Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument tells the story of a century of activism by American women. Alice Paul founded the National Woman's Party (NWP) in 1916 as a lobbying organization to promote women's suffrage. Nonviolent, dramatic protests were the hallmark of the NWP’s operations in Washington. Suffrage marches, daily picketing and arrests at the White House, and speaking tours raised the public profile of the movement. Protesters faced daily violence from both passers-by and the police, including having their banners ripped from their hands and being physically attacked and arrested. While imprisoned for their activism, some women protested through highly-publicized hunger strikes that resulted in forced feedings and even worse prison conditions. The brutality with which the women were treated created enormous public support for suffrage.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, confirming that the right to vote could not be denied based on sex. With this hard-won, long-awaited victory, the NWP focused on the next step: complete equality of the sexes under law. In 1929, the National Woman’s Party (NWP), with financial support of suffragist Alva Belmont, purchased the house to establish a Washington base of operations. The group’s headquarters at the Alva Belmont house provided the backdrop for many of the defining moments in this struggle. The house served not only as the headquarters for the massive political effort to obtain equality, but also as a second home for the hardworking women of the organization. Alice Paul authored the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923, which reads simply, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of sex.” In 1972, Congress passed the ERA, but included a time limit for ratification by three-quarters of the states. The amendment was three states short of ratification when the time limit expired in 1982. For over 50 years, the ERA has been introduced in every session of Congress.
For more than 75 years, the NWP lobbied for legislation, supported women running for office, worked for international rights for women, and fought for the passage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The organization ceased its political activism when it became an educational nonprofit in 1997. In addition to their work on the exhibits at Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, the National Woman’s Party produced and shared educational resources related to the legacy of the NWP. The National Woman’s Party also hosted art performances and panel discussions with women's history scholars and artists.
On April 12, 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. The partnership between the National Woman’s Party and the National Park Service ensured the care and preservation of thousands of collection items that document the founding of the Party, the history of the suffrage movement, the fight for the Nineteenth Amendment, and the ongoing struggle for women’s equality. Many of these collection pieces are on display at the Belmont-Paul museum in public exhibits planned by both the National Woman’s Party and the National Park Service. The preservation of these items ensures that the stories they hold will be remembered for generations to come.
The National Woman's Party continued to occupy the house, along with its historic library and archives, to educate the public about the women’s rights movement, until 2020. In October 2020, the National Woman's Party announced the gift of its historic collection spanning woman suffrage and the movement for women’s equality to the Library of Congress and National Park Service. This gift ensures public access to a trove of records about the history of the women’s rights movement in the United States. The National Park Service received the NWP’s textiles, banners, furniture, paintings, sculpture and other artifacts. Notable examples include the banners held by women picketing the White House for suffrage; an original “Jailed for Freedom Pin” that Alice Paul gave to NWP members who served time in jail; keys to the District of Columbia jail where picketing suffragists were incarcerated; and Susan B. Anthony’s desk.Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument is one of the premier women’s history sites in the country, housing archives as well as one of the most important collections of artifacts from the women’s suffrage and equal rights movements.