“Your Girl and Mine,” Moving Picture World.
From the 1840s on, many women in the United States fought to vote. Considered merely chattel, like slaves, women were forced to endure horrible marriages, see their children taken away, and forbidden to work in most professions, the property either of their fathers or their husbands.
Women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton began fighting for woman’s suffrage, believing if women had the right to vote, not only would their rights and conditions improve, but so would that of those less fortunate: the factory worker, the slave, the foreign laborer. The states and country would be forced to look at conditions like economics, schooling, and social issues, rather than focusing on military and industrial issues. As Anthony stated, “Women, we might as well be great Newfoundland dogs baying to the moon as to be petitioning for the passage of bills without the right to vote.”
“Your Girl and Mine,” The Daily Ardmoreite, April 18, 1915.
For decades, women fought for the right to vote, organizing conventions, leading protests, and walking door to door with petitions. Change would need to come from the votes of men, little of whom saw reason to change their ways or votes. Suffragists waged 480 separate campaigns just to get suffrage on state ballots between 1896 and 1908, succeeding only 17 times, per scholar Nell Irvin Painter, while men mocked them with the term suffragettes.
By 1914, members of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association like Jane Addams, Anna Howard Shaw, and Mrs. Medill McCormick decided that motion pictures would probably be the most effective way to reach millions demonstrating their cause. The Anaconda Standard on March 1, 1915 described how more people would see the story on screen than could ever read a book or article or hear a sermon about the cause. A “drama of life, full of actions, thrilling situations, spontaneous and logical, showing how the law operates adversely to women” would hopefully change minds and hearts, leading to more states passing laws allowing women the right to vote.
They decided to make an original film called “Your Girl and Mine,” focusing on an everywoman who experiences myriad problems suffered in states without women’s suffrage, concentrating on pieces of action to draw the male interest and whether viewers knew anything about suffrage or not. The title pointedly emphasized that these things happened to the average woman, be they viewers’ daughters, sisters, or friends. As Shelley Stamp in her book, “Movie Struck Girls” also points out, their aim with “Your Girl and Mine” was to straddle the fine line between conventional views of woman and motherhood while showing the needs for increasing roles and rights for women.
Mrs. Medill McCormick, daughter of a United States senator and wife of the Chicago Tribune publisher, as well as one of leading members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, was inspired to help finance and produce the film. She approached early film mogul William N. Selig, a supporter of feminist causes per trade magazines, to co-produce the film. They hired Gilson Willetts, author of the exciting Selig action serial, “The Adventures of Kathlyn,” to pen the script, blending issues facing the average woman along with moments of action and thrills.
“Your Girl and Mine,” Moving Picture World.
Selig hired respected actors from the stage as well as current film performers like Grace Darmond, Olive Wyndham, Sydney Booth, Katherine Henry, and Katharine Kaelred to star in the production featuring hundred of others during the summer of 1914, filming at the state-of-the-art Selig Chicago studio in a mad rush to get the film to theaters before the November elections in seven states where suffrage was listed on the ballot.
The film revolved around heroine Rosalind Fairlie (Olive Wyndham), who married for love but found out that her husband was always in debt, drank heavily, and deceived women with brutal instincts. She is forced to endure financial hardship, destitute conditions, paying his debts, and losing her children to him while finding out she has no right to divorce, because her state discriminates against women. Rosalie kidnaps the children before being found and arrested, finally tried and acquitted in a state that did support women’s suffrage. As a September 10, 1915, ad in the Fort Mason Evening Democrat stated, “She could have been a free woman instead of being more or less a slave.”
Her ex-husband is eventually killed by one of the girls intended as his victim. The governor in her new state eventually signs a suffrage bill, and she marries the lieutenant governor, ending up happy.
The film contained many issues important to suffragists: the rights of factory workers, terrible tenement conditions, eight-hour working days, and child labor. In effect, they hoped to move and thrill people enough to work to better working conditions for all, end child labor, improve living conditions, and give women the right to vote, perhaps a big mouthful to ask at one time.
Two of the main characters, Suffrage and Justice, appeared as apparitions through the use of double exposures and camera effects, appearing at important moments to comment on the action. Several women suffragists appeared onscreen as well, including Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, Jane Addams, and Mrs. McCormick herself.
While Selig produced the film, World Film Corporation led by Vice President and General Manager Lewis J. Selznick, distributed it across the country, with the suffrage movement to receive the full producer’s share of box office receipts, while exhibitors kept their share. World Film barraged the media with ads and stories noting how various suffrage groups in each state would help promote the film and receive profits from it. Many groups worked personally with the man they called “the P. T. Barnum of the motion pictures” to devise ways of selling it.
Just before the “Your Girl and Mine” Chicago premiere, the city censor and the National Board of Censors attempted to cut a scene involving a physical fight between Rosalind and her husband, but Mrs. McCormick felt the scene was too important to the story and refused to cut it.
