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Constance Alexander: Murray H.S. sophomore’s award-winning video explores Suffrage fight


Years from now, when Ella Bryant’s professional resume lists her accomplishments, note should be made of the videos she created from the time she was in middle school. Winner of the West Kentucky chapter of National Organization for Women video competition in honor of the hundredth anniversary of Women’s Suffrage — and a tenth grader at Murray High School — Ella describes those early projects as “little stop motion animation videos.”

“I became interested in stop motion after watching the movie Coraline and falling in love with the animation style,” she recalls.

What she learned from stop motion was enhanced when she added digital editing equipment to her toolbox. From there, she developed skills and confidence that led her to enter the WKy NOW 100-Year Anniversary Suffragette Video Contest.

(Image provided)

Research was the first step in her creative process, and Ella admits that she started with a broad focus. “I looked up Women’s Suffrage and did lots of scrolling,” she explains.

In the end, she used multiple sources to learn about the movement, before sharpening the focus of her entry.

Deciding how to explore an expansive topic in a 5-minute video was a major challenge. “I spent most of the time writing the script,” she explained.

In the end, she left out a lot of detail to adhere to the time limit and took an historic approach to the topic. The opening of the video reaches back to the roots of democracy in ancient Athens, 507 B.C.E. That brief era of political reform endured for only two centuries, but its long-term impact was realized in 1788, as the framers of the United States Constitution developed a tricameral structure of government.

In the beginning, only a small percentage of the white male population was eligible to vote, but the concept of universal suffrage began to blossom in 1848, with the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

As the movement matured, women joined up and demanded their rights with no apologies. They gained traction by insisting they were not fragile beings who needed the protection of men. Following the example of British suffragettes, they became more aggressive.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

In 1916, when seeking volunteers to picket the White House for their cause, Suffragettes and their supporters risked jail sentences of six months. In an act of defiance, some of the placards read, “To ask for freedom is not a crime.”

With so much vital material to draw from, Ella realized some compelling details could not be shoehorned into her five-minute video. One dramatic example that did not make the cut occurred on November 10, 1917, when Suffragettes who were arrested refused to wear the prison uniforms. And then on November 14, 1917, according to an article in the Washington Post, “the women were clubbed, beaten, and tortured by the guards at the Occoquan Workhouse.”

Subsequent hunger strikes, and violent forced feeding that followed, galvanized public support and came to be known as the “Night of Terror.”

Although this information was not included in the winning video, just knowing about it has added to Ms. Bryant’s appreciation of women’s fight for the vote.

The daughter of two artists, both Murray State University faculty in Art & Design, Ella Bryant was comfortable working solo on her contest entry. She also decided not to conduct an advance screening for her parents, out of, in Ella’s words, “pure teenage stubbornness and embarrassment.”

Reflecting on growing up in a house of artists, Ella understands how she and her younger brother have benefited from being surrounded by creativity. “Sometimes I think of how different life is,” she concedes, “growing up in an art department.”

The award-winning video can be viewed online.

For more information about West Ky NOW, visit their Facebook page.

Seven things you may not know about the suffrage movement are available through the History Channel at www.history.com.


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