A New National Monument Will Honor 2 Amazing Women

by Morgan Brinlee

To mark Equal Pay Day and pay tribute to the ongoing movement for women's equality, President Obama will designate the Sewall-Belmont House as a national monument on Tuesday. The house has served as the National Woman's Party historic headquarters for close to 87 years, but Washington D.C.'s newest national monument will honor two women whose fierce and dedicated efforts were integral to the success of the women's equality movement.

The new Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument is named in honor of both the National Woman's Party (NWP) founder Alice Paul and the party's former president and benefactor Alva Belmont. Both women are credited with playing instrumental roles in bringing new focus and energy to a languishing suffrage movement following the deaths of early pioneers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the early 1900s.

It was Paul, for example, who orchestrated some of the most significant political gains women garnered in the 20th century. Paul urged suffragists to think beyond state voting rights and turn their attention to pushing for a federal amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would guarantee all American women the right to vote. Paul played "an instrumental role in the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment," White House officials said Monday in announcing Obama's plans to designate a national monument honoring women's equality.

Frustrated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), Paul formed the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) in 1916, which became the NWP the following year. Paul led the first ever picket line in front of the White House on Jan. 10, 1917 that resulted in her arrest and a seven-month jail sentence. A tireless advocate for women's rights, Paul also drafted updated Equal Rights Amendment text and provisions preventing gender discrimination which were included in the Civil Rights Act. She died in 1977 at the age of 92.

An ardent feminist, Belmont devoted her life and her wealth to advancing women's equality after the death of her second husband Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont. Like Paul, Belmont was also first affiliated with the NAWSA but broke from the organization in 1914 and joined Paul's CU, which she felt better aligned with her more militant views, according to the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum's historical archives. Belmont became a financial benefactor of the CU (later the NWP) almost immediately. She also served on the organization's executive board from 1914 to 1920 and as its president from 1920 until her death in 1933.

The Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, which sits on Capitol Hill, was bought by the National Woman's Party in 1929 — largely with money donated by Belmont. It is "one of the oldest standing houses near the U.S. Capitol," according to the White House. Its designation as a national monument will protect the extensive archive of documents and memorabilia it houses, preserving not only the efforts and accomplishments of Paul and Belmont, but of the entire NWP, in securing women the equal rights they enjoy today.

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