their demand to give women the right to vote.

This movie is about organizational leadership and institutional entrepreneurship. It effectively depicts how the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement saw different opportunities and threats in the environment (“Is the first world war a good time to demand that women be given the right to vote?”) and how political intrigue is inevitable in any organization, no matter how noble the cause (women’s suffrage!). I don’t come across many movies about strong and effective women leaders. This is a great movie about different women in leadership roles, and how each women defined her role in her own unique way!


15 responses to “Iron-Jawed Angels

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  2. Lindsay Burleson

    This powerful, moving work is a perfect example of dynamic leadership. Faced with an ever changing policial and social environment, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns were constantly forced to alter their goals and direction. The breadth of their strategy was incredible. Hunger strikes, non violent protests, parades, press conferences, and other methods were all used to achieve their goal. Women’s suffrage would have never materialized if it wasn’t for Alice and Lucy’s examples of perserverance and strength.

  3. “Iron Jawed Angels” details the struggle of women’s suffragists as led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. Keeping the theme of leadership in mind, I found this movie hard to apply to a business management setting. There are the obvious crossovers: organizing and strategizing the movement for women’s suffrage, fund-raising to support the cause, considering and respecting the opinions of different groups (as with Ida Wells-Barnett and other black female suffragists), and making the compromise between work and family (something women still struggle with). However, the martyr-like qualities of Alice and Lucy make it difficult to translate their leadership qualities to business management.

    “[…] that anyone should die in a fight that shouldn’t even be a fight. Isn’t it ridiculous?” Something akin to the aforementioned quote, I would hope, should and would never occur in a business setting, certainly not in the United States. Here, there are exceptional leadership qualities shown; Alice’s peers and supporters are arrested, and she is forced to make decisions without having contact with her supporters. And in a moment of sheer sisterhood, all the imprisoned women still stand united when Lucy Burns is handcuffed to her jail cell bars and her peers imitate her bondage.

    Alice’s greatest challenge as a leader was being unable to save or represent the women who held her up as a champion of their cause. Alice was inspirational with a shrewd skill for tough decision-making. Her decision to picket, knowing that she would be arrested, was one of self-sacrifice, courage, and empathy-turned-shared suffering that quintessentially embodied the spirit of leadership. Unfortunately, this level of commitment and test of one’s fortitude is few and very far between when sought in business. I fail to find this movie a suitable parallel for business leadership. Alice Paul was a hero; CEOs are hardly so.

  4. Iron Jawed Angels tells the story of Alice Paul, a suffragette fighting for American Women’s right to vote in the 1910’s. In this film we find interesting examples of good and bad leadership, sacrifice, and a host of other attributes. The most interesting part of this film was the complete contrast between Alice Paul who led the more radical suffrage group, and the leaders of the more conservative ‘sit-and-wait’ style suffrage group (NAWSA). This was a group that wanted more than anything to look professional and never disturb the status quo. This is an unreasonably slow method to accomplishing a goal and generally one that is inefficient at accomplishing substantial changes. It is also a method of leadership that, I feel, does not lend itself to widespread membership appeal. This is a direct effect of the slow rate of perceived change.
    I know I am leaving myself open to criticism by using terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to describe leadership styles, but I feel that any leader (in this case the conservative NAWSA group leaders) stifling others who want to, and are truly motivated to help accomplish a goal, qualifies as a bad leader. The long and the short of it is that Alice was a real grassroots leader, willing to do what was necessary, and stand on the ‘frontlines’ of the movement they were part of. Alice displays her leadership ability best in certain parts of this film: for example her ability to relate to all is shown beautifully when she speaks to the seamstresses. They originally are hesitant to accept her, as she is so completely different from them. However she brings up a fire (presumably the triangle shirtwaist factory fire in New York City), which killed many women just like them. This very effectively allows them relate to the issues she is pressing, and shows these women how pertinent they actually are. In other parts of this film she effectively tries to deal with tough issues such as race, in the context of whether or not the African-American women would march on Washington with the rest of the suffragettes, or separately. Perhaps the most telling thing about her is that she decides on multiple occasions to sacrifice for their goal: She knowingly takes actions that lead to her spending time in jail, sacrifices her health through a hunger strike, and foregoes family life, all for one lifelong goal. All-in-all there are truly some good leadership examples to be found in this film.

  5. The movie Ironed Jawed Angels reflects the leadership of Alice Stokes Paul as she fought for the passing of the 19th Amendment. While it is commendable of Alice for her dedication to achieve her goal, I agree with Naveen that it does not translate well to business leadership. Alice dedicated her entire life towards achieving women’s suffrage, sacrificing marriage and children. She was even confronted by her friend Lucy Burns about the subject, as Lucy confessed about breaking down and wanting those exact sacrifices.

    In the business world, sacrifices are only taken if the price is right. What you do see are business executives always trying to save themselves. Business leaders would never do something that they knew would unquestionably get them fired.

    Now I would agree that we could use leaders like Alice Stokes in the political and business arena to achieve results. When she took hold of the movement in 1912, it was in shambles with extremely conservative leadership. Stokes liberal actions achieved results that stirred up the public’s interest. 8 years after Stokes took control, the 19th amendment was passed. This kind of leadership that has no monetary motivation is extremely hard to find in the political and business arena. The leaders who do manage to acquire this trait are the most powerful and influential people in history.

  6. Edward Centofante

    Iron Jawed Angels was an involving and emotional story of the young generation of women suffragists who risked everything for what they believed in. The movie follows two young women, freshly educated and full of zeal, who enter a suffrage movement dominated by older women. Rebelling against the slow and measured pace of their conservative-minded elders, these women launch their own campaign to grant women the right to vote.

    It is through the launching of this campaign, and the struggles they faced throughout its lifespan, that make the movie an interesting exploration into leadership methods and characteristics.
    They had to learn almost immediately to temper their radicalism to be accepted by the older leadership, whose support they initially needed. This ability to shape their message and contain their activism within rational borders strengthened as they overcame resistance among women from different socio economic groups. Setbacks eventually began rolling in at a steady pace, challenging the resolve of the women. They restructured and launched new operations, unconditional and provocative, which initially garnered media attention but ultimately landed them in jail.

    From this point of the movie onwards the focus shifted from leadership of an organization to a story of individual resolve. While this resolve continued to motivate people and ultimately led to a national amendment, it would be difficult to draw real parallels between hunger strikes and corporate leadership.

    While the purpose of this assignment was to explore the leadership concepts and characteristics present in the lives and campaign of these women, there is a quote that I feel deserves mention despite its lack of relevancy.

    When the bureaucracy was questioning the mental capacity of the woman hunger striking, a doctor mentioned Thomas Pain’s “Give me liberty or give me death” proclamation. Told that comparing that to the tactics of the women was “apples and oranges” the doctor responded: “In oranges and in women, courage is often mistaken for hysteria”.

    One of the best moments in the movie, regardless of whether you support apples or women.

  7. As a woman who votes, is politically knowledgeable, and considers herself a feminist, but never did a woman thought behind the 19th Amendment. The movie Iron Jawed Angels makes every woman think of the past which is associated with the right to vote that every woman here in the USA exercises.
    This movie shows a true leader Alice Paul who never gave up which made us believe that a true leader has to believe in himself and should also have the power to make others believe. I do agree with Naveen and Gary that it is difficult to apply this movie into the business world. But at the same time this movie definitely talks about the most essential leadership qualities which a leader should possess in order to be successful like commitment, power of convincing, keep the interest of the party above personal interest, fight for injustice and passion to do something. What I did not like about the movie was the unnecessary relationship with political cartoonist Ben Weismann because a story about women’s fight for equality does not need a man at all. And I feel that the idea of dying for a cause was a bit dramatic. Like the lady who knew that she is suffering from a disease but still goes to California was kind of stupid because such things do not happen in the Corporate world. Overall the movie teaches us about the leadership qualities but such exceptional qualities are very rare to see in the business world.

  8. I found “Iron Jawed Angels” to be a very inspirational and motivating movie that, through Alice Paul, exemplified the core characteristics of Charismatic Leadership. Alice believed in her dreams, refused to take no for an answer, and gained the support of many throughout the way. I believe that Alice Paul was the epitome of a Charismatic Leader through her determination, motivation, and unending relentlessness.
    I believe the first noticeable factor that these leaders have is a great sense of determination and passion for what they are doing. Once they have an idea in mind, nothing will stop them until they achieve it. You can see this attitude in Alice Paul various times throughout the movie. First was when the woman raised all of the money to go on their speaking campaign and the National Women’s Suffrage Association demanded that they give half of the money raised back to the Association. Instead of taking the easy way out, Alice decided to create a new party, the National Women’s Party, in order to keep all of the funds that they worked so hard to make. Another example is that even when the US declared war on Germany, Alice knew that she could not back down now, and continued to picket in front of the White House. These instances showed the pure passion that Alice Paul had in gaining equal rights for women, and why people became magnetized to her.
    The next defining quality that Alice showed was her ability to motivate and move people. From the very beginning of the movie you could see how Alice made every single individual seem special and crucial to the overall movement. Through her determination and desire she tried to explain to everyone the power of one single person and that every small action or donation makes a difference. By her actions and attitude Alice Paul gave individuals the ambition and eagerness to make a difference, which is a very important attribute to charismatic leadership.
    Lastly, I believe that Alice’s unending relentlessness gave her the step ahead of everyone during the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Alice, as well as the many other women, risked their lives because of what they believed in. She chose to picket outside the White House when she knew that she would probably get attacked and thrown into jail. She broke a window in the jail to show that she was not scared of the consequences and that she was not going to back down. She refused to eat to show that she would die for the cause. Who would not be moved by this amount of passion?
    Overall, aside from the great determination, motivation, and undying relentlessness that Alice Paul showed, she represented the epitome of a charismatic leader because she would never ask anyone to do something that she would not do herself, which I believe is one of the most important aspect in gaining trust, respect, and admiration among others still today.

  9. Shailendu Shroff

    It is so paradoxical that there even after advocacy of women’s rights, many jobs and industries see women as incompetent. This primarily includes politics and government wherein there is biased representation. This in no way can represent uniformity and gender equality.

    As per my opinion, of importance is not the applicability of this particular movie directly to business, but how can its leadership theme be adopted and used for betterment of certain businesses and industries.

    Typically, we see transactional leadership in most organizations; however transformational leadership can help make a major impact. Alice Paul’s leadership can be taken as example to be used by the farming sector in many countries whose basic requirements go unnoticed. Other areas include production-manufacturing industries and jobs which demand a lot of logistics. Not to mention are government and politics as fields wherein there are blaring disparities across the globe.

    The key lies in the point that Alice’s leadership is an example of radical movement and tireless pursuit for success. Such leadership is a key in business when a reform in business processes/policies is a must to sustain healthy growth and advancement of the business.

  10. The movie “Iron-Jawed Angels” portrayed the real-life story of Alice Paul, one of the great leaders of the suffrage movement in the early 1900’s. Both Alice Paul and her close friend, Lucy Burns, founded the National Woman’s Party (NWP). The main goal of this organization was to ensure that every citizen had the right to vote.

    Alice Paul was the head of the NWP and possessed many necessary qualities found in good leaders. She was extremely passionate, she had the ability to inspire, she did not take no for an answer and was a very convincing person. However, I noticed faults in her character that limited her from being a great leader.

