New park honors women’s struggle for equality

On the occasion of Equal Pay Day, the National Park Service has announced a new national monument: the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C.

From the NPS:

“Tucked behind the U.S. Capitol building is a 200-year-old house that stands as a testament to our nation’s continued struggle for equality. Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (NM) tells the compelling story of a community of women who dedicated their lives to the fight for women’s rights. The innovative tactics and strategies these women devised became the blueprint for women’s progress throughout the 20th century.

History of the House

Built on Capitol Hill in 1800, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality NM is among the oldest residential properties in Washington, D.C. The house was nearly destroyed by British forces during the War of 1812. In the 20th century, the house became the headquarters of the National Woman’s Party, a political movement that fought for equal rights for women.

Robert Sewall, a member from one of Maryland’s most influential and prominent families, built the original house at 2nd Street and Constitution Avenue, NE in 1800. Sewall rented the house to Albert Gallatin from 1801 until 1813. Gallatin served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison. During the War of 1812, the house was damaged and nearly destroyed by fire during the British invasion of Washington in August 1814. It was one of the only buildings from which the occupants made an attempt to resist the British army.

The Sewall family descendants owned the house for over 120 years. In 1922, Senator and Mrs. Porter Dale of Vermont purchased and rehabilitated the house after it had been vacant for a decade.

The Dales sold the house to the National Woman’s Party (NWP) to use as their headquarters in 1929. The NWP renamed the property the “Alva Belmont House” in honor of Alva Belmont, a benefactor of the NWP. Belmont donated thousands of dollars to women’s equality and gave the NWP the ability to purchase the new headquarters. The house also functioned as a hotel and second home for some members.

National Woman’s Party

Alice Paul founded the NWP in 1913 to address equality issues and women’s suffrage. Paul is one of the most significant figures in gaining women the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The NWP continued to fight to guarantee equal rights for women through gender equality in both the United Nations Charter and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The NWP remained in the house for over 90 years as a prominent presence on Capitol Hill. Tucked among federal office buildings, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Capitol, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality NM, now stands as a memorial to the dedication of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party.”

Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality NM.