Diana Belchase

Loving Loretta Young on her Birthday!

Today is LorettaYoung’s birthday.  Yes, there are many other people to celebrate this month who seem a whole lot more important, but this woman means something to me and I wanted to share.  I believe film, and song, and the stuff my friends and I write matter.  The subtle themes weave their way into society and change things.  I hope we send out positive, optimistic themes that change all of us for the better.

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If you look at Loretta Young’s body of work, she did just that.  Her TV series was brilliant — and there always was an obvious message.  In fact, some would say, Loretta pounded it home at the end by reading quotes from great literature, philosophy and the Bible.  Somehow, though, she did it with such grace that those lesson’s were sweetly consumed.  Whether she portrayed a disillusioned school teacher, a speech-writing mother, an alcoholic, a Japanese woman outsmarting her husband, or an Asian queen, her acting skills were impeccable.  She didn’t seem to care if a role cast her in a less than positive light, as long as the message came through.  Her 108 films were equally empowering.

I’ve must admit, I’m addicted to old movies.  There is something wonderful about the clear black and white images, the language, and the “America is a great nation” plots that hooks me every time.  Lately, my favorite has become Loretta Young in The Farmer’s Daughter. 

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The plot is simple (SPOILER alert):  a young woman from the country loses her money in the big city and takes a job as maid in the home of a renowned political family.  Her innate intelligence and kindness wins everyone’s heart, including that of the single, extremely handsome congressman.  She goes to college at night and is by nature a political devotee herself – so when they clash over a candidate the young congressman sets out to endorse, she ultimately ends up running for Congress herself.

The film was made in 1947.

Sounds pretty preposterous, right?  A woman running for Congress back then?  So, I did some research.  It turns out that by 1947 thirty-six women had served in Congress.  Roughly half of them were placeholders – widows whose husbands had left vacant seats – who kept the office running until a male replacement could be voted on during the next election.

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Jeannette Rankin
By permission of the Collection of the U.S. House of Reps.

But a few of them were pretty stunning.  The first woman in Congress was Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana (an early women’s suffrage state), who was elected in 1916 — four years before most women in the U.S. could even vote.  To me, that is utterly amazing.  I went through the women’s liberation movement, the angst over whether or not to be a feminist, the conversations about the glass ceiling – and this woman served in the federal government most women couldn’t even vote for.

Rankin said, “ I want to be remembered as the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote.”

So back to the farmer’s daughter (again SPOILER alert).  Our heroine is honest and true but the man she runs against is not.  He concocts a smear campaign to say she spent a night at a motel with a man.  Remember this is 1947 and she is unmarried.  Our brave Congressman follows her back to her father’s home and says, come back to Washington as my wife – you’ll be the happiest person to not have been elected to Congress.

The end right?  Gosh, I was about to throw my pillow at the TV set, when in walks Papa.  Who, in 1947, advises his daughter to go back and fight for the seat in Congress and the truth above all.

Now, I understand where women of my generation got the gumption to ask to be more than mere housewives.  Perhaps not all of our fathers, but certainly our mothers saw movies like these and inspired us from our cradles to be the best we can be.

All I have to say is thank you Mom, thank you Loretta, and thank you Hollywood.

2 replies »

  1. During the war, women had to take over the work when the men went to war. I think it’s fun that a lot of movies during WWII showed women driving cabs and pumping gas as well as building planes and torpedoes. The Farmer’s Daughter, just after the war, still was in that mood of showing women could have power.
    However, Hollywood sent women back to the kitchen during the regrettable 1950s and women were again excluded from the men’s jobs in the workplace. Many women who had held good jobs committed suicide after the war. Loretta Young was able to continue her work and be powerful in spite of what was going on in society. But it is still up to us, in our books and our films and our society to recognize that women belong, as they say, in the House and the Senate. There have always been exceptional women. Thanks for a great post.

    Like

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