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What to Watch on WTTW for Women’s History Month

Meredith Francis
Alversa Beals celebrating the opening of Operation Life’s medical clinic in West Las Vegas in 1972. She's featured in the upcoming Independent Lens story, "Storming Caesars Palace."
Activist Alversa Beals celebrating the opening of Operation Life’s medical clinic in West Las Vegas in 1972. She's featured in the upcoming Independent Lens story, "Storming Caesars Palace." Image: Courtesy of Ruby Duncan

For Women’s History Month on WTTW, watch the stories of women who became leaders in politics, civil rights, science, art, and music, featuring names like Sandra Day O'Connor, Betty White, Marian Anderson, Ida B. Wells, Queen Elizabeth II, and more. March brings no shortage of engaging programming, including an Independent Lens premiere about Las Vegas activist Ruby Duncan, who took on the mob and shut down Caesars Palace with a large protest. Plus, later this month, Joni Mitchell will receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize.

You can stream some of WTTW’s own shows, too, including Chicago Stories episodes on Ida B. Wells, Viola Spolin, and Jane Byrne.

American Experience: The Vote

Sundays at 7:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Learn about the first generation of leaders in the decades-long battle to win the vote for women. In the 19th century, a time when women had few legal rights, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton galvanized thousands to demand equal citizenship.

American Masters: Marian Anderson

Sunday, March 5 at 8:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Discover an international singer who captivated royalty in Europe and defined the conscience of 1939 America. Watch rare archival footage and hear audio recordings exploring her life and career from the Metropolitan Opera to the State Department.

Read an interview with the director of the documentary. 

American Experience: Voice of Freedom

Sunday, March 5 at 10:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Explore the fascinating life of celebrated singer Marian Anderson. In 1939, after being barred from performing at Constitution Hall because she was Black, she triumphed at the Lincoln Memorial in what became a landmark moment in American history.

Girl Talk: A Local, USA Special

Saturday, March 11 at 12:00 pm on WTTW Prime and Sunday, March 26 at 2:00 pm on WTTW

Set in the cutthroat, male-dominated world of high school debate, where tomorrow's leaders are groomed, Girl Talk tells the compelling and timely story of five girls on a top-ranked Massachusetts high school debate team as they strive to become the best debaters in the United States.

Betty White: First Lady of Television

Saturday, March 11 at 4:30 pm on WTTW

Get a definitive look at Betty White's life and career. Thanks to exclusive access, you'll see Betty behind the scenes at work, entertaining at home, and interacting with her close friends—one of whom is a 900-pound grizzly bear.

American Experience: Codebreaker

Sunday, March 12 at 8:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Discover the fascinating story of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, the groundbreaking cryptanalyst who helped bring down Al Capone and break up a Nazi spy ring in South America. Her work help lay the foundation for the National Security Agency.

Unladylike 2020: American Masters

Sunday, March 12 at 9:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Explore the stories of pioneering women in American politics who advocated for suffrage and civil rights over 100 years ago, including the first women in the U.S. Congress and State Senate, and a co-founder of the NAACP.

Read an interview with the director, producer, and writer.

In Their Own Words: Angela Merkel

Sunday, March 12 at 10:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Follow Merkel's meteoric rise from pastor's daughter to Time Person of the Year. As a young woman emerging from East Germany, she successfully navigated the male-dominated sphere of German politics to become first female Chancellor of Germany.

In Their Own Words: Queen Elizabeth II

Sunday, March 12 at 11:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Follow Queen Elizabeth II's remarkable life, from her youth to her uncle's abdication, her father's coronation as King George VI, her experience during World War II, her sudden ascension to the throne, and her eventful reign of more than 60 years.

American Masters: Helen Keller

Sunday, March 19 at 8:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Revisit Helen Keller's career and explore how she used her celebrity to advocate for human rights.

American Masters: Twyla Moves

Sunday, March 19 at 9:30 pm on WTTW Prime

Explore legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp's career and famously rigorous creative process, with original interviews, first-hand glimpses of her at work, and rare archival footage of select performances from her more than 160 choreographed works.

Ruth Stone’s Library of the Female Mind

Sunday, March 19 at 11:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Explore the life and poetry of Ruth Stone with observations from her family and friends.

