Back in the early part of the nineteenth century, Becky Little reports in National Geographic, activists from the National Women’s Party fought to get American women the right to vote. That accomplished in 1920, they turned heir attention to writing legislation. Alice Paul (the Alice who in 1923 wrote the still-unpassed Equal Rights Amendment) bought a brick house near Capitol Hill in 1929 and moved the party into it; its proximity to Capitol Hill gave the NWP “a vantage point from which they may keep Congress under perpetual observation,” according to suffragist Elsie Hill.

President Obama has just designated that house, the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum in Washington, D.C., as the United States’ first Women’s Equality National Monument.

“Once they got their votes,” Little writes, “the women of the NWP began campaigning for female candidates and drafting legislation for women’s rights that addressed issues like property rights, divorce, and the ability to keep your maiden name after marriage . . . . Over the next several decades, [museum executive director Page Harrington told Little], ‘well over 100 pieces of legislation that they drafted were actually passed.’ The NWP supported the 1922 Cable Act, which repealed a law that had previously taken away U.S. citizenship from women who married non-citizens. In the 1930s, it also fought to eliminate part of an act that prevented people from working for the federal government if their spouse already did. (As you might imagine, the purpose of that rule wasn’t to keep men out of government.)”

In 1979 the NWP turned the house into a museum that includes posters, banners, portraits, busts, and historical artifacts (including Alice Paul’s Spartan desk). Now we have a destination dedicated to all American women, and particularly to the memory of women whose agitating, lobbying, and legislation-drafting, Harrington told Little, “impacted thousands and thousands of women’s lives.”

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  • Mary May 8, 2016 at 9:24 am

    Yeah, at last.