Motography reviewed the Chicago screening of the seven reel feature in its October 31, 1914, issue, noting that the women applauded every major point the film made. They also stated, “Photographically the picture is fully up to the high standard set by the Selig Polyscope Company…and the skillfully worded sub-titles help to drive home the suffrage argument.”
Kitty Kelly in the Chicago Tribune gave a favorable review of the film, saying, “The accomplishment is exceedingly credible, both propagandically and pictorially, though of the former quality I cannot speak so assuredly as of the latter. To take it, however, from the waves of enthusiasm that greeted each well phrased argument that it carried home the force expected from it.”
“Your Girl and Mine” received mostly positive notices from both film trade journals as well as local newspapers, while some wrote in to castigate it.
Moving Picture World thought that the motion picture would do more for the cause of suffrage than all the eloquent speeches combined. They did think that it was modeled after “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in hitting its political points, but described it as unpreachy and full of action and excitement. Variety called it sensational and melodramatic. Motion Picture News pointed out that in order to build a continuous story, the film was forced to combine wrongs against women from different states and push all bad traits into the main villain. Their review stated, “This attempt to interest the public in Woman’s Suffrage is rather weak, owing mostly to its probability.”
The Daily Missoulian on October 9, 1914 printed, “Hurrah for the suffragists! This is the prime way to drive home a great truth.” The New York Evening World described it as “both drama and a sermon,” and stated that mostly women applauded for its actions and truths. After a screening at the Casino Theatre in New York, the New York Times on December 13, 1914 claimed it was “the first time that suffrage propaganda has taken the form of a moving picture play.” The New Oxford Item pointed out in its November 25, 1914 issue, “It will bring on the argument that women are fighting for the ballot because their economic and social interests and demands that they share in government, and not merely because they want to vote for the sake of voting.”
Some men found “Your Girl and Mine” too hard hitting in how it totally villainized the main male character, while others found it total propaganda. Edward Toale wrote the New York Tribune on December 18, 1914, complaining about what he called the film making “fake impressions” about the law, trying to hook naive and unsophisticated viewers. The Bridgeport Evening Farmer in its review compared suffragism to socialism and Mormonism, just for daring to ask for changes and more equality for women.
Even some women’s groups spoke out against it. The Remonstrance Against Woman’s Suffrage in Boston described the film in its July 1915 issue as propaganda of the worst kind and “a lurid melodrama in which every man (save one) is a villain and every woman and child at his mercy.” They wondered what it had to do with Massachusetts, as did some in Pennsylvania, since theses states did allow some rights to women. The Pennsylvania Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage condemned the film because it didn’t specifically speak to Pennsylvania conditions, even though they knew it was a film made to be shown across the whole United States.
‘Your Girl and Mine” did sway some minds. The Portsmouth Herald wrote in its April 15, 1915 review, “Eight million women in the United States are earning their own living. If women are capable of earning their living, they are also capable of having the ballot. Who protects their rights, the hours of work, the wages, the conditions in general? It is the unions and the law. Women and girls are given equal rights in deciding the union rules, governing their labor. Why are they not qualified and why should they not have the privilege of deciding what laws they must work and live under?”
Creative advertising was devised to promote the film. Besides posters and lobby cards, there were some streetcar displays in black, white, and yellow, the color of the suffrage movement, with a map of suffrage states printed on it, pointing out states that still had failed to pass these laws. Some theaters decorated their lobbies in yellow, along with pennants printed with the words, “Votes for Women.”
Over the next year, “Your Girl and Mine” screened in various states around the country, like Illinois, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, with suffrage groups promoting it in their states, and often working as ushers and ticket sellers the first evening it played in a community, as well as speaking before and after screenings about suffrage.
In Madison, Wisconsin, suffragists hoped to give a free screening to Senators and Representatives, put discovered after investigating state law that it could be considered a bribe for trying to influence their notes, per the Madison, Wisconsin State Journal on March 2, 1915, instead urging they intend screenings to learn conditions women were facing.
Though women strongly promoted the films throughout their community, and it received a vast majority of good reviews, not enough men turned out to see “Your Girl and Mine,” leading to low box office receipts. It failed to turn enough men to the cause of woman’s suffrage at the time as well, and women continued protesting, even at the White House, over the next several years. It took until June 4, 1919 for Congress to pass the 19th Amendment, which was ratified on August 15, 1920, finally giving women the right to vote in the United States.
Though “Your Girl and Mine” is now considered lost, it pushed a great cause in swaying hearts and minds regarding the rights of women to vote on laws important to their economic and social livelihood. It gave further impetus to this great cause, which now sees women govern cities, counties, states, and even countries, deciding not only what is best for them individually, but the society as well.