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An intermittent blog


Women who make change and who challenge the status quo have been called "dangerous" for a very long time. They are ridiculed, dismissed, and when taken seriously, harassed, threatened, and sometimes murdered. Jane Addams and other founders of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom were called "dangerous" by the War Department in their day. Addams, the first woman from the U.S. to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was called "the most dangerous woman in America." Numerous other women activists have been similarly labeled. The play Most Dangerous Women documents such women, and is continually updated to reflect new events and honor the voices of new women leaders, working for peace and gender equality, but also for environmental, social, gender, and racial justice. The movie by the same title will honor these change makers and more.
It has now been nearly thirty years since the play Most Dangerous Women was first performed in celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and fourteen years since the first edition of Most Dangerous Women: Bringing History to Life through Readers' Theater was published.
Researching, compiling, and writing that first production in 1990 was enlightening and inspiring. The more my colleague and co-author Nikki Nojima Louis and I learned, the more we were awed by the intelligence, commitment, and courage of the women who gathered 75 years before at The Hague. Through World War I war zones, 1200 women from a dozen European and North American countries made their way to an international congress of women at the Hague, determined to do all they could to stop the fighting among the countries at war and keep neutrality in those not yet embroiled in it. And most of all, to bring about a just and lasting peace among nations. The more we learned, the more we wondered: why didn't we already know this history? The texts we'd had treated history as the story of wars punctuated with periods of economic booms or busts as measured by the fortunes of men. Where were the women who spoke for our collective female experiences?
Our first production was a benefit, originally intended to be a single event. But in that audience was Sylvia Lundt, whose request that we "do a little something" to celebrate WILPF's 75th first launched us on our way. We must bring this show to our national congress next year in Bryn Mawr, she said, and so we went. And there something happened that would continue to characterize the play Most Dangerous Women: We met Pamela Saffer, recently returned from a fact-finding mission in Iraq documenting the effects of the war there on women and children. This, a war that hadn't happened yet when we'd done the play the autumn before. We interviewed her, incorporated her words into the play.
Edith Bell was in the audience. We must bring this to West Virginia, she said, and began to plan for our third performance at a small peace conference at Concord College in Athens, West Virginia.
This is how Most Dangerous Women has kept going all these years. It is continually updated to reflect new events and capture the voices of new women leaders, working for peace and gender equality, but also for environmental, social, gender, and racial justice. Invariably, someone sees it or reads the book and says, "we must bring this play to….."
And everywhere, always, whenever the play is performed, so many people ask "why." Why is this history so unknown? And how? How can we bring these stories into the mainstream? Reach more people? Especially young people, whose school textbooks have improved only slightly since our days as obliterated females in the stories of my high school history books.
It was in this context that decades ago, at a Milwaukee production of the play, I met documentary filmmaker Janet Fitch and historian Merry Wiesner-Hanks. We began a conversation that has continued, intermittently, over twenty+ years, until at a production three years ago at Marquette University we agreed it was time to act on our conviction that the stories of Most Dangerous Women need to be offered in ways that can reach a much wider audience. Film/video is the ideal medium for finding this wider platform, and the internet makes it possible in ways it never would have been back in 1990 to bring elements of the play and of women's history to a potentially huge audience. With Merry and me as advisors to the project, Janet began the process of planning, building her team, conducting pre-production interviews, and refining her ideas about how a movie inspired by the play might be structured.
Most Dangerous Women: The Movie, now in pre-production, will widen the lens to honor not just the women in the play but also other dangerous women in our past, and even more in our present and future. It will put today's young activists front and center, fostering their awareness not only of their foremothers but of each other. As a bridge between generations, the movie will reflect what happens whenever women of all ages come together to learn their common and stirring histories.
With Most Dangerous Women: The Movie under Women Make Movies fiscal sponsorship and as part of WMM's Production Assistance Program, Janet and her team are beginning the process of raising funds. An initial pitch deck and pre-production trailer are complete, and the production team has begun to interview some of the dangerous women whose voices inspire us, some of them whose words are already in the stage play. Other voices broaden the story, adding context, texture and depth to our understanding of how and why history has unfolded as it has, how this history helps highlight contemporary women's leadership models, and how new generations will lead us into the future.
More documenting of the voices of contemporary women activists and cultural leaders. Seeing what emerges, where the creative and research processes leads. Refining, revisioning. Spreading the word, sharing the work-in-process, listening to feedback. Fundraising.
Adequate resources will make all the difference!
• For more information about Most Dangerous Women: The Movie, or to make a tax-deductible contribution, visit: https://www.wmm.com/sponsored-project/most-dangerous-women/
• Look for a 2020 edition of Most Dangerous Women: Bringing History to Life through Readers' Theater to be available in late spring, 2020. (In the meantime, you can purchase the 2017 edition on Amazon.com.) Organize an informal reading or staged reading in your community. For more information about the stage play Most Dangerous Women, contact me, jan@localaccess.org.
• Learn and share the stories of the intrepid women who have worked for peace and justice throughout the past century. Who are the dangerous women in your own community?
• Make some history yourself. Be a dangerous woman, man, person. As Edith Ballantyne has said, "Anyhow, there isn't an alternative. Just when you think you've finished, you see something happening and you say, 'Let's see what we can do about this one!'"