Skip to main content

Translating the stories of women who changed history

Students in Second-Year Spanish: Cultural Emphasis sharpened their skills by translating the stories of 26 remarkable women's lives, making a PBS documentary series accessible for Spanish speakers in time for Women's History Month.

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

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

In fall and spring 2021, students in her course Second-Year Spanish: Cultural Emphasis translated the shorts and free digital learning resources created for each of the 26 women profiled, delving into interviews and archival footage in the process. Thanks to their work, the 26 documentary shorts are available for viewing and streaming with Spanish subtitling in time for Women’s History Month this year.

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

Unladylike2020‘s Co-Executive Producer Sandra Rattley agreed, noting, “Not only did this constitute a great learning experience for Stanford students, but this collaboration has helped to ensure that all Spanish-language learners and heritage speakers will be able to access Unladylike2020 content.”

The diverse group of women featured in the series broke barriers in male-dominated fields at the turn of the century. They include Jovita Idar, teacher, journalist, nurse and founder of the League of Mexican Women, one of the first known Latina feminist organizations; and Ynés Mexía, one of the earliest participants in the budding environmental movement of the 1910s, and a fearless botanical researcher who discovered over 500 new plant species across North and South America. Other women include Mary Church Terrell, a leader in the anti-lynching movement and a founder of the NAACP; Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first American Indian physician who also founded a hospital on the Omaha Reservation; and Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress, among others.

Stanford junior Chloe Laguna reflected, “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 kind of representation. I am grateful to have been part of a project that is showcasing these powerful women and their accomplishments while at the same time making that information more accessible.”

The Spanish-language translation of the Unladylike2020 material was supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Unladylike Productions, and a grant from Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service. The free, standards-aligned digital learning resources, interactive lessons and professional development webinars for teachers were created by The 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 students’ learning while advancing the work of partner organizations. Incorporating Unladylike2020 into this course showed students cross-discipline connections and real-world applicability. The collaboration also gave students a 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 has been a highlight of my coursework at Stanford. During the project, we were exposed to the remarkable histories of inspirational and revolutionary women.”

Unladylike2020 was written, produced and directed by Charlotte Mangin and Sandra Rattley, and distributed by PBS’ award-winning biography series, American Masters. The series is available for viewing on the PBS LearningMedia site. Closed captions in Spanish are also available on the American Masters YouTube channel and the PBS Documentaries channel on Amazon Prime.

Narrated by Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife, ER and Billions) and Lorraine Toussaint (Selma, Orange Is the New Black and The Equalizer), Unladylike2020 has attracted an audience of more than 5.6 million viewers, has received a 2021 Telly Award and 2021 Imagen Award for Best Short Film and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.