Documentary is 'tiny sample' of women's stories waiting to be toldA half-hour documentary about a handful of Minnesota women and their political successes scratches the surface, according to Twin Cities Public Television executive producer Tom Trow.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
A half-hour documentary about a handful of Minnesota women and their political successes scratches the surface, according to Twin Cities Public Television executive producer Tom Trow.
“Think of this as a tiny sample of all the stories there are to tell,” said Trow, who will introduce the documentary when it premieres at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at Red Wing’s historic Sheldon Theatre.
“Part of the point in presenting a program like this is to initiate discussion — to get people talking about what women have done in Minnesota, and how gender plays a role,” he said. “It’s intended to stimulate further discussion.”
The American Association of University Women-Red Wing Area Branch, which initiated the project, added two elements to the premiere to keep the stories coming:
• Preceding the formal showing there will be a slide program depicting upwards of 80 other Goodhue County women who have been instrumental in making change, including politicians. Char Henn of the Goodhue County Historical Society gathered photographs and information spanning the pioneer days to modern times, and Julie Quinn assembled the images into a slide show.
• Fifty girls and young women will attend the premiere as special guests, affording them an opportunity to learn about and meet women who have brought change to their communities and the state. The Phillip S. Duff Jr. Endowment Fund provided a grant to cover the cost of those 50 tickets.
In addition, copies of the video documentary will be available for people to purchase and show to groups, organizations and classes. A study guide for the middle school classroom is being prepared, along with links to supplemental materials. Organizers anticipate a class based on the program will satisfy a high school graduation standard.
The documentary has been two years in the making, but the genesis for the project dates back further, to 2006, when AAUW member Sandy Wollschlager of Cannon Falls was door-knocking in Wabasha as part of her campaign for election to the Minnesota House.
At one door, a Realtor who was preparing the house for sale told her, “Here’s a lady you should have gotten to know” — Joyce Lund, who served in the House from 1952-54. Wollschlager went to visitor Lund at the local nursing home, but she was in her late 90s and had memory issues.
“I realized there probably is a lot of history out there about women in Minnesota politics that we’re not capturing,” Wollschlager said. She went on to become the first woman elected as a state Representative in Goodhue County; she served one term.
In 2009 she started thinking about women’s stories again, and presented the idea of a documentary to TPT, which decided to partner with the Red Wing AAUW group.
“It was a very good idea,” Trow said, explaining that TPT has a unique national model of creating partnerships with nonprofits such as AAUW.
“This is exactly the kind of project we like to do,” he said. It examines an element of Minnesota history and at the same time can inspire future generations. The documentary presents role models for today’s young women, and it also takes a look at why more women have not succeeded in government, why more women do not run for office.
“The tide is turning,” Trow said. “It’s important to show young viewers especially that the door is wide open,” but they have to be realistic about the challenges. The women who came forward 20 years ago had a lot of myths to overcome, he noted.
Wollschlager and others from the Red Wing AAUW developed a list of more than 200 women and raised grants and other funds to support the project.
In January TPT selected 10 women to be interviewed by producer Hlee Lee. It was decided that Goodhue County should serve as a microcosm for political activity statewide, so four local women became part of the focus — Joanell Dyrstad, Audrey Bennett, Wollschlager and community activist Linda Thielbar of Red Wing — along with women known statewide. Thielbar talks about how women change the fabric of a community by participating in public life.
TPT added historic footage, photographs and news clips to the finished product, including the pivotal “Coya come home” story which, Trow said, “shows how much attitudes needed to change.” Interviews with six women who achieved public office became oral histories.
The documentary features several women in addition to those who served in office, among them longtime Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Lori Sturdevant.
“She is knowledgeable and carefully analytical” when it comes to the realities of Minnesota politics and a leading historian, Trow pointed out.
As a reporter and later an editorial writer, Sturdevant said, she has seen the growth of women in Minnesota politics, but it appears to her that numbers may have reached a plateau. On the plus side, about one-third of legislators today are female, and “I see more women rising in leadership” roles, especially in the past five years.
Taking the longer view, she said, “You see quite a change in 60 years.” As a longtime story teller, Sturdevant said she is glad to see an effort being made to tell the story of women in Minnesota politics. She currently is working on a book about the mid-20th century feminist movement in the state.
Trow commended Lee for “telling a bigger story in a small amount of time. He explained, “You always start with a great deal more. The challenge is to bring the complexity and richness down to a core 30-minute project.”
Following the Sept. 24 premiere, “Women Making Change” will be broadcast on all six Minnesota public television stations, beginning at 8 p.m. Sept. 25. It also will be video streamed in the TPT video vault, which can be accessed on tpt.org.
People will have an opportunity to speak with some of the women in the video during a reception. The premiere will include musical entertainment by an all-woman choral group, the Hot Flashes.
If you go...
What: “Women Making Change” documentary
Who: Red Wing AAUW and Twin Cities Public Television
When: 6:30 p.m. slide show, 7 p.m. premiere Sept. 24
Where: Sheldon Theatre
Cost: $15 adults, $10 students
Tickets: 651-388-6478 or Depot Gallery