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Today is Equal Pay Day

On Equal Pay Day, President Barack Obama designated the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, a site that has been central to the fight for women's equality for over a century, as America's newest national monument.

In a proclamation, Obama describes the history of the house:

The house, located at 144 Constitution Ave. N.E., in Washington, D.C., has been home to the National Woman's Party since 1929. From this House, the NWP's founder Alice Paul wrote new language in 1943 for the Equal Rights Amendment, which became known as the "Alice Paul Amendment," and led the fight for its passage in the Congress.

From here, throughout the 20th century, Paul and the NWP drafted more than 600 pieces of legislation in support of equal rights and advocated for women's political, social, and economic equality not just in the United States but also internationally.

The NWP named it the Alva Belmont House in honor of its former president and major benefactor who had helped purchase the NWP's previous headquarters. What is now called the Sewall-Belmont House became the staging ground for the NWP's advocacy for an equal rights amendment and other significant domestic and international action for women's equality.

Alice Paul, the women's suffrage and equal rights leader closely associated with the Sewall-Belmont House, led the NWP from its headquarters at the House from 1929 to 1972. A Quaker and well educated, before her work in the U.S., Paul had been inspired by the women's suffrage movement in Britain in the early 20th century.

During her years there from 1907 to 1910, she joined with Emmeline Pankhurst, her daughters, and other suffragettes to secure the vote for British women. Paul's participation in meetings, demonstrations, and depositions to Parliament led to multiple arrests, hunger strikes, and force-feedings.

Paul brought home her focus on women's suffrage when she returned to the United States in 1910. After earning a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1912, she devoted herself to the American suffrage movement. She feared that the movement was waning at the national level because efforts had shifted to state suffrage. Paul believed that the movement needed to concentrate on the passage of a federal suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Paul became a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and by 1912 served as the chair of its Congressional Committee in Washington, D.C. In 1913, she and Lucy Burns created a larger organization, the Congressional Union of Woman Suffrage, which soon disagreed with NAWSA over tactics. The Congressional Union split from NAWSA in 1914 and evolved into the NWP through steps taken in 1916 and 1917.

Paul was the most prominent figure in the final phase of the battle for the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1920, granting women the right to vote. As part of her strategy, she adopted the philosophy to "hold the party in power responsible" from her work on women's suffrage in Britain.

The NWP withheld its support from the existing political parties until women gained the right to vote, and "punished" those parties in power that didn't support suffrage. In 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson's first inauguration, Paul organized a women's suffrage parade of more than 5,000 participants from every state in the union. Through a series of dramatic nonviolent protests, the NWP demanded that President Wilson and the Congress address women's issues.

The NWP organized "Silent Sentinels" to stand outside the White House holding banners inscribed with incendiary phrases directed toward President Wilson. The colorful, spirited suffrage marches, the suffrage songs, the violence the women faced as they were physically attacked and had their banners torn from their hands, the daily pickets and arrests at the White House, the recurring jail time, the hunger strikes which resulted in force-feedings and brutal prison conditions, the national speaking tours, and newspaper headlines all created enormous public support for suffrage.

Through most of the last century, the NWP remained a leading advocate of women's political, social, and economic equality. Following ratification of the 19th Amendment, the NWP, under the leadership of Alice Paul, turned its attention towards the larger issue of complete equality of men and women under the law.

Paul reorganized the NWP in 1922 to focus on eliminating all discrimination against women. In 1923, at the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention, Paul proposed an equal rights amendment to the constitution, which became known as the "Lucretia Mott Amendment," and launched the campaign to win full equality for women.

In 1943, Alice Paul rewrote the amendment, which then became known as the "Alice Paul Amendment." What is now referred to as the "Equal Rights Amendment" was introduced in every session of Congress from 1923 until it finally passed in 1972, though it still hasn't been ratified by the required majority: three-fourths of the states.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the NWP drafted more than 600 pieces of legislation in support of equal rights for women on the state and local levels, including bills covering divorce and custody rights, jury service, property rights, ability to enter into contracts, and the retention of one's maiden name after marriage.

It launched two major "Women for Congress" campaigns in 1924 and 1926 and lobbied for the appointment of women to high federal positions. The NWP also worked for federal and state "blanket bills" to ensure women equal rights and helped change federal laws to equalize nationality and citizenship laws for women.

The NWP fought successfully for the repeal of a statute that prohibited federal employees from working for the federal government if their spouses also were federal employees. The NWP helped eliminate many of the sex discrimination clauses in the "codes of fair competition" established under the New Deal's National Recovery Administration, and assisted in the adoption of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Paul and the NWP also played a role in getting language protecting women included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Alice Paul and the NWP didn't limit their fight for women's rights to domestic arenas but also became active in international feminism as early as the 1920s. Among other actions, in 1938 Paul formed the World Woman's Party, which served as the NWP's international organization. It first assisted Jewish women fleeing the Holocaust and then became the NWP's office for promoting equal rights for women around the world.

The NWP helped both Puerto Rican and Cuban women in seeking the vote, and in 1945 advocated successfully for the incorporation of language on women's equality in the United Nations Charter and for the establishment of a permanent United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

The political strategies and tactics of Alice Paul and the NWP became a blueprint for civil rights organizations and activities throughout the 20th century. In 1997, the NWP ceased to be a lobbying organization and became a non-profit, educational organization. Today, the house tells the story of a century of courageous activism by American women.

Copyright 2016, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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