Here’s a sad statistic: Until recently, only eight out of America’s 411 national park sites were dedicated to women’s history, and only one national monument—the Harriet Tubman National Monument in Cambridge, Maryland—honored a woman’s legacy.
These numbers changed Tuesday when U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that President Obama had named the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Woman’s Party a national landmark. Formerly known as the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, it will now be called the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument. The new name honors Alva Belmont, the National Woman's Party benefactor, and party founder, and strategist Alice Paul, The Washington Post reports.
The Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument is an unassuming three-story brick house that stands on 144 Constitution Avenue, near the U.S. Capitol. However, it has a rich history, The New York Times writes. Built in 1800 by a man named Robert Sewall, the home was torched by British troops during the War of 1812. It was later rebuilt, and in 1929 it became home to the National Woman’s Party, the American women's organization that formed in 1917 to fight for women’s suffrage.
In 1997, the National Woman’s Party became an educational organization, and the home was transformed into a museum that housed documents and memorabilia on suffrage and women's issues. Until recently, it also served as a meeting site and events hall.
Paul and her contemporaries were mocked, threatened, and jailed for their activism. The Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument recalls this painful history, Obama said in a speech at the house on Tuesday. “I want young girls and boys to come here—10, 20, 100 years from now—to know that women fought for equality, it was not just given to them,” the Times quotes him as saying. “I want them to come here and be astonished that there was ever a time that women could not vote. I want them to be astonished that there was ever a time when women earned less than men for doing the same work.”
Fittingly, President Obama dedicated the new national monument on Equal Pay Day, a date that women’s and civil rights organizations use to observe the disparity between men’s and women’s incomes. “I’m here to say we will close the wage gap,” Obama said at the opening. “And if you don’t believe that we’re going to close our wage gap, you need to come visit this house because this house has a story to tell.”
In 2014, a mold outbreak in the brick home’s library cost its administrators $75,000 to fix, and heavy snow last winter damaged its gutters. With funding from the National Park Service, the home will be restored to its original glory—ensuring that Belmont’s wish for it to “stand for years and years to come, telling of the work that the women of the United States have accomplished” comes true.
[h/t The Washington Post]