From Suffrage To The White House: Remember The Past, Fight For The Future

Do you know the feeling of being in the presence of greatness? I felt surrounded and embraced by that feeling during my recent visit to the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington, D.C.
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Do you know the feeling of being in the presence of greatness? I felt surrounded and embraced by that feeling during my recent visit to the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington, D.C, which just reopened after an 11-month renovation.

Entering the museum off busy Constitution Avenue, you immediately know that you are in a real home -- a home that celebrates women's progress toward equality and explores the evolving role of women through innovative programs, tours, exhibits, research and publications. It is especially committed to telling the compelling story of the National Woman's Party's campaigns for equal rights and the right to vote.

The renovation and restoration of the building and collection unearthed artifacts from the period, including portraits of those women who were jailed because they fought for their rights -- and ours -- and historic banners that these brave women took to the White House. (One boldly asks "Mr. President, What Will You Do For Woman Suffrage?").

As inspired as I am by these women, I'm also perplexed by the fact that so few of my peers know anything about them. On Election Day last year, my own sister sent me an email with captioned photographs of some of the women who paved the way. It was the first time she had heard of most of them -- and she has been voting for more than 40 years. It made me realize that if my own sister wasn't aware of these amazing women, then we're not doing a good enough job of honoring their memory. We can do more and not just during Women's History Month!

As women who are educated and empowered, it's important that we pay tribute to those who came before us and pay it forward to those who will come after. It's also important to remember how much still must be done.

It's easy to look at a Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi and think that women have achieved our dreams, especially when you walk the halls of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum and see where we were a just century ago. But once we do that, we're doomed to never rise any further. For all of our gains, women still earn less than men and are underrepresented in corporate boardrooms. And as exciting as it was to watch Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in 2008, we're still waiting for the first female president.

In fact, there are signs that the gains we've made over the last few decades are very tenuous. For the first time in 30 years, the number of women sworn into Congress fell. Even more alarming, the number of female lawmakers in state capitals fell by 81 this year and it's these statehouses that are breeding grounds for the national leaders of tomorrow.

I have no doubt that we'll see a female president before long. But it will take a movement of women willing to make a difference to get us there. After all, no one can represent us better than we can. To increase our power, we need to support one another by serving as mentors, role models and educators. We need to continually remind ourselves of the past while staying focused on the future.

It's a tall order, but the Sewall-Belmont House shows that when women come together to achieve a goal, nothing can stand in our way.

Elinor Steele is Vice President, Global Communications and Public Relations for Tupperware Brands Corporation, manager of its Chain of Confidence philanthropic effort for women and a board member of the Sewall-Belmont House.

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