Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
President Obama has declared the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum a national monument on “Equal Pay Day.”
In acknowledgement of Equal Pay Day—April 12, which marks how far into the new year women need to work to make as much as men earned in the previous year alone—President Obama has officially elevated D.C.’s Sewall-Belmont House and Museum to national monument status. Starting in 1929, the building served as the fifth headquarters for the National Woman’s Party, an organization historically dedicated to women’s suffrage. Since 1997, it has also served as a center for feminist education helping to inform citizens about issues of gender inequality. The announcement is a fitting one on Equal Pay Day, which also aims to educate the public about wage disparities in the U.S.
Inside the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, visitors can browse an extensive collection of documents and artifacts pertaining to the 20th-century women’s movement. The museum also boasts the nation’s first feminist library, The Florence Bayard Hilles Feminist Library, which holds over 2,000 books, magazines, and reference works, in addition to personal scrapbooks, voting cards, letters, and telegrams.
According to The Washington Post, the building’s future renovations will be aided by a generous $1 million contribution from D.C. billionaire David Rubenstein. The newspaper also reported that Google will be offering a virtual tour of the site for students to learn more about the building and its history.
At the heart of this history are two pioneering women: Alice Paul, the founder of the National Woman’s Party, and Alva Belmont, the party’s benefactor. Paul in particular was instrumental in the women’s rights movement, leading the first-ever picket at the White House, which lasted 10 months. Among many other notable accomplishments, Paul was also the original author of the 1923 Equal Rights Amendment (which has still yet to be ratified by the necessary 38 U.S. states), and a key contributor to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote in the U.S.
“Today, the House tells the story of a century of courageous activism by American women,” the White House said in an official proclamation. Although there are currently eight national parks that celebrate women’s history, only one other national monument—the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland—commemorates a female activist. The declaration of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum as a national monument marks a concerted effort on behalf of the Obama Administration to recognize America’s previously silenced histories and historical figures.
While Paul was responsible for many social, cultural, and political advancements, in many ways, women are still continuing the fight that she set in motion nearly a century ago. Equal Pay Day is an important reminder that women in the U.S. still earn only 79 percent of what men earn, as of 2015. The pay gap for women of color is even wider.
Looking back at a quote from Paul in 1920, her call to action is perhaps more pertinent today than ever before:
It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It has just begun. There is hardly a field, economic or political, in which the natural and unaccustomed policy is not to ignore women … . Unless women are prepared to fight politically, they must be content to be ignored politically.