Primary Source

Swords and Hearts (1911) [Moving Image]


In the years before D. W. Griffith made The Birth of a Nation (1915), the epic film that debuted on the 50th anniversary of the Civil War, he produced 11 Civil War films in which he mastered the art of filmmaking and storytelling. These have surprising relevance to the history of girls. A comparison of Griffith's portrayal of heroic girls in Swords and Hearts (1911) and The House with Closed Shutters (1910) with the depiction of traditional Victorian girlhood in The Birth of a Nation, sheds light on the role that changing ideals about girlhood played in Griffith's historic film. Griffith replaced the agency of the girls who donned soldiers' uniforms in both Swords and Hearts and The House with Closed Shutters with portrayals of girlish helplessness in The Birth of a Nation. By representing the catastrophic threat that free black men with equal rights posed to the virtue of girls like Little Sister in The Birth of a Nation, Griffith was able to rationalize white supremacy and patriarchal rule.


Swords and Hearts. Directed by D. W. Griffith. New York: Biograph Company, 1911. Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell.

How to Cite This Source

"Swords and Hearts (1911) [Moving Image]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #169, (accessed December 1, 2021). Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell