Lesson Plan

A New Home on Capitol Hill: Fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment

Photograph of the exterior of the Alva Belmont house
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.10, 6.RI.7, 6.RI.8, 7.RI.3
Additional Standards:
National Council for the Social Studies:
Theme V: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
Standard E-Identifies and describes examples of tensions between belief systems and government policies and laws.
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations.

Essential Question

What is equality? How do we work for a more equal society? How do we respond to those who disagree with our ideas for change?


Students will read a text about the history of the Equal Rights Amendment and early objections to the possible effects of the ERA, particularly for working women. They will analyze a political cartoon using what they learned from the reading. Students will then develop a response to the concerns about the ERA addressed in the cartoon.


A New Home on Capitol Hill: Fighting for the
Equal Rights Amendment

The National Woman’s Party (NWP) continued to work for women’s equality after the ratification of the woman suffrage amendment. In 1921, the party leaders and members debated the organization’s future. Some of the members believed that with women’s enfranchisement achieved, the time for activism had ended. Alice Paul and Alva Belmont wanted the NWP to stay in Washington, D.C. and use the political power they now had as voters to lobby for laws that addressed women’s political, economic, and social inequality. In addition, they wanted to return to the strategy of amending the U.S. Constitution, this time to achieve complete legal equality for women in the United States.


The NWP planned to focus their national efforts on Congress and relocated their headquarters to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. They moved into the Old Brick Capitol, a historic building which had temporarily housed Congress after the 1814 burning of the Capitol. Seven years after the NWP bought the property, the Old Brick Capitol was condemned by the federal government and demolished to make way for a new Supreme Court Building. In 1929, the NWP purchased a more than 100-year-old house located a block away from the Capitol and originally owned by the Sewall family. The house had recently been renovated by former Senator Porter Dale from Vermont who purchased it from the Sewall estate. The NWP named their new headquarters the Alva Belmont House in honor of the NWP president who had donated large amounts of money to the organization.


In 1923, Alice Paul announced the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), sometimes also called the Lucretia Mott amendment. It read:


“Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction.”


Alice Paul believed that amending the Constitution to guarantee full equality was the most effective way to solve the widespread issue of women’s inferior position in society. Many people, including those who had been active in the woman suffrage movement, disagreed. One of the social issues that many suffragists had also supported was improving conditions for working women. The protective legislation that labor activists had been successful in enacting often treated women workers differently than men, including limits on women’s working hours, a minimum wage, and maternity leave. Some women feared that if the ERA became part of the Constitution, these benefits would be eliminated because they might be considered unconstitutional. Eleanor Roosevelt, considered a champion of women’s rights, opposed the ERA because she believed it did not account for the physical differences between women and men. She thought that women should be protected by laws because they bear children. Others who opposed the ERA feared the possible changes in society and private life that it might initiate.


From the Alva Belmont House, NWP members lobbied for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. They also wrote federal, state, and local legislation addressing divorce and child custody rights, jury service, and property rights. The NWP was an effective lobbying organization and they often succeeded in getting their proposed laws passed. Alice Paul also traveled quite a bit to promote women’s equality . She and other NWP members went to South America and Europe promoting women’s rights. They founded the World Woman’s Party in 1938. They worked with the League of Nations and the United Nations to make sure international groups remembered women’s rights. 


Alice Paul rewrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1943 on the advice of lawyers and politicians. The new version read: 


“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” 


This is the version that was approved by Congress in 1972. Its passage was due in part to a re-energized women’s equality movement in the 1960s led by a new generation of activists, the second-wave feminists. However, when Congress passed the ERA, they included a time limit for ratification by the states. The Equal Rights Amendment was not ratified by the required three-quarters of the states (38 total) before the time limit expired in 1982. The ERA is reintroduced in every session of Congress but as of 2019 has not passed again. In 2017, Nevada voted to ratify the ERA, followed by Illinois in 2018. If these ratifications are valid (which is in question because of the time limit), then one more state ratification is needed. Alice Paul died in 1977, her vision of full equality for women not yet achieved.


In 1997, the National Woman’s Party ceased to be a political organization, changing their focus to education and research. They opened the headquarters as a public museum called the Sewall-Belmont House. In 2016, the site was declared a National Monument and became part of the National Park Service. The NPS changed the name of the site to the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument. The archives and collections of the National Woman’s Party are maintained by the National Park Service and the Library of Congress. 


Adapted from the “Alva Belmont House (Washington, D.C.)” National Historic Landmark nomination written by Carol Ann Poh, from biographical material on Alice Paul developed by the National Woman’s Party, and from the website “Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party,” created by the American Memory Program at the Library of Congress.


Analyzing a Political Cartoon

A political cartoon uses images and symbolism to bring attention to a current event or political issue. Often, the cartoonist is arguing from a particular point of view and uses images to convince others. Political cartoons might use humor or exaggerated features to make the point. When interpreting a political cartoon, pay attention to expressions on people's or characters' faces. Read any included words as well.

Nina Allender was the political cartoonist for the National Woman's Party. Her cartoons showed women out in the world rather than in the home. She wanted to illustrate the challenges that real women face in their everyday lives. Through her art, she advocated for changes to laws and society so that women would be treated equally.

For more information on evaluating political cartoons, visit the Library of Congress Political Cartoons: Finding Point of View, TeachingHistory.org Interpreting Political Cartoons in the History Classroom or Teaching Tolerance Editorial Cartoons: An Introduction


In this political cartoon titled "Protective Legislation for Women-How it Works," a woman, holding two young children, reads a sign that says, "Protection--Motherhood is the noblest profession in the world. Therefore you must be given inferior jobs, the lowest pay, and your hours for work shall be limited. (Except in the HOME)." Nina Allender, Dec. 15, 1923. National Woman's Party collections

Download Political Cartoon

Lesson Hook/Preview

Can equality be unfair?

