During my seven years in DC, Sewall-Belmont house has been a very special place for me. It was where I first met with women leaders over lunch to discuss history of the suffrage movement and what today's fight for gender equity looks like. It was a place where girlfriends held part-time jobs as docents, sharing the history of feminism with the next generation, and where an annual award showcases today's women leaders that are carrying the torch.
On Monday, women of all ages, with similar fond memories of the Sewall-Belmont House, came to a public hearing to stand up for HERstory -- to stand up for the protection of the Sewall-Belmont House, the historic home of the National Woman's Party and the home of the U.S. women's suffrage movement.
The Sewall-Belmont House was the longtime home to the National Woman's Party who helped pass and ratify the 19th Amendment and continued to fight for political and legal equality for women throughout the 20th century. The historic National Woman's Party (NWP) owns, maintains, and interprets the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum. But with a public-private partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), NWP would work with NPS to help maintain the house for future generations. The public hearing took place to invite public comment on the incorporation of the Sewall-Belmont House into the National Park Service (NPS).
The Sewall-Belmont House and Museum and the National Woman's Party are committed to preserving the legacy of Alice Paul, founder of the NWP and author of the Equal Rights Amendment, and telling the untold stories for the benefit of scholars, current and future generations of Americans, and all the world's citizens.
In attendance were Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell; Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis; Alan Spears, Cultural Resources Director at the National Parks Conservation Association; Washington D.C. Ward Six City "Councilmember Charles Allen, and representatives from Mayor Bowser's office, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton's office, and Senator Barbara Mikulski's office. It's clear the hearing was a success: under the packed tent, along with these notable attendees, were more than 100 attendees who spoke or submitted public comments, mostly in full support.
The Sewall-Belmont House and Museum celebrates women's progress toward equality--and explores the evolving role of women and their contributions to society--through educational programs, tours, exhibits, research and publications.
As noted by Secretary Jewell, herself a granddaughter of a suffragette, the Sewall-Belmont House shows just how far women have come and serves as a reminder of how far we have to go. The women at the hearing are reaping the benefits of the hard work of the suffragettes who came before them.
Senator Mikulski's testimony spoke of how important Alice Paul's activism was for our country. Without the suffragette's hard work, Senator Mikulski would not be a senator. Before Senator Mikulski took office, there had only been 16 female U.S. senators. Currently there are 20 female senators serving in the United States, more than the number of female Senators who served before Senator Mikulski took office. But 20 is still too few, Senator Mikulski said. Twenty is still not equal representation and shows that there is further work to do towards equality. This unequal number is why the Sewall-Belmont House needs to become a national park.
The testimony of two people attendance echoed the importance of the Sewall Belmont House as a reminder of what's at stake. Eight-year-old Susan B. Diamond, named after Susan B. Anthony, pledged her support for the Sewall-Belmont House as a way to inspire her friends and other children to come to strive for equality. On the other end of the spectrum was a woman whose grandmother didn't receive the right to vote until she was 50 years old.
The Sewall-Belmont house has played a key role in the making of 600 pieces of equality-focused legislation, 300 of which have passed. As one of the premier women's history sites in the country, this National Historic Landmark houses an extensive collection of suffrage banners, archives and artifacts documenting the continuing effort by women and men of all races, religions and backgrounds to win voting rights and equality for women under the law.
Presently, just two percent of our national parks, only eight out of more than 400 national parks honor women. In the many monuments and dedicated traffic circles that make up our nation's capitol, you'd be hard pressed to find placed dedicated to women and people of color. It's time our national storytellers, our National Parks, tell not only HIStory, but HERstory, too.