Tucked behind the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings stands an unassuming brick house, home to the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument. Built in 1800, and rebuilt after the War of 1812 by Robert Sewall, the Sewall family owned the house until 1929, when the National Women’s Party (NWP) purchased it. Named after two presidents of the NWP, Alice Paul and Alva Belmont, the house served many functions as the Party’s fifth headquarters in the District of Columbia. Home to the Equal Rights Amendment and lobbying efforts, the party continued to use this house until 1997, when they became a charitable organization. In 2016, President Obama signed the legislation that created the National Monument, which allowed the National Park Service to work with the NWP to operate the site.
Although the house was purchased after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment (ensuring the female franchise), the museum tells the story of women’s fight for the vote, beginning with the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 and ending in the present. Three galleries on the ground floor tell the chronological narrative of the movement to the present. While the upper galleries discuss ratification at length, visitors are also able to explore the preserved bedroom that showcases what it would have looked like when Alice Paul lived in the headquarters. Although there are many treasures, some of the artifacts on display include Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s chair, and the desks belonging to Susan B. Anthony, Alva Belmont, and Alice Paul, leaders in the movement from the beginning. The upper level is not handicap accessible, but the ground floor exhibits are open to all. Throughout all of the exhibit spaces, the visitor is invited to interact with the exhibits, and tell their own stories.
Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument is open daily, Wednesday through Sunday, 9 AM to 5 PM, and is free to visit. Two guided tours are offered daily at 11 AM and 2 PM, with self-guided tours available all day. Extra guided tours are available for those who book in advance. The site is a bit of a walk from the typical tourist circuit, but it is worth it. More information is available at https://www.nps.gov/bepa.
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Kate is a museum professional located in the United States. She works seasonally as a Museum Technician for the National Park Service at sites like Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park and Everglades National Park. Kate holds a BA in History from Geneva College, and a MA in History (concentrating in Museum Studies) from Appalachian State University. She firmly believes that the museums are the best kept secrets of the National Park Service, and loves sharing those secrets with others. Kate can be found on Twitter at @KatyB94511.