Women’s Suffrage Sites Around Washington D.C.
On Washington, DC’s 144 Constitution Avenue NE, a nineteenth-century red brick house sports plaques stating the building’s role in early U.S. history. But none records what’s really significant about the former private mansion: this is where women fought for equal rights in the United States from 1929. This, the Sewall-Belmont House, holds the heritage of the most important leader of women’s fight for the vote 100 years ago – Alice Paul. It’s where she lived for years promoting the Equal Rights Amendment she launched in 1923. The amendment has never been ratified.
Paul was key to the peaceful campaign for women’s civil rights, as depicted in the movie, Iron Jawed Angels . From about 1910 to 1920 the U.S. capital focused her organization’s struggle for the vote. Yet marks of this momentous era are largely forgotten.
Round the corner at the Supreme Court, there’s a plaque saying this 1930s edifice takes the place of the Old Brick Capitol. It fails to mention that this building, whose pediment proclaims Equal Justice Under Law, replaces the 21-25 First Street NE property where Paul crafted the Equal Rights Amendment, launched originally in 1923. Eminent domain wrested this latest headquarters from the women in 1929.
Close by, much of the struggle for women’s votes take place in the U.S. Capitol. The best place for information on this is Mary Walton’s new book, A Women’s Crusade .
Pennsylvania Avenue is where the massive women’s march for suffrage on March 3, 1913 struggled through a riot of attacking men.
On Lafayette Square, the plaque on the Tayloe-Cameron House on Madison Place leaves out that this is where Alice Paul’s National Women’s Party (NWP) members walked from to begin the first-ever picket of the White House in U.S. history on January 10, 1917.
Across the square at 722 Jackson Place nothing marks this approximate location of the NWP’s headquarters in 1919 and 1920, where women continued their struggle, only to experience being imprisoned and tortured for their peaceful demonstrations. The NWP moved to the First Street NE location in 1922.
Twenty miles south, in Lorton, Virginia, the Occoquan Workhouse Museum has an exhibit about the illegal imprisonment of NWP women there in 1918 and 1919, including original documents, photos of women in the prison and a sample of the heavy tube forced down their nose to feed them during their hunger strike.
And about 160 miles north in Mount Laurel, NJ, a visit to Pauldale’s idyllic setting gives you a sense of Paul’s Quaker background – so peaceful in contrast to the torture she experienced during her nonviolent campaign for votes for women. Paul died close by in the Greenleaf Nursing Home at Moorestown in 1977, still campaigning for the ERA.
The Sewall-Belmont House, which is undergoing renovation, plans a re-opening during Women’s History Month in March, 2011.