THE BLOG
02/22/2013 05:54 pm ET | Updated Apr 24, 2013

Making of MAKERS: Stories of Women That Changed America

She had to do it! Kathrine Switzer is a marathon runner. In 1967, she joined hundreds of men in the 26-mile Boston marathon, proudly displaying number #261 on her chest. Participating in the marathon was her dream and she didn't even give a second thought about what that would mean to the thousands of American women. She just wanted to run. And she did. But a simple act of running turned into something larger when a marathon host caught up with her, grabbed her arm and tried to yank her out of the race. "Get the hell out of my marathon," he screamed, shocked and ashamed to see a woman in the runners' midst. She kept running. And it dawned on her -- this is more than just a marathon now, this is a statement. She remembers thinking: "I'm going to finish this race on my hands and knees if I have to... If I don't, then everyone will think that women can't do it."

She finished the race in 4 hours and 20 minutes. "I started the Boston marathon as a girl and I finished Boston marathon as a woman," Switzer says.

That is the opening story of MAKERS: Women That Made America, a three-part documentary about courageous women like Switzer who redefined the image and the purpose of an American woman from a homemaker into a decision-maker of her own life, tracking 50 years of change and celebrating that change. Narrated by three-time Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep, Makers: Women Who Make America takes its cue from the movement's motto, "The personal is political," delving into the personal lives of its subjects.

For the first time ever, the documentary will air on PBS at 8 p.m. on February 26 (check local listings).

I was a fan of the online video experience MAKERS for a long time, religiously following their tweets from @MAKERSwomen and the watching new episodes of women (both known and unknown) who influenced the way women are viewed in the American society. The film, and online experience, is built from first-person, intimate accounts of women who experienced this time of change, including movement leaders such as author and feminist activist Gloria Steinem and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; opponents such as conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly; celebrities including media leader Oprah Winfrey and journalist Katie Couric; political figures such as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; business leaders such as Linda Alvarado, president and CEO of Alvarado Construction, Inc., and a co-owner of The Colorado Rockies; and many "ordinary" women who confronted the dramatic social upheaval in their own lives.

These are stories never before told. When I found out about the premiere, I was so excited I reached out to the two brilliant women who founded MAKERS, Dyllan McGee and Betsy West, to talk to them about the story behind the initiative. They were kind enough to send me the documentary prior to the interview and I watched it with my breath held.

I watched the story of women who got higher education just to stay at home and raise kids. A noble role. I am a mother myself, and I know how important that role is. But a lot of women wanted more, they wanted a voice. Author Judy Bloom remembers: "When I started to write [women in my neighborhood] laughed at me. 'What makes you think you can do this?' they said."

"Career woman" was a dirty word. And as women rose around America to speak the truth and to ask for more, "freedom trash cans" started to fill up with the "objects of women's oppression": high-heel shoes, brooms, dust pans, curlers, bras, girdles. "Women, use your brains, not your bodies!" the feminist movement asked. Diane Nash, the Civil Rights activist, says with a smile: "I remember the day that I realized that I could be the principle in my own life. And that was really a revolutionary thought."

I watched in awe the footage of women across the country marching for their rights. The women's movement was like a tsunami, there was no stopping it. Gloria Steinem was in the center of the movement when she started her own magazine, Ms. Magazine. Male news anchors laughed, they didn't expect it to survive. But the women across the country were starved to know that they were not alone in their secret desires of wanting to be something more than just a wife and a mother. They devoured the brutally honest content and felt its power. "It is comforting to know one is not alone" one of the letters to Ms. Magazine said.

Patricia Schroeder, a former congresswoman and the 14th woman to become one, remembers people asking her this question: "How can you be a mother and a congresswoman?" Her answer: "I have a brain and I have a uterus and they both work."

The movie closes with this: "The women's movement is the biggest social movement in the history of the planet earth, because it affected everybody: women, men and children." The stories of courage, confidence and empowerment deeply touched me and reminded me of why I have the privileges I now have. I finished the movie, gently tucked it into its cover and put it into the stack of my favorite movies promising myself that when my 4-year-old daughter becomes a teenager, I will take it back out and watch it again, together with her, start to finish.

In 2005, Dyllan McGee went to Gloria Steinem and asked her to tell the story of her life. Steinem, in her typical Gloria egoless way, said no. She suggested there was a bigger story that needed to be told and she wanted to tell collective stories, not just one. And so McGee went back to the drawing board and what she shockingly discovered was that the story of the women's movement has never been told before. She saw the opportunity, but wanted to do it right. And to do it right, she knew that the film wasn't going to be enough and that she needed a robust digital platform and pivotal partners in this. McGee and Betsy West joined a cast of partners: PBS, AOL and Simple ® facial skincare. Both McGee and West hope that MAKERS serve as an educational platform for girls and women out there.

"I am inspired by watching the underdogs succeed and I love telling those amazing stories," says McGee. "MAKERS is a perfect example, it is a story of how trailblazing women transformed American society. My passion is connecting the next generation to these stories we are telling in MAKERS so we can have 50 more years of change."

And you think that this platform is for women only, think again. 48% of the traffic to the MAKERS.com is male. This is the story that touches everyone. McGee says: "When my boys and I are watching a TV, they say 'Why isn't there a woman there, mom? You got to get a Maker up there.' I think it's equally important for boys to know the story as it is for girls."

When I asked what women featured in MAKERS videos have in common, McGee said: "These women are all driven by passion. Money is never the biggest driver; it's doing something with their lives." Betsy West, a winner of multiple Emmy awards, elaborates: ""Will back bone and a passion for what they do, they pushed forward to pursue their dreams."

West talks about the times when she was at ABC news and that many women worked as associate producers on the night time news. These women were in their late twenties and worked so much that that didn't leave much time for anything else in their lives and they started calling themselves the News Nuns. She fondly remembers how women supported each other and worked together to help each other succeed.

For Kathrine Switzer, those 26 miles of Boston marathon was a defining moment. I asked Dyllan McGee what is her defining moment. "If MAKERS can inspire the next generation to be makers in their own right, I'll call that a victory. I will feel like I've completed my marathon." West's 18-year old daughter is a young generation maker in her own right. She has applied for an all-men program. "I want to be a pioneer, do something challenging, and make a difference," she told her mother.

The advice the producers would give to women?

Dyllan McGee: "Go for your dreams! You can do it! You don't have to be famous to achieve your dreams."

Betsy West:

"Find what inspires and excites you and go after what you are passionate about. Don't be discouraged by failure. Everybody stumbles, especially when you are starting out. It's hard to recognize. You see all those accomplished women who seem so confident and then you hear about the struggles that they had in the beginning. The lesson here is: don't be discouraged."

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, co-founder of Ms. Magazine, said: "I read my way into feminism." Well, the next generation will watch and listen their way into the movement. And that is what MAKERS is trying to accomplish with the robust video platform that they've built: they want to give courage and inspiration to the generations of women that follow.