Films on Women in Early America for Research Seminar

Query from Sarah C. Hand 10 Oct 1997

Next year I hope to teach a research seminar on women in Early America (1600-1800). While there is a large amount of excellent secondary literature, I would also like to show the students some films. This way we may discuss women in early America, but they may spend their out-of-class time on their individual research projects.

I already plan to show "Mary Silliman's War." We are reading *A Midwife's Tale,* so we probably do not need to watch the film as well (and I'm not certain that we could have access to it).

Are there other films that members of H-Women would suggest? I would love to show a film that includes Native American or Black women. I would appreciate any suggestions that you have.Thank you!


From Laura Hazelwood 13 Oct 1997 You might consider showing the older version of "The Scarlet Letter." This could be used in conjunction with the novel, or simply as a jumping-off tool to discuss the harsh environment in which women were often subjected to during the colonial period. As well as the treatment of women in this early period of development of American literature.

From Melody Ann Moss 13 Oct 1997

If you're going to cover the colonial witch trials, there are several possibilities: "Three Sovereigns for Sarah" (starring Vanessa Redgrave) is, of course, the most historical of the three, but it's three hours long, so you'd probably have to just show clips. The recent version of "The Crucible," though mostly not very good, does have some useful scenes early in the film involving the slave woman Tituba. The French version of "The Crucible" is better, but the white subtitles on a black and white film (ca. 1950s-60s) are hard to read.

There are also a few versions of "The Scarlet Letter." Though like "The Crucible," this is another literary, not historical film some scenes can be useful. The recent version is atrocious, the 1970s (Jim Jarmusch, if memory serves me correctly) version is interesting, as is an older, black and white version.

From Norma N Hamilton 13 Oct 1997

I highly recommend "Three Sovereigns for Sister Sarah," a film produced by the NEH; stars Vanessa Redgrave and is stylized portrayal of the Salem witch trials-1692. ...It's generally available at major commercial rental stores; is an intense drama, lasting just over 2 hours, as I recall. ...

From Kathryn Anderson 13 Oct 1997

A film "The Midwife's Tale" would be good to see even if, or perhaps especially if, you are reading the book. It's only 88 minutes and is available through Blueberry Hill Productions, Watertown, MA 02172.

You might also want to use "Three Sovereigns...".... It's long--3 hours, but illustrates many dimensions of the Salem witchcraft trials and life in that period. Students who are particularly strong visual learners really appreciate the chance to learn in this mode, which is why I suggest using both the book and film in some cases.

From Theresa Kaminski 13 Oct 1997

I have had good luck with showing "Three Sovereigns...," and the three or four part PBS version, starring Meg Foster.

From Lyn Blackwell 14 Oct 1997

You might try "Black Robe" for Native American women. This Canadian film portrays New France ca. 1637, detailing cultural interaction and exchange with an effort at historical accuracy. Native American women feature in a variety of scenes as a Jesuit travels to the interior.

From Charlotte G. Borst 14 Oct 1997

I have just finished the section in my women's history course on early America, where we read "A Midwife's Tale." and then also saw the film, which I purchased earlier this year from Laurie Kahn Leavitt, the film's producer. The film and the book worked very well together--as someone else pointed out, our students are from a 'visual' generation, and early America is a very "far away" place for my students--we had a fantastic discussion of the book--and the students did bring in aspects of the book that are not covered in the film--I recommend the film highly. (One of my male students, by the way, a com arts major, was the most enthusiastic--he pointed out the very high quality of the film--it is absolutely beautifully done.

From Marie Laberge 14 Oct 1997

I have used a wonderful film on Native American women which I believe was done by the BBC, called "Ikwe." It deals with the i interaction between an unnamed Native American community and fur traders. The young woman Ikwe is given to a white trader as part of a contract between the two communities, and the film is excellent in its depiction of the differences in the two cultures on a whole range of issues. is definitely either British or Canadian.

From Bridgett Williams-Searle 14 Oct 1997

My students have responded well to "Ikwe" (National Film Board of Canada, 1987). It's set in the Canadian Northwest in 1770. The title character, an Ojibwa woman, marries a Scottish fur trader and the movie examines her centrality in the social and economic relations of "his" business. It's exceptionally well done, and the scenes of a smallpox epidemic wiping out Ikwe's village at the finale bring the catastrophic consequences of the disease frontier into sharp focus for students.