    Ms. Paul was very stubborn and placed a lot of pressure on herself. This left no room for discussion with her peers. She often ignored their personal needs, ideas and problems in favor of putting attention towards the greater cause. I though she did not utilize her potentially powerful friends like Carrie Chapman Catt (NAWSA), Ben Weissman (Washington Post) or Emily Leighton (Senator’s Wife). They came through for her in the end, but it seemed like she was battling all three and turning them away from herself and the cause throughout the movie. Alice’s obsession with her own way of doing things succeeded in the end, but slowed the process.

  11. The right to vote is an issue many American’s take for granted. “Iron Jawed Angels” told a story of young women working toward a common goal of suffrage for all American women. While this movie did provide plenty of historical information, the reason for watching it was to observe leadership and how it was exercised. If anyone was the leader in this film, it was Alice Paul. Starting with nothing, she was able to inspire people right on the street to come and help her cause.
    Along the way there were several obstacles, such as a board of jaded older women as well as violence and even arrests. Alice Paul worked together with her team and constantly lent strength to them when they needed it most. She had excellent ability to communicate her beliefs, having absolute trust in them. This enabled her to assume a leadership role successfully as the head of the NWP (National Woman’s Party), a group created to fight for women’s rights. In the end her dream was realized and women were granted the right to vote by the 19th Amendment which states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Although her goal was reached, at many times in the film her role as leader seemed to take a turn toward the extreme. Alice was willing to do absolutely anything to have the 19th Amendment ratified, including a damaging stay in prison as well as being physically abused and purposefully starved. All in all, Hilary Swank did do an excellent job of showing Alice Paul for the leader she was.

  12. “Iron Jawed Angeles” was an incredibly inspirational film about the American Woman’s Suffrage Movement. It is amazing to look at this film from a modern standpoint and see how far women’s rights have come in the past century. The life that I have and the rights that I enjoy today are all rooted in the struggles of women like Alice Paul.

    In the film, Alice Paul was portrayed as a courageous leader, who managed to keep her fellow suffragettes motivated in the face of great obstacles. I gained particular respect for Alice Paul when she continued to protest knowing that she would be sent to a work camp. She did not just send other women out to fight for the cause, she put herself on the front lines for her beliefs and did not consider herself above any of her sister suffragets. Despite being jailed, and treated like an animal, she could not be stripped of her dignity and always kept her eyes on her goal. Even if it meant being brutally force fed.

    Aside from taking away strong messages about leadership from this film, I also realized how much I take for granted my own right to vote. For about a month now I have been putting off registering to vote at my new address. Everyday I tell myself I will do it tomorrow. As a woman in 2008, all I have to do is fill out a little card and mail it and by doing so I have the ability to vote on major issues effecting my life. Yet I find it so hard to complete such a simple task. Watching “Iron Jawed Angels” made me realize how ridiculous and down right lazy I have been. Alice Paul and other women suffered immensely and devoted their lives to getting women the vote. How hard is it for me to fill out a piece of paper?

  13. Iron-Jawed Angels is a movie about the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. with focus on Alice Paul. Throughout the movie, but especially after the declaration of war, Paul’s persona and actions alone are able to inspire the women who have devoted their time to the suffrage cause.

    One overarching theme that is very clear throughout is that Paul is not willing to make any compromises when it comes to suffrage. She accepts nothing less than a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. She even parts with NAWSA (rightfully, since they suspend her committee) and risks committing treason by picketing a wartime president.

    Another observation of note about leadership in Iron-Jawed Angels is the role of Lucy Burns. At two turning points, namely after the suspension of the Congressional committee in NAWSA and the re-election of Wilson despite a boycott, it was Lucy Burns who forced Alice Paul out of her pessimism and back in the driver’s seat of the movement. It was also Lucy Burns who first mimicked Paul’s hunger strike while in jail. As devoted and passionate as Alice Paul was, I don’t believe the suffrage movement would have been successful at the national level without Burns forcing Paul back on track.

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  15. Kaylaa Robinson(:

    i did this movie for a report, this is such a great choice! its such a great movie to watch, and even easier to write a report on, ecspecialy if you believe and care about women’s rights!
    power to the women!<3333!(:

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