Translating the stories of women who changed history


When Stanford lecturer Maria Cristina Urruela approached the producers of Unladylike2020 about using the award-winning PBS documentary series about pioneering American women as a teaching tool, she knew the project would provide students with a rich learning experience beyond improving their Spanish language proficiency.

Jovita Idar, educator, journalist, suffragette and civil rights activist, is among the women featured in the award-winning PBS series Unladylike2020 (Image credit: Original artwork by Amélie Chabannes, courtesy of Unladylike Productions LLC)

In the fall and spring of 2021, students in his course Second year Spanish: cultural accent translated the short films and free digital learning resources created for each of the 26 women featured, immersing themselves in interviews and archival footage in the process. Thanks to their work, the 26 short documentaries are available for viewing and streaming with Spanish subtitling in time for Women’s History Month this year.

“As the students worked intensively on the translations of the scripts telling the stories of the lives of these remarkable women, they engaged with these texts in a way that helped them better understand the backgrounds of these pioneering women, the reasons of acting and accomplishments, as well as how their work has shaped the lives of so many others,” Urruela said. “The care required to translate the text sharpened their observations, and the project strengthened their ability to analyze both historical and current events.”

Unladylike2020Sandra Rattley’s co-executive producer agreed, noting, “Not only has this been a great learning experience for Stanford students, but this collaboration has helped ensure that all Spanish language learners and heritage speakers will be able to access Unladylike2020 contents.”

The diverse group of women featured in the series broke down barriers in male-dominated fields around the turn of the century. Among them, Jovita Idar, teacher, journalist, nurse and founder of the League of Mexican Women, one of the first known Latin feminist organizations; and Ynés Mexía, an early participant in the nascent environmental movement of the 1910s, and an intrepid botanical researcher who discovered over 500 new species of plants in North and South America. Other women include Mary Church Terrell, a leader of the anti-lynching movement and founder of the NAACP; Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American physician who also founded a hospital on the Omaha reservation; and Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the US Congress, among others.

Stanford junior Chloe Laguna said, “Being able to translate the story of Jovita Idar, a woman who supported the Latinx community through social activism and education, was special to me because our community often does not get this type of representation. I am grateful to have been part of a project that highlights these powerful women and their accomplishments while making this information more accessible.

The Spanish translation of Unladylike2020 the material was supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Unladylike Productions, and a grant from the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford. The free, standards-compliant digital learning resources, interactive lessons, and professional development webinars for teachers were created by WNET Group’s Kids’ Media & Education team and are available through PBS LearningMedia.

Paitra Houts, Director of Community-Engaged Learning in Education at Stanford, said: “Cardinal courses, which are community-engaged learning courses at Stanford, are designed to deepen student learning. while advancing the work of partner organizations. Incorporation Unladylike2020 in this course has shown students cross-disciplinary connections and real-world applicability. The collaboration also gave students the chance to be part of an award-winning PBS project.

Stanford senior Felisha Louise Moore echoed that sentiment, saying:The opportunity to collaborate with the Unladylike2020 series was a highlight of my courses at Stanford. During the project, we were exposed to the remarkable stories of inspiring and revolutionary women.

Unladylike2020 was written, produced and directed by Charlotte Mangin and Sandra Rattley, and distributed by PBS’s award-winning biography series, American masters. The series can be viewed on the PBS LearningMedia site. Spanish closed captions are also available on the American Masters YouTube channel and the PBS Documentaries channel on Amazon Prime.

Reported by Julianna Margulies (The good wife, Emergencies and Billions) and Lorraine Toussaint (Selma, Orange is the new black and The equalizer), Unladylike2020 garnered an audience of over 5.6 million viewers, received a 2021 Telly Award and a 2021 Imagen Award for Best Short Film, and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.


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