History of the House

Photo of the interior of Belmont-Paul
The Hall of Portraits in the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument. Busts of Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are displayed on pedestals. Portraits on the walls represent many National Woman's Party members
 

Tucked behind the U.S. Capitol, this 200-year-old house stands as a testament to the nation's continuing struggle for equality. Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument tells the story of a community of women who dedicated their lives to the fight for women’s rights. The women of the National Woman’s Party, founded by Alice Paul, used innovative tactics and strategies to shape public opinion about the equality of women.

Built on Capitol Hill in 1800, the brick federal-period house that today is Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument is among the oldest residential properties in Washington, D.C. The house is located on land used by the Nacotchtank, or Anacostans, for hunting and trading. The tract was included in a land grant to Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, in 1632 by King Charles I of England as part of the colony of Maryland.

Robert Sewall, a member of one of Maryland’s prominent families, purchased two lots from Daniel Carroll in 1793 and 1799. He built the original house at 2nd Street and Maryland Avenue, NE in 1800, in the newly formed Washington City. Soon after construction of the house was complete, Robert Sewall inherited his uncle’s tobacco plantation in southern Maryland. Sewall rented his Washington house to Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison. Gallatin lived in the Sewall house from 1801 until 1813. After Gallatin left, Robert Sewall’s son William was responsible for taking care of the house, but it is unknown if he ever lived there. William served as a flotillaman under Commodore Joshua Barney during the War of 1812.

 
Painting of British troops marching in streets of Washington with flames consuming building behind them
“Capture of the City of Washington”, Based on an engraving from Rapin’s History of England, published by J. & J. Gundee, Albion Press, London, 1815.

Smithsonian Institution


On August 24,1814, the British Army burned the house during the invasion of Washington. According to the claim that Sewall later filed with Congress, a group of Barney’s men retreating from the Battle of Bladensburg occupied the house and shot at the British troops advancing through the city. The attack killed several men as well as British General Ross’s horse. In retaliation, General Ross’s troops set fire to the house and it was destroyed. The house that now sits at 144 Constitution Avenue, NE is the one that was rebuilt on the spot by 1820. Robert Sewall died in the house that year.
 
Exterior photo of three-story brick Sewall house
Colonial House, 2nd & Md. Ave (2nd & Constitution) N.E. ca 1909-

National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)

The Sewall family descendants oversaw many renovations and changes to the house over the following decades. The house sat vacant after 1912 and fell into disrepair. In 1922, Senator and Mrs. Porter Dale of Vermont purchased and rehabilitated the house. They planted an extensive rose garden which was well-known in the city for its beauty.

In 1929, the Dales sold the house to the National Woman’s Party (NWP) to use as their headquarters. The NWP renamed the property the “Alva Belmont House” in honor of Alva Belmont, NWP President from 1920-1933 and its primary benefactor. Belmont donated thousands of dollars to the women’s equality movement and gave the NWP the ability to purchase the new headquarters. The house also functioned as a hotel and second home for some members up until the 1990s.
 
exterior shot - basement entrance and front entrance
NWP's Headquarters at Alva Belmont House; exterior shot - basement entrance and front entrance, circa 1974.

National Woman's Party Photographic Collection

Threats of losing the headquarters arose during construction of the Hart Senate Office Building in the 1960s. The NWP lobbied and fought to have the historic importance of the house recognized. As a result of their efforts, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 as the Sewall-Belmont House and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974. In 2016, the NWP donated the house and property to the National Park Service and Presidential Proclamation 9423 established the site as the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument.

National Woman's Party

Alice Paul founded the NWP in 1916 to fight for women’s equality. Under Paul’s leadership, the NWP initially focused on a push for a woman suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The NWP used many innovative tactics in their campaign, including an organized lobbying effort and picketing the White House. With the Nineteenth Amendment ratified in 1920, the NWP continued their efforts to win social, political, and economic equality for women. In 1923, the NWP first proposed the Equal Rights Amendment with the goal of constitutional recognition of women’s full citizenship under the law. Lobbying for the E.R.A. was an important aspect of the work that the NWP conducted in this headquarters. The NWP published their newspaper, Equal Rights, from this house to inform the nation about the cause of women’s equality.

The NWP also engaged in international work for women’s equality. In 1928, the NWP assisted in the establishment of the Inter-American Commission of Women (IACW), which served as an advisory and policy-planning unit on women’s issues for what is now the Organization of American States. The NWP sought equality measures for women at the League of Nations through Equal Rights International and the International Labor Organization. They also provided assistance to Puerto Rican and Cuban women in their suffrage campaigns. In 1938, Alice Paul founded the World Woman’s Party, which, until 1954, served as the NWP’s international organization. From this house, the NWP successfully pushed for the inclusion of gender equality language in both the United Nations Charter and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In 1997, the NWP ceased lobbying activities and became a 501(c)3 educational organization. Today, the NWP focuses on educating the public about the women's rights movement.

 

Last updated: May 28, 2020

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Mailing Address:

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Washington, DC 20024

Phone:

(202) 543-2240
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