Review the reading about the Equal Rights Amendment. Although some people opposed the ERA because they believed that men should remain in control in society, in the workforce, and in politics, others were against the amendment even though they agreed that women should have more rights. They were concerned that if the Equal Rights Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution, it would mean that women would lose some legal and financial protections. They argued that to treat women exactly the same as men would make women's lives worse. Are there times when equality is unfair or harmful?


Answering the Critics: The ERA and Working Women

  1. Study the details of the cartoon. How would you describe the expression on the woman’s face? How are the children shown in relation to the woman? 

  2. What argument do you think the cartoonist is making about protective labor legislation? 

  3. Consider the perspective of a woman who is worried that the Equal Rights Amendment will make conditions worse for her at work. Respond to the National Woman’s Party argument you described in #2. Draw your own cartoon or write a letter to the NWP explaining your concerns.

  4. If the Equal Rights Amendment was ratified today, what changes in our society would you expect? What problems might be addressed? What problems or issues might be created?


amendment- an addition or change, especially to a constitution
economic- having to do with money, earnings, and resource usage
feminist- someone who works for or believes in women's equality
legislation- the process of making laws
lobby- to try to convince a politician or public official to support an issue
protective- designed to keep something or someone safe
strategy- a plan of action
suffrage- the right to vote
ratification- the process of approving or agreeing to something, like a constitutoinal amendment

Assessment Materials

Equal Rights Amendment: Vote With Your Feet

Students will take a position on the Equal Rights Amendment and try to convince those with the opposing view to change their minds.

Pick two locations in the room where students can gather. Designate one spot as FOR the Equal Rights Amendment and the other spot as AGAINST. Record the tally of each side.

Ask students to support their position. The goal is to try and convince someone in the other group to switch sides. 

As each student makes his or her case FOR or AGAINST, ask if anyone from the other group would like to change their vote to the opposing side. Students can switch back and forth after each argument. Encourage students to support their position beyond "I agree with ...."

Take the tally again after everyone has had a chance to argue their positions. Has the vote changed significantly one way or the other? What was the most convincing argument?

Additional Resources

Adapted from the essay “Beyond 1920: The Legacies of Woman Suffrage,” by Liette Gidlow

On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment officially became part of the United States Constitution. The culmination of seventy-two years of struggle by several generations of activists, the amendment officially eliminated sex as a barrier to voting throughout the United States. Woman suffragists had persisted through countless trials and humiliations to get to this moment. Not only had they spoken out, organized, petitioned, traveled, marched, and raised funds; some also had endured assault, jail, and starvation to advance the cause. Now the right to vote was finally won.

The Nineteenth Amendment expanded voting rights to more people than any other single measure in American history. And yet, the legacy of the Nineteenth Amendment, in the short term and over the next century, turned out to be complicated. It advanced equality between the sexes but left intersecting inequalities of class, race, and ethnicity intact. It helped women, above all white women, find new footings in government agencies, political parties, and elected offices--and, in time, even run for president--and yet left most outside the halls of power. The Nineteenth Amendment became a crucial step, but only a step, in the continuing quest for equality and for more representative democracy.

Full suffrage expanded the opportunities for women to seek elected office and shape public policy. Both the Republican and Democratic organizations created new positions for women. The political parties showcased women at their national conventions;, placed women on party committees, and  created new Women’s Divisions for the purpose of integrating new women voters into the party. President Wilson established a new Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor and appointed union organizer Mary Anderson to lead it. Anderson held the post until 1944, building the agency into a powerful advocate for female workers. 

Suffrage leaders brought their new political muscle to bear on the legislative process. They lobbied for laws addressing infant mortality and women who lost their U.S. citizenship by marrying a foreign national. At the federal level, they tried, without success, to win reforms on other important issues, including the international peace movement, child labor, and lynching. 

If full suffrage produced less change than suffragists had hoped and Anti-suffragists had feared, perhaps that was partly because women did not vote as a bloc and, indeed, sometimes did not vote at all. The overall turnout for women voters was lower than men’s. Critics blamed nonvoting women for shirking their civic duty, but it is also true that not all women were enfranchised by the Nineteenth Amendment. Women from some immigrant communities were far less likely to become citizens than men of the same background, and immigrants from Asia could not become citizens at all. Many Native Americans, including women, also lacked U.S. citizenship until the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Some states continued to bar Native Americans from the ballot. 

Perhaps no community was subjected to more extensive disfranchisement efforts than Black women in the Jim Crow South. Black women sometimes succeeded in registering and voting, but more often they were blocked by fraud, intimidation, or violence. When disfranchised Black women asked the League of Women Voters and the National Woman’s Party to help, the main organizations of former suffragists turned them down. Alice Paul insisted that Black women’s disfranchisement was a “race issue,” not a “woman’s issue” and thus no business of the NWP. The failure of white suffragists to address the disfranchisement of southern Black women reverberated for decades to come and undercut efforts of women of both races to make progress on issues of shared concern.

Women discovered that full suffrage did not give them greater access to power. The men in political parties at the national, state, and local level paid little attention to the women and did not include them in the decision-making process except when considering issues of children or other areas  seen as within the “female dominion.” Despite winning the vote, women did not have equal rights in politics, in economics, in employment, in education, or in the  social sphere. They would have to continue to use innovative strategies to be heard.


Related Lessons or Education Materials

A Woman's Place Is In This House: Alice Paul and the Work for Women's Equality Lesson Plan
Lobbying for Equality: Examining the "Deadly Political Index"

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Last updated: June 9, 2023