Lessons from the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument

From fisticuffs to force-feeding—a history of the fight for women's rights.

This is a transcript of the video.

Perrin Ireland, Science writer, NRDC: American women agitated for their right to vote for about 100 years before they got to participate in the 1920 national elections.

Sometimes when I think of the suffragists, I picture polite and elegant Victorian tactics, but, as women's rights activist Abigail Scott Duniway put it, every inch of this freedom came at a great price.

At the 1913 Women's Suffrage Procession, for example, the police allowed male spectators to physically attack the marchers.

Suffragists were the first protestors to picket the White House, which they did seven days a week. They were arrested and served up to six months in prison, where they were force-fed when they went on hunger strikes to protest their harsh treatment.

It was an all-out fight for them to get the vote, and they did not stop.

There's a brick house at the corner of Constitution Avenue in 2nd Street NE in Washington, D.C., where the National Woman's Party established its headquarters in 1929.

The members of the party, led by a Quaker suffragist with a PhD in economics, named Alice Paul, had been instrumental in the rabble-rousing tactics that led to passage of the 19th Amendment. But they viewed voting as the tip of the iceberg.

After relocating to this house, which was donated by socialite Alva Belmont, the group's primary benefactor, the National Woman's Party wrote and advocated for 600 laws that gave women divorce rights, the right to own property, and the right to keep their maiden name after marriage.

In 2016, President Obama designated this space the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument. All around America, we see many an homage to the men who have participated in our history, but this was the very first national monument to honor women's history.

The Belmont-Paul monument is a space where women went to fight, no matter how ridiculed or mocked they were for believing that they had a right to participate in their nation's government, and that work is unfinished.

The suffragists persisted, just as women did in 2017, when they organized the Women's March, the largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history. 

We marched then, just as the suffragists did in 1913, to remind the nation, and the world, that women are watching and participating and continuing to agitate for human rights.

This monument speaks to a feminist history in the making. It is a history that women today must see preserved and can learn from in order to keep building a strong and just movement. The women who won us the vote knew that the battle was much bigger than them.

As the current leaders of the resistance, we must keep our voices loud for all women today and all people of the future.

Ian Freimuth
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