Closer Readings Commentary

Exploring Women's History Through Film


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"I had never lived out of my father's house, nor in any way assumed a separate life from the other children of the family. ... I had never been obliged to think for or take care of myself, and now I was to be launched literally on an unknown sea, travel towards an unknown country, everything absolutely new and strange about me, and undefined for the future ..."

—Jessie Benton Fremont, A Year of American Travel, 1878

Jessie Benton Fremont's travelogue of her trip out west in 1849 reads like the storyline of an adventure movie. Although she traveled "in style" for her day, the difficulties she faced traveling by sea and land—lack of roads, untrustworthy travel companions, and unusual foodstuffs, just to name a few—punctuate her memoir with vivid images. Fremont herself proves to be an intrepid woman, a woman determined to experience the travels her famous husband and father undertook without the least hesitation.

If all of this sounds like the ingredients for an interesting movie—changing landscapes, thrilling events, and a fascinating heroine—then consider having your students take Fremont's travelogue and "script" it into a film scenario as a project for celebrating Women's History Month. The EDSITEment lesson plan, Scripting the Past: Exploring Women's History Through Film, takes students through a series of steps to help them learn not only about the lives of five fascinating women, but also about the craft of filmmaking and how filmmakers can bring history to life.

In addition to the travel narrative of Jessie Benton Fremont, Scripting the Past includes links to the memoirs of four other women who defied their gender roles, their class distinctions, or both. Students choose among these five historical figures, conduct research on their subject, and then adopt the perspective of the screenwriter and decide how to translate the "real" woman into a representation in film.

EDSITEment offers several other lesson plans that can help bring women's history to life in your classroom. Cultural Change examines both the political and cultural dimensions of the arguments American women used to gain the right to vote, while Women in the White House explores the role and impact of recent First Ladies. Both lesson plans offer innovative ways of learning about the role American women have played in shaping the nation.

For additional online resources to use in your class discussions of women's history, visit EDSITEment's selection of websites. Here you will find a wealth of photographs, documents, and first-person narratives that students can use to investigate the social, economic, and political lives of women in America.

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