Chicago Stories: Jane Byrne

Monday, March 20 at 9:00 pm on WTTW

Chicago Stories remembers the city's first female mayor. After pulling off one of Chicago's greatest political upsets, Jane Byrne found herself caught between the political machine that shaped her and the reformers who elected her. Driven by her vision of "One Chicago," Jane Byrne focused on bringing unity and pride to an increasingly divided city. While her time in office was marked by crises and controversies, the Byrne administration ushered in a new era of Chicago politics.

Stream the show any time, and explore more of Byrne’s story on the website.

Independent Lens: Storming Caesars Palace

Saturday, March 25 at 10:30 pm on WTTW

Meet activist Ruby Duncan, who led a grassroots movement of mothers who challenged presidents, the Vegas mob, and everyday Americans to fight for a universal basic income and rethink their notions of the “welfare queen.”

Alpha Kappa Alpha: A Legacy of Service

Sunday, March 26 at 3:30 pm on WTTW

Narrated by Phylicia Rashad, this program documents the 115-year history of one of the nation's oldest African American women's organizations. Since its founding at Howard University in 1908, the members of Alpha Kappa Alpha have empowered communities across the globe. Beginning with their Depression-era Mississippi Health Project, Alpha Kappa Alpha has facilitated national and international service initiatives for those in need. This legacy of striving for the common good has not always been easy, but collectively the sisterhood endures.

Inventing Improv: A Chicago Stories Special

Sunday, March 26 at 4:30 pm on WTTW

It may be Chicago's greatest cultural export: improvised theater that was carried out into the world by the likes of Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Stephen Colbert. But this art form wasn't created by a funny man—it was devised by a woman who wasn't out for laughs. Explore the life and legacy of Viola Spolin, the social-worker-turned-theater guru known as "The Mother of Improv."

Stream the show any time, and explore more of Spolin’s story on the website.

American Experience: Sandra Day O’Connor: The First

Sunday, March 26 at 8:00 pm on WTTW Prime

When Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor as the Supreme Court's first female justice in 1981, the announcement dominated the news. Time Magazine's cover proclaimed "Justice At Last," and she received unanimous Senate approval. During her 25 years on the Supreme Court, O'Connor was the critical swing vote on cases involving some of the 20th century's most controversial issues, including abortion, affirmative action—and she was the tiebreaker on Bush v. Gore. Forty years after her confirmation, this biography recounts the life of a pioneering woman who both reflected and shaped an era.

Women and the Vote

Sunday, March 26 at 10:00 pm on WTTW Prime

On November 3, 2020, local filmmakers at five New York cemeteries in Rochester, the Bronx, Auburn, Buffalo, and Sleepy Hollow interviewed visitors about why they chose to honor the suffragists buried there, their reasons for voting, and their vision for the country. Their perspectives capture the excitement and concern present during a historic election year and spotlight the need for respectful civil discourse to unite a divided nation. Women and the Vote interweaves these present-day interviews with rich historical elements to generate connections between New York's suffragist legacy and contemporary voters.

Closing the Gap: 50 Years Seeking Equal Pay

Sunday, March 26 at 11:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Half a century after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women in both high-paying, high-growth STEM careers and those in part-time, low-wage jobs still only make, on average, 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. In front of a live studio audience, Closing the Gap: 50 Years Seeking Equal Pay scrutinizes hotly debated statistics and moves beyond highly politicized and over-simplified talking points to explore the factors contributing to the wage gap and strategize on ways to attain equal pay.

Ida B. Wells: A Chicago Stories Special

Monday, March 27 at 9:00 pm on WTTW

There are few Chicago historical figures whose life and work speak to the current moment more than Ida B. Wells, the 19th century investigative journalist, civil rights leader, and passionate suffragist. WTTW brings you this Chicago Stories special that tells her story as never before. 

Stream the show any time, and explore more of Wells’ story on the website.

Joni Mitchell: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song

Friday, March 31 at 8:00 pm on WTTW

After getting her start in coffee shops, Joni Mitchell went on to set a new standard, marrying music and lyrics with such songs as “Both Sides, Now.” While her early material is often categorized as “folk,” she became a household name with music that defies categorization. 

In Their Own Words: Princess Diana

Friday, March 31 at 9:00 pm on WTTW

See how Diana defied expectations and evolved into one of the most impactful icons of our time. Look back on her life through a contemporary lens that credits her choices, suffering, and triumphs as the ultimate disrupter for a generation of women.