March 8th is International Women’s Day, highlighting the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Listed below are ten women who fought for human freedom — some with words, some with pistols, and some with nothing more than raw courage — but all pivotal in their own ways. Why not learn about them through film? Suggestions below.
Decades after her death, Ayn Rand is still called “the most dangerous woman in America” — yes, dangerous to enemies of freedom. The characters she created in her novels are still fighting the good fight, as her books remain top sellers. The best film resulting from her works is We the Living. It’s a fitting tribute to the universally anti-authoritarian nature of her ideas that this film — first produced in fascist Italy as an attack on communism — was then banned at the angry insistence of the Nazis, who considered it antifascist. They were both right.
Famed abolitionist and liberator Harriet Tubman, made 13 missions to rescue 70 slaves, risking not only life but torture. Devoutly Christian, Tubman was inspired by confidence that God was on her side, and was nicknamed “Moses.” She was recently celebrated in the film Harriet.
In the 1950s, while the world went about its ordinary business, a little-known titanic intellectual and political battle took place in New York City. Strangely enough, it was a battle that would decide how most of us would live. It was between Robert Moses — the city’s “master planner,” who envisioned bulldozing NYC’s old neighborhood’s and erecting in their place miles and miles of skyskraper public housing — and on the other hand a minor journalist, Jane Jacobs, who had made some keen, and soon to be ground breaking Hayekian observations on spontaneous order in city development.
Her observations shook urban planning to the core and affected city design all over the world, likely including where you live. The story of her triumph is remembered in the delightful documentary Citizen Jane: The Battle for the City.
Back in the bad old days of the USSR, officially anyone who wanted to leave could do so, and this “fact” was often reported by Moscow’s sympathizers in the West. Unofficially, however, those who applied for emigration were often harassed, forced to accept “psychiatric treatment,” fired from their jobs, etc., so that their example might discourage others from trying. Being fired from a job might not seem so terrible; but in a country where the state is a monopoly employer, it means homelessness and starvation unless one has very loyal and generous friends.
Farewell Moscow tells the story of Ida Nudel, whose emigration application in 1970 earned her just this level of persecution. Nudel, a Jew, applied for emigration after unending antireligious harassment by the government. She was turned down but kept trying to leave, all the while making her desire to leave very public. Her relentless protests (along with that of other refuseniks) became such a public relations nightmare for the Soviets that they eventually let her go.
Andrew Jackson once said “One man with courage makes a majority.” As demonstrated here, the same could be said of one woman, in this case Marie Ragghianti, who single-handedly stood her ground against a cabal of corrupt officials, and at considerable risk to herself. Following her promotion to the Tennessee parole board, Marie soon discovered that it was part of her job to parole all felons then Governor Blanton recommended, regardless of the severity of their crimes or their criminal histories. She flatly refused and ultimately exposed the corruption, sending the Governor himself to prison.
Frustrated with the failure of the public school system in Chicago, Marva Collins, a public school teacher, started her own private school. She had no money. The only students she could get were those already underperforming. At its inception “Westside Preparatory School” was a very modest operation: a one-room school, equipped with books discarded by the public schools, and run on a shoestring budget funded by Collins’s savings. It had only a slim chance of success. But Collins had seen first-hand what public school education was doing to the kids in her depressed neighborhood—the hopelessness, ignorance, and poverty—and was determined to do something about it. After a year, she decided to have her students take standardized tests to show their parents what she was accomplishing. Her students scored incredibly well: even the ones previously labeled “learning disabled” scored at least five grade levels higher.
The Marva Collins Story tells her remarkable achievement. The airing of this film touched off a backlash of criticism from Chicago public school teachers who considered it insulting to public school education. It is. All the more reason to see it.
In her small desert town, there was no medical care for hundreds of miles. So Jesse Maloney, a nurse, treated patients under the advice of a remote doctor who came into town periodically. Occasionally, she had to perform emergency care on her own — there was no choice, as there was no one else who could help. The arrangement wasn’t conventional, but it worked. Enter the State. Jesse was charged with “practicing medicine without a license.” A woman of some confidence, she openly defied the charge because she believed that one should always do what is right — in this case treating those who would otherwise go without medical care — even when the law forbids it. Jesse tell her remarkable story.
Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer spent twenty-five years in the U.S. military. During that time, she was awarded the bronze star for her performance in Vietnam, won the Veterans Administration “Nurse of the Year” award, and earned ten promotions, rising to the rank of Chief Nurse of the Washington State National Guard. It was her ambition to become Chief Nurse of the entire National Guard, and to that end she completed a Ph.D. in Nursing Science. She was by all accounts a credit to the U.S. military. Nonetheless, she was promptly court marshaled and discharged after she revealed, in response to routine security clearance questioning, that she was a lesbian. The military at that time had a strict rule of discharging all gays and lesbians.
Her integrity, that sense of right, compelled her to do what she did next—fight back. That “never give up” attitude ultimately carried the day. Following her military discharge, dramatized here, she fought it in court, won, and was reinstated. Despite continued attempts by the Clinton administration to have her removed, she remained in her job until retiring three years later. She is celebrated in the film Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story.
The Sung Family Sisters
Thomas Sung, a Chinese immigrant, was inspired by Frank Capra’s George Bailey character to start a small bank to help his community. When the subprime crisis hit, out of 7,000 US banks, his was the only one to face criminal charges. Why? Because regulators thought a small bank in an immigrant community would be an easy target. But he had an ace in his back pocket: his three daughters — Jill, Vera, and Chanterelle — who just happen to be lawyers.
Part lucid documentary, part libertarian tearjerker, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is an engaging film that tells their story and touches the heart.
Margaret Thatcher did more to roll back the State—not only in Britain but, by her example, in other countries as well—than any other single politician of the twentieth century. Margaret: Death of a Revolutionary is a journey of truth-telling about what she accomplished…and what it cost her.
She is a misunderstood, underappreciated hero, the object of scorn, who would for a generation be unfairly characterized as the Iron Lady who favored unrestrained capitalism at the expense of the poor. That she saved her country from a socialist death spiral is little known; her popular history has largely been written by her enemies. At last, with this documentary, there is at least one cinematic telling of her story that sets the record straight. I think Thatcher herself would have enjoyed it immensely.
Virginia Walden Ford
If your son were getting sucked down in the spiral of poverty and crime by a second-rate public school system that can’t either teach or even keep kids safe, what would you do? Virginia Walden Ford fought to change the system by calling for educational vouchers. Her inspiring story is told in the film Miss Virginia.