I use this film in conjunction with Sylvia Van Kirk's work and ask students to connect these later episodes to our earlier discussions about gender, racial and cultural difference, and colonial economic development. With just a teensy push, they come up with a rough approximation of K. Brown's theory of the "gender frontier." (Of course, since the film is 57 minutes long, this discussion comes on the second day. Everyone is too wiped out by the cataclysmic ending to do much talking after the screening.

Producer/Director: Norma Bailey Screenplay: Wendy Lill (First produced as a motion picture in 1986, aired on CBC in 1987.)

From Janet Coryell 14 Oct 1997

"Heart and Hands" is a good film on quilting with a 19c focus that includes African-American quilting.

From Sarah Buck 14 Oct 1997

I also recommend "Three Sovereigns..." As an undergrad I read the Boyer and Nissenbaum text on the Salem witch trials and then watched the film (the authors served as historical consultants for the film). This was an interesting way to discuss the uses and limitations of film as a medium to represent history.

Also, "Black Robe," which is an Algonquin-Jesuit interactions in the Great Lakes region has some clips which might be useful for dealing with Native American women and sexuality.

From Tony Clark 15 Oct 1997

...two excellent books to use along with "Black Robe" are Carol Devens' _Separate Confrontations: Native American Women and Great Lakes Missions, 1630-1900_(U of California Press, 1992), especially Chapter One (which is a revised version of "Separate Confrontations: Gender as a Factor in Indian Adaptation to European Colonization in New France," _American Studies_ 38; and Karen Anderson's _Chain Her By One Foot: The Subjugation of Native American Women in Seventeenth Century New France_(Routledge, 1991).

Anderson also published two articles prior to her book: "Commodity Exchange and Subordination: Montagnais-Naskapi and Huron Women, 1600-1650", _Signs_ 11, No. 1 (1985): 49-62; and "As Gentle As Little Lambs: Images of Huron and Montagnais-Naskapi Women in the Writings of the 17th Century Jesuits," _Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology_ 25, No. 4 (1988):560-576. I've used "Black Robe" and all of these texts, interchangeably, in U.S., American Indian, and women's history survey courses.

From Pamela McVay 15 Oct 1997

I don't know if it is available on video, but TNT's "The Broken Chain" had quite a bit on male/female roles among the five nations.

From Gretchen Adams 16 Oct 1997 and Linda Ruggles

[Re: buying "Three Sovereigns..."] I bought mine at the National Park Service store at the Salem, Massachusetts visitor center for about $35.00. I also saw it at the WGBH store on Harvard Square yesterday (in the PBS movie section) for about the same price.

...I recently noticed that it is available through the gift shop at the Salem Witch Museum

From C.J. williams 17 Oct 1997

Regarding films on aboriginal women in North America, Marie Laberge mentioned Norma Bailey's NFB (National Film Board of Canada) series "Daughters of the Country", four films the first of which is "Ikwe", about a young Ojibway woman in 1770. The second film "Mistress Madeleine", set in the 1850s, concerns a Metis woman and her country marriage to a man of the Hudson Bay Company. The third in the series is "Places Not Our Own", set in 1929 and also concerned w/the Metis. Finally, the fourth film "The Wake Set" is set in contemporary province of Alberta about a relationship between a Metis woman and a RCMP officer. I highly recommend all these films for first year students. NFB can be contacted via their Montreal office: 1-800-267-7710....You can order the film over the phone.

Two other films I use regularly in teaching are Christine Welsh's "Women in the Shadows" (also NFB) which is a recording of her own Metis history, and her second film "Keepers of the Fire" (NFB) is a contemporary record of political activism by various women across Canada.

Finally, the Campbell River Museum and Archives on Northern Vancouver Island has produced a film called "Native Women of Vancouver Island, 1915-1945" which is a collection of interviews with women from coastal tribal groups, a great deal of labour history is covered. You may purchase this tape directly from the museum: Campbell River Museum, 1235 Island Hwy., Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada V9W 2C7 Phone: 250-287-3103. This tape is particularly valuable for those teaching labour history on the Pacific Northwest as many women from coastal communities moved up and down the coast and across the border to work in canneries and hop fields.