“Nevertheless, It Persisted”
Thorn Production’s “Jeannette Rankin: Champion of Persistence” could be called edu-tainment. It’s the kind of show I expect to see at a middle school assembly during Women’s History Month. That said, the biographical one-act about the life of the first woman elected to Congress was highly informative, and the enthusiastic performance of J. Emily Peabody made Jeannette Rankin a name I won’t soon forget.
At 9pm at the Unicorn Theatre, Peabody walked onto the Levin Stage singing one of the first recorded anti-war songs. It protested American involvement in World War I and was from the perspective of mothers whose sons were sent off to fight. What followed the song was essentially story time replete with Power Point slides and numerous costume changes. Peabody took us through Rankin’s life, her introduction to and subsequent rise-fall-rise in politics. Like most women in U.S. politics (especially at the turn of the 20th century), Rankin was often one of few—if not the only—woman in the room. In a strict tally, she probably lost more battles than she won. But she remained brave and resolute in the face of patriarchal mocking and political maneuvering.
The show remained true to history but allowed for contemporary commentary, especially as it pertained to some questionable attire during a women’s suffrage parade. This reviewer was thoroughly impressed by Peabody’s memorization which deserves a separate round of applauds all on its own.
When the house lights came up, I couldn’t help thinking about women in American politics today—four American women in the House of Representatives, to be specific—and what they still have to endure while just trying to do their jobs. I wonder how Rankin’s story would be different if she were a woman of color. I wonder if she’d have one to be told at all. But I did find myself hopeful, if for no other reason than “Jeannette Rankin: Champion of Persistence” was further proof that sisters have been doing it, and will continue to do it, for themselves.