The Farmer’s Daughter Grows Up
By Diana Belchase
I’ve got to admit it, 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 The Farmer’s Daughter.
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.
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 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, and thank you Hollywood.