Winning the Vote: Momentum and Division

Ms. is a proud media sponsor and partner of the League of Women Voters Los Angeles and UCLA Film and Television Archive’s Women to the Polls: Suffrage Film Festival. In this dedicated series, we’ll be syndicating the program in time with each day of screenings.

In 1883 Henry James, the famed American novelist, stated that he wanted to write “a very American tale.” Thus, in 1886, he wrote The Bostonians.

The title is the key to the novel: It refers to romantic friendships among women, characteristic of the late nineteenth century, called “Boston marriages.” James himself probably was a “closeted homosexual.”  He was born and raised in Boston and lived much of his life in London. 

James’ novels often revolve around the contrast between a sensual Europe, represented by an older male, and an innocent America, represented by a young woman. In The Bostonians, the contrast is between the North—represented by Olive Chancellor, a wealthy woman’s rights advocate—and the South—represented by the anti-feminist womanizer and very sensual Basil Ransome—as they fight for control over Verena Tarrant, a young woman with a talent for public speaking who is the daughter of greedy spiritualists and the granddaughter of abolitionists. The novel, and the movie, present the panorama of types associated with women’s rights in the U.S. in the late nineteenth century. 

The 1984 movie was produced and directed by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, a couple known in real life for their brilliant filming of classic novels.  The costuming and sets are authentic, and much of the dialogue is taken from the novel. Vanessa Redgrave as Olive and Christopher Reeve as Basil head a distinguished cast.  

“I asked myself what was the most salient and peculiar point in our social life,” James declared. “The answer was: the situation of women, the decline of the sentiment of sex, the agitation on their behalf.”   

Get tickets now to watch these films and engage in conversations around the issues of voting, feminism and politics at the suffrage film festival!


Lois Banner was a founder of the field of women's history in the 1970s. She co-founded the Berkshire Conference in Women's History, the biennial conference that has been held ever since and that is considered the major event in the field; was the first woman president of the American Studies Association; and, in 2006, won the Bode-Pearson prize of the American Studies Association for Lifetime Achievement in the field. Lois is also a past president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association and of the Coordinating Committee in Women's History of the American Historical Association, and has been a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute of Harvard College and the Australian National University. Her biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton has been continuously in print since 1979.