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What Took So Long? Women's History From Those Who Made It

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Women's History Month is upon us, and we're once more reminded that over the last half century, the roles of women have changed more than any other sector of society. But did you know that the most transformative social movement of the 20th century -- the women's movement -- has never been documented on film?

Until now, that is. February 26 marks the premiere of MAKERS: Women Who Make America, a PBS documentary about how women took to the streets to transform society and the role of women in that society. MAKERS draws on more than 100 interviews with women, then and now, to finally tell the story of the modern women's movement and how it changed our families, our country, our institutions and our world.

Narrated by Meryl Streep, the series not only highlights high-profile women like Hillary Clinton and Oprah, but showcases women most of us have never heard of who have done extraordinary things. For example, There's Brenda Berkman, the first female New York City firefighter, and Barbara Burns, an activist coal miner.

One mover and shaker behind MAKERS is Executive Producer Betsy West, former CBS News senior vice president with 22 Emmy Awards under her belt. I talked to her about MAKERS on my radio show, "Equal Time With Martha Burk."

MB: Tell us what MAKERS: Women Who Make America really is. It's variously described as a three-part documentary film premiering on PBS February 26, a multi-platform project that involves the Internet and an iPad app. Is it all of those things?

BW: Yes. The documentary is the culmination of a long project. We wanted to gather the stories of these extraordinary women before it was too late. Tell their stories on a website and make that available to everybody. Makers.com launched a year ago -- an online living archive from the groundbreaking women who were in the movement and also the women who benefited from the movement.

MB: There's never been a comprehensive documentary on the women's movement. That's puzzling. The Black civil rights movement has been well documented for decades. Why do think the women's movement has been overlooked for so long?

BW: I don't think we [at first] absorbed how huge a change it was. It takes time to get perspective on something that was so transformative.

MB: We now talk about the "women's movement," but back when it started, it was called the "women's lib movement," and it was not always flattering. In addition to interviews, does the film have footage of the marches, protests and other actions that women took in the 1960s and 70s to call attention to discrimination?

BW: Yes. There was Betty Friedan and the founding of NOW, but there were younger women who came from the civil rights and anti-war movements who were more radical. They realized they had to take radical action to effect change.

MB: How were the women chosen?

BW: We had an advisory panel that really encouraged us to have all kinds of diversity. Racial diversity, but also diversity of experiences, so that we would have women who were activists -- even conservative activists, athletes, business women, educators... not just the usual suspects.

MB: Of all the interviews you've done, tell me one everybody should watch.

BW: I would say the story of Kathrine Switzer , the marathon runner, just to set the stage of how bad things were for women that they weren't even allowed to run in a marathon without being physically attacked.

MB: Do you take up issues in the documentary?

BW: We explore the issue of work-life balance, which is still a big issue. Child care -- how do women take their full place in society when the burden of raising children still falls mainly on women?

MB: Tell us about including Phyllis Schlafly, and what you did in terms of including anti-feminists in a documentary about women's progress.

BW: It was important that the project be an accurate representation of the whole story. And certainly Phyllis Schafly was extremely influential. [The Equal Rights Amendment fight] was very hard fought and a defeat for the women's movement. So it was important.

MB: Is one of the goals of MAKERS making younger women aware that there's still work to do?

BW: To me, the biggest legacy of this project is for my 18 year old daughter. It's very exciting to see her and her friends being moved by these stories.

Listen to Betsy West's full interview here: