37 thoughts on “19th-Century Women Who Should Have Movies Made About Them

  1. Will there be an early 20th century women list too? If not, then I’m going to be cheeky and nominate Zaida Ben-Yusuf on the basis that she was REALLY late 19th century. Although I think her film would be more along the lines of “inspired by” than an actual accurate telling of her story – the bones of her story, what little we know of it, are fascinating, even if there isn’t as much exciting incident.

  2. Before Susan B. fell out with Victoria Woodhull, she had a super girl crush on her! I’ve read some of the letters.

  3. Clara Schumann. She was a brilliant pianist and muse for Brahms and her husband.
    Fanny Mendolsohn, sister of Felix, musician in own right.
    Amy Beech, Bostonian composer.

    1. Fanny Mendelssohn would be a great choice. Her brother kept trying to keep her down, and she didn’t want to take her compositions public without his blessing, but she eventually got so tired of waiting that she premiered a major work without his approval.

    2. There is a Clara Schumann movie, Song of Love, with Katherine Hepburn as Clara. I do think her story is due for an update.

  4. Thanks for nominating Victoria Woodhull — she was the first person I thought of. How about Harriet Tubman? I don’t know if any films have been made about her. She helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad, among other things and will be the first woman to be featured on US currency ($20 bill).

    1. Probably yhe main reason you know of her is the film starring CicelyTyson in the mid-1970s which broughther into the standard elementary lists of famous women, famous black people.

      1. Actually, since I live in Maryland, Harriet Tubman is part of our history. I never saw the Cicely Tyson movie, but maybe I can track it down. Thanks for mentioning it.

  5. Ada Lovelace! Only child of Lord Byron, often acknowledged as the first computer programmer, and her most famous portrait has some amazingly funky 1830s hair going on. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_Lovelace She worked with some of the more famous scientists and mathematicians of her day, and also had an affair with her tutor.

  6. Gertrude Lothian bell. first woman to get a first class degree in history from oxford. one of the forgotten founders of modern archaeology, she was with wooley at the first excavation of ur and made many significant discoveries of her own, significant diplomat in the middle east, friend of t e Lawrence, it was to her that Churchill turned for advice for the foundation of modern Iraq- she pretty much shaped the modern geography of the middle east.

    also a fairly major hypocrite, because despite her own power influence and success she was viamently against women’s suffrage.

    and she grew up about 200 yards from my house

    1. Queen of the Desert starring Nicole Kidman. (unfortunately)
      Coming out soon.

  7. Off-topic, but brought to mind by the two empresses mentioned in your post. Have you reviewed “Empresses in the Palace”? It’s on Netflix. It’s a really rich and complex story filled with fabulous, fabulous costumes.

  8. How about Mary Elisabeth Walker? She was the first female army surgeon on the Union Side during the Civil War, imprisioned as a spy by the confederates after helping with a battlefield amputation, dress reformer, she received the Medal of Honor and a pention from Congress. Not many people even know she exists. When she married she refused to use the word obey in her vows, wore pants during the ceremony under a short skirt, and later divorced her husband for adultery.

    1. I mentioned her in an earlier post. Folks need to know more about her; she is one of my heroes.

  9. Annie Londonderry! In 1894-95 she rode a bicycle around the world, gathering wilder & wilder tales about her travels. How could that not be a fun movie? Or Isabella Bird, who rode all over the Rocky Mountains in 1873, either alone or in the company of a one-eyed desperado, then went on to travel all over Asia. There are many more such intrepid ladies whose stories would make wonderful movies.

  10. Ada Lovelace, credited as being the designer of the first computer, daughter of Lord Byron, and quite a strong and controversial woman in her time.There was to have been a film made about her but it has fallen of the radar.
    Another woman of interest is Jane Morris, wife of William Morris, mistress of Rossetti. Also, though her life was perhaps less eventful, “George Eliot”. And while there have been films and TV series about the Bronte’s I feel as though we are overdue for another, fresher, look at their lives.
    I would also like to make the point that it isn’t just the famous and rich women who are worthy of film treatment. I would like to see more films about the more humble women and their adventures, achievements and failures from all eras.

  11. Madame C J Walker (Sarah Breedlove) first American women millionaire. This African American woman made a fortune by developing and marketing hair products developed especially for the African American woman. She was one of the wealthiest people in America. She used her money for philanthropic purposes. Among them were the arts and Villa Lewaro.

  12. I can add two: Esme Berringer and Jaguarina. Berringer was an actress and fencer who was associated with the group that explored historical swordsmanship headed by Capt Alfred Hutton. Arthur Conan Doyle was also a member of this group. Jaguarina was a bit later, but was trained by a man who made her an extremely formidable competitor, beating most of the best men around.

  13. I’d offer up Mary Hunter Austin, because not every woman in 19th century California was a scared housewife or golden-hearted hooker.

  14. I offer up another woman of the arts. Dame Nellie Melba. She sang in the opera palaces of the 1880-1890s before doing a guest stint on Downton Abbey. She was an Australian and was the first Aussie opera singer to become world famous. She sung Norma, Violetta in LA Traviata and Juliet and was known for her interpretation of Italian and French Opera. She had a long-term relationship with Prince Philippe Duc d’Orleans.

  15. And had a dessert created in her honour: Peach Melba.
    As it happens, this week’s edition of Bored Panda has a list of 30+ Kick-ass Women, many of whom should be listed here.

  16. Sarah Bernhardt, French actress. Her biography by Cornelia Otis Skinner reads like a novel.

  17. Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke. She was Grant’s chief of nursing in the Western theatre of the Civil War; and was responsible for the improvement of the sanitation of field hospitals. When an officer complained about her, Sherman said plainly, “She outranks me.”, and she was often referred to as “Brigadier Commanding Hospitals”. She served as a field nurse at nearly twenty battles, including Shiloh and Vicksburg.
    Before the war, she was an herbalist, and alternative healer. After the war, she became a lawyer specialising in veterans advocacy.

  18. The Harriet Tubman movie is actually a two-part miniseries called “A Woman Called Moses” that aired in 1978. It covered her years as a slave and her participation with the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. It’s actually very good . . . aside from Orson Wells’ narration.

    Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke. She was Grant’s chief of nursing in the Western theatre of the Civil War; and was responsible for the improvement of the sanitation of field hospitals. When an officer complained about her, Sherman said plainly, “She outranks me.”, and she was often referred to as “Brigadier Commanding Hospitals”.

    She has always struck me as an interesting figure. I first came across her in a romance novel by Elizabeth Kary called “Let No Man Divide”.

  19. And let’s not forget Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel, who at least merited a song by tom Lerhrer. Or Varina Davis, who practically ran the Confederacy with Judah Benjamin in between tending the sick and wounded in Chimborazo Hospital when old Jeff was laid up. Her maiden name was Howell, and she was from New Jersey. I think the township may have been named after her family.

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