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In the late 1800s, Miss Pilgrim, a young stenographer, or typewriter, becomes the first female employee at a Boston shipping office. Although the men object to her at first, she soon charms them all, especially the handsome young head of the company. Their romance gets sidetracked when she becomes involved in the Women's Suffrage movement. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
Because of the prominence of the abolition movement in the 1830s -1860s, other American social movements of the day are not thought of very much. If you are interested, read Tyler's book FREEDOM'S FERMENT, which discusses the international peace movement, woman's rights, and other movements of equal interest in that period - only these did not lead to Civil War. The woman's suffrage movement had begun in 1848 in upstate New York, but it really does not get the momentum that made it memorable until the 1870s. Then Susan B. Anthony goes on trial (also in New York State) for daring to try to vote in a national election. Also Victoria Woodhull throws her hat into the ring (unofficially) for the Presidency in 1872. Later Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organize the woman's movement, so that after they both die in the early 1900s it grows until it achieves suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment in 1919.
THE SHOCKING MISS PILGRIM is not the only film to tackle early woman's suffrage. There is a bit about the movement in the character of Miss Massingale in THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL, who keeps confronting (and romancing) Burt Lancaster's army Colonel. But THE SHOCKING MISS PILGRIM is actually the only film from that looks at the movement at a critical moment in it's history. A little background is needed here.
In the early days of the women's suffrage movement, there was considerable debate regarding allying the movement with other social movements of the day. However, Anthony and Stanton were convinced by Frederick Douglass to work for abolition, because if slavery was abolished (Douglas argued) woman's servitude would have to follow soon after. But in the post-Civil War years, the relationship between Douglass and the suffrage leadership soured. Douglass, once the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments got passed, was more concerned about African American (read African-American males) consolidating and expanding their gains. He started to curb joint efforts with Stanton and Anthony on woman's rights, claiming that it just was not the time (although his previous argument had been to strike when the fire was hot!). Anthony and Stanton eventually over-reacted. They never forgave the betrayal by Douglass, and soon they managed to make the woman's suffrage movement lily white (and rather racist towards the former male slaves who now - theoretically - could vote). A small African-American woman's suffrage movement pushed forward too, but it was fighting antagonism by male African-Americans, and racism by white women who should have been their sisters in arms.
The lesson though was now burned into the heads of the woman's movement
don't ally yourself with other causes. And, interestingly enough,
this is the center for part of the plot of THE SHOCKING MISS PILGRIM. Betty Grable tries to keep her friends from allying themselves with another social movement which grew with woman's suffrage - Prohibition. She is unable to do so. In the decades from 1870 - 1920 many woman suffrage figures, like Carrie Nation, were also outspoken supporters of prohibition. These women (like Nation) had homes that had been wrecked by alcoholic husbands, so their stand and unity with Prohibitionists made sense. But the bulk of the woman's movement avoided this, because they did not want their political agenda tainted by a rival one. The same situation happened in the English suffrage movement too, when Mrs. Pankhurst's daughters split on allying with the British Labor Party, and the anti-war movement. Sylvia Pankhurst remained united with Labor leader and pacifist Keir Hardie, but her sister Cristobel was clever enough to offer to support the war effort in return for Asquith and Lloyd George's support for woman's voting rights.
THE SHOCKING MISS PILGRIM has several things working for it. The two leads had a good story. Dick Haymes was actually better in this film as the hero who learns to respect working women, than he was as the son in STATE FAIR. Grable actually had a role in a musical that did not begin and end with her gorgeous legs, and moderately pleasing singing voice - it is her meatiest musical role. The Gershwin score is minor Gershwin, but still enjoyable. Like minor Marx Brothers or minor Van Gogh etchings, they are still better than most people's best. The supporting character actors cast, led by Gene Lockhart, Allan Joslyn, and Elizabeth Patterson manage to give a gentleness to the story, befitting the setting in Boston in the "Gilded Age". It is a nice musical - not great, but enjoyable.
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