Mona Lisa Smile takes place in 1953 and tells the story of a feminist teacher who studied at UCLA graduate school and left as a first-year teacher from Oakland State University. She also leaves her boyfriend behind in Los Angeles, California, to teach at Wellesley College, a conservative women's private liberal arts college in Massachusetts, United States.
Katherine Ann Watson tries to open her students' minds to their freedom to do whatever they want with their lives. She encourages her students to believe in themselves, to study to become career professionals, and to improve their economic futures. She uses her art teachings as a vehicle to put across her opinion to the young women; that her students needn't conform to stereotypes of women made by society, or the roles made for them by society, as women born to become housewives and mothers. She felt that women could do more things in life than solely adopt the roles of wives and mothers. In one scene of the movie, she shows her students four newspaper ads, and asks them to question what the future will think of the idea that women are born into the roles of wives and mothers.
Watson's ideas and ways of teaching are contrary to methods deemed acceptable by the school's directors; conservative women who believe firmly that Watson should not use her class to express her points of views or befriend students, and should stick only to teaching art. Watson is warned that she could be fired if she continues to interact with students as she has been doing.
Fearless of her boss, Watson becomes stronger in her speeches about feminism and the future of women. She is a firm believer that the outlook of women in society needed to be changed if women were to achieve better futures, and that she needed to instill a spirit of change among her students.
Watson chooses to leave after the one year but, as she is leaving the campus for the last time, her students run after her car, to show their affection and to thank her...
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