Tag Archives: Belmont-Paul

October 2018 – Triumph & Tragedy

There were just three new cancellations this month:

Flight 93 National Memorial | Tower of Voices

National Capital Parks: Titanic Memorial | Washington, DC

Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site: George Gordon Meade Memorial | Washington, DC

All three of this month’s cancellations relate to memorials and national memorials – a favorite topic of Parkasaurus.

A crane installs chimes on the Tower of Voices at Flight 93 National Memorial. Photo credit: NPS.gov

Normally, the National Park Service recommends waiting several years before designating a National Memorial for contemporary events.  However, that waiting period was understandably waived in the case of commemorating the dramatic events surround United Flight 93 of September 11, 2001.  The Flight 93 National Memorial was designated around the site where the passengers of Flight 93 took matters into their own hands, and brought down their hi-jacked before it could be used as a weapon – likely against the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.  The Tower of Voices is the final piece of the memorial.   The 93-foot tall tower containing 40 wind chimes is a moving tribute to the 40 passengers who gave their lives on Flight 93.

If you haven’t been to Flight 93 National Memorial, or if you haven’t been recently, the completion of the Tower of Voices certainly makes for a compelling reason to make an American pilgrimage to the site.  Parkasaurus hasn’t been since 2011, when our family visited with our then-infant first child around the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  We made sure to get our Passport cancellation with the iconic date forever associated with the site on it:

That cancellation remains one of the favorites in my collection.  For all of us who lived through that day and carry the memories of those events, that date carries a special significance.

The site back then was still largely undeveloped – but there were still many Americans visiting from all different backgrounds and walks of life.   At the time, the National Park Service only had a temporary visitor center – but even then, the stories of the participants in the events of Flight 93 that the National Park Service had collected were still incredibly moving.  That will surely only moreso be the case now that the site has largely finished.

With the recent burning of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in France (admittedly several months after I initially started writing, but alas, not completing, this post) the dinner table conversation in the Parkasaurus family with our now-eight-year-old and his younger siblings turned to the concept of “remember where you were when” events.  Surprisingly, it was actually our eight year old who brought that topic up.  That naturally led to Mrs. Parkasaurus and I sharing our experiences of 9/11 with our children for the first time. Both of us were living in the Washington, DC, area at the time, albeit without yet knowing of each other.  I’m not sure just yet when we will be ready to share the emotional impact of visiting this site with our children, but it will certainly be an impactful opportunity to talk with our children about bravery, and what to do when ordinary people are confronted with extraordinary circumstances in the history of their country.

The General George Gordon Meade Memorial is one of the most striking statues in Washington, DC. Photo from 2015.The next memorial this month concerns history-changing events that are now longer in living memory.  Union Civil War General George Gordon Meade is best known for his successful leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg some 100 miles to the east and some 140 years earlier.  Most historians recognize the three-day Battle of Gettysburg as the turning point of the Civil War in favor of an ultimate Union Victory.  The striking memorial, located in Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site in Washington, DC, was dedicated in 1927.  In 2013, the Meade Memorial was featured on the annual stickers issued by Eastern National each year for the Passport Program.  The Meade Memorial was the sticker that year for the National Capital Region, and it marked the 150th Anniversary that year of the Battle of Gettysburg.  For the last 5 years, the Meade Memorial has been the only site featured on an annual sticker by Eastern National, but without its own passport cancellation – a situation that’s now been rectified with this month’s addition.  The Meade Memorial is often over-looked in the shadow of the grand memorials of Washington, DC, just as Meade himself is often overlooked on the list of the now larger-than-life characters that usually dominate historical narratives of the Civil War, like Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.  Despite the relative unfamiliarity of George Gordon Meade’s name in popular history, both his role in changing the course of the Civil War and also the unique design of this memorial with the gold wreath and  stone carving make it worth checking out on your next journey along Pennsylvania Avenue through the Nation’s Capital.

The landscape of the Titanic Memorial in Washington, DC. Photo from 2010

Finally, the Titanic Memorial has long been one of my favorite off-the-beaten path locations in Washington, DC.   Located at the end of P Street Southwest in Washington, few tourists venture to visit the site, located some 1.2 miles south of the National Mall – despite the national sensation created by the famed James Cameron movie.  In addition to its location, however, it perhaps is also often overlooked because of the story behind the memorial itself.   Although the memorial was not erected until 1931, the impetus for the memorial began in the years immediately after the 1912 sinking.   The striking inscription on the memorial says that it was erected by “the women of America” and is dedicated not to the victims of the sinking in general, but rather, is dedicated specifically to “To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic – April 15 1912. They gave their lives that women and children might be saved.”

The building of this memorial was largely driven by anti-suffragettes, women who were actually opposed to the work of Alice Paul, which is now commemorated at Belmont-Paul National Monument.   The story is admittedly a bit more complicated than that, as the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote was ratified in 1920, and the Titanic Memorial was not completed until eleven years later.

Nevertheless, the inscription that remains on the memorial’ still bears testament to that era.  The thinking behind these anti-suffragettes was that if women were to be granted full legal equality with men that there might be unintended consequences of women losing some of the privileges that they did enjoy in early 20th Century society – such as priority access to lifeboats.   Nowadays, it seems almost unthinkable that there might have been women who opposed passage of the 19th Amendment granting them the right to vote in exchange for such “privileges,” but our past is a complicated past.   Nevertheless, the Titanic Memorial in Washington, DC is perhaps the finest example of how a memorial may be intended to commemorate a particularly person or historical event, but in fact, may end up telling us just as much about the people who created the memorial as the persons or events commemorated by the memorial itself.  This makes the Titanic Memorial an outstanding place to visit, nut just to get away from the crowds and hustle and bustle of the National Mall, but also to reflect on how the memorials we create today will outlast us in future generations.

Final Shot: The memorial bell at Flight 93 National Memorial from a time when the Memorial was still largely undeveloped. Photo from 2010.
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May Stories Behind the Stamps: Freedom’s Frontier

Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area in Kansas (and Missouri) has received its first Passport cancellation this month. This picture is of Fort Scott National Historic Site, located within the Heritage Area. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.
Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area in Kansas (and Missouri) has received its first Passport cancellation this month. This picture is of Fort Scott National Historic Site, located within the Heritage Area. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.

Eastern National has released their list of new stamps for the month of May:

    • Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument | Washington, DC
    • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail | Woodlawn, VA
    • Valles Caldera National Preserve | Jemez Springs, NM
    • Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area | Lawrence, KS

The stamp for the brand new Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument simply replaces the previous stamp for its old designation as the Sewall-Belmont House Affiliated Area.  The story behind this new National Monument is well worth reading, you can check it out in this Parkasaurus post.

Valles Caldera National Preserve is also a relatively new unit of the National Park System.  Ever since it was transferred to the National Park Service by legislation in December 2014, it has been using an unofficial stamp reading “New Mexico” as the location.  The “Jemez Springs, NM” stamp is its first official stamp from Eastern National, and will presumably replace the existing stamp.

The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail runs from the mouth of the Potomac in the Chesapeake Bay all the way up to Cumberland, Maryland and from there, into the Allegheny Highlands of Pennsylvania.  The newest stamp is for a National Trust for Historic Preservation property adjacent to George Washington’s Mount Vernon.  Woodlawn Plantation was given as a gift by George Washington in 1799 to his nephew,  Lawrence Lewis, upon his marriage to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, of all people, Eleanor Custis.  By 1799, George Washington was two years removed from the Presidency, from which he retired from in 1797. The gift was made with some intent of keeping the new family close to home, as it were.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, he was just a few months away from his sudden death due to some sort of upper respiratory ailment in December 1799.  Woodlawn Plantation first became a historical house museum in 1949, and it would actually become the very first property acquired and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1957.  In 1961, the property would add the Pope-Leighey House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, that had to be relocated from nearby Falls Church, Virginia due to the construction of Interstate 66.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation now owns or operates nearly two dozen historic buildings, and partners with the administration of a half-dozen others through cooperative agreements.  Of the 20 properties owner or operated the Trust, this is the 5th to be included in the Passport Program.

Fort Scott in Kansas was decommissioned by the time of the events of "Bleeding Kansas," but the repurposed buildings were the site of several conflicts between pro- and anti- slavery forces - events commemorated by the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area.
Fort Scott in Kansas was decommissioned by the time of the events of “Bleeding Kansas,” but the repurposed buildings were the site of several conflicts between pro- and anti- slavery forces – events commemorated by the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.  Photo from 2006.

The Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area includes 29 counties in eastern Kansas and 12 counties in western Missouri, and principally commemorates the events of the Bleeding Kansas years of 1854 to 1861 leading up to the Civil War.  This stamp is their first Passport cancellation, and will be located at the partnership organization’s headquarters in Lawrence, Kansas.  For more on National Heritage Areas, check out this Parkasaurus post.

The term “Bleeding Kansas” refers to the years of extensive civil conflict between pro-slavery and pro-abolition settlers spurred by the adoption of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 and culminating in the start of the Civil War in 1861.

The history of the antebellum United States is largely a history of tensions over slavery, divided between the southern states whose economies were largely dependent on slavery, and northern states who became increasingly in favor of abolition of slavery during this time. Following independence from Great Britain, the semi-independent state of Vermont, and the just-across-the-Appalachians states of Kentucky and Tennessee were added to the Union relatively quickly, all during the Presidency of George Washington.  The fertile land of Ohio was added in March 1803, just months before the Louisiana Purchase would be completed.   That would lead to the addition of the state of Louisiana, and its valuable port of New Orleans, in the spring of 1812 – just 49 days before the US would declare war in the War of 1812.

Thus, the initial wave of expansion left the United States with 18 stars on its flag, and a rough parity of 9 southern states (counting Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware) where slavery was legal and 9 northern states where slavery had been abolished since at least 1804 (when New Jersey became the last of them to abolish slavery).  Following the War of 1812, the question of how to handle the expansion of the United States into the western territories, and in particular, how that might alter the parity between “slave” and “free” states became arguably the preoccupying political issue of the era.  Indiana and Mississippi would join the Union almost exactly a year apart in December of 1816 and 1817 respectively.  Illinois and Alabama would follow them in the Decembers of 1818 and 1819.  Then the Missouri compromise of 1820 would allow Maine to split off from the rest of Massachusetts in March 1820, followed by Missouri joining as a “slave state” in August of 1821.

The Missouri Compromise was supposed to settle this issue by extending the line of the Virginia-North Carolina, Kentucky-Tennessee, and Missouri-Arkansas Territory borders westward, and providing that future states located within the Louisiana Purchase and to south of that line would be “slave states,” and that future states north of that line would be “free states.”  This compromise more-or-less held as Arkansas was admitted in June 1836 and Michigan was added in January 1837.  So too, with the addition of Florida and Texas in March and December of 1845, and then Iowa and Wisconsin in December 1846 and May 1848.

The admission of Wisconsin came just a little less than three months after the Mexican-American had ended in February, after less than two years of fighting.  The results of that war would change the balance between “slave” and “free” states in ways that no way had anticipated.  Unbeknownst to both the treaty negotiators ending the war and also to those in Congress admitting Wisconsin to the Union, gold had been found at Sutter’s Mill in California, less than two weeks before the war had ended.  It would take several months for word of the discovery to reach the wider world, but by 1849 hundreds of thousands of “forty-niners” would be arriving in California, many along what is today marked by the National Park Service as the California National Historic Trail.   Just one year later the massive influx of people would begin raising the question of statehood for California sooner than anyone had previously imagined and would begin the process of unravelling the Missouri Compromise.

Technically, the Missouri Compromise  only applied to those lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, thus a new deal was technically required for how to handle the slavery question in the territories that had been newly conquered from Mexico.  That deal was the Compromise of 1850.  California would be admitted to the Union as a “free state.”  In addition, instead of extending the Missouri Compromise line through the rest of the lands acquired in the Mexican-American War, the newly-formed New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory would each be allowed to decide the slavery question for themselves through popular sovereignty.  This somewhat satisfied both sides as it opened the possibility of additional pro-slavery states in the new lands, but at the same time it was recognized in the north that the largely desert climate of these new states would likely be unsuitable for plantation-style agriculture.  The compromise would also settle the northern and western boundaries of Texas (which had been added five years earlier) and also prohibit the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in the District of Columbia.  In exchange for what on balance seemed like a major victory for the pro-abolition forces in the northern states, the southern states gained a truly major concession, passage of a much-stronger Fugitive Slave Act.

The Fugitive Slave Act established severe penalties for aiding an escaped slave, and imposed requirements for helping to return escaped slaves.  The Fugitive Slave Act quickly became resented in the northern states, as in their view it essentially forced northerners to become complicit in the practice of slavery itself.  Thus things simmered for four years until the question of future statehood for Kansas rose to the top of the agenda, especially as Kansas was located to the north of the Missouri Compromise line, and thus should have been a “free” state.  On the other hand, with the admission of new states from the desert lands acquired in the Mexican-American war still many years away, there were no longer any obvious pairings of future “slave” and “free” states for admission to the Union.  Thus, Senators from southern states began holding up legislation applying to the new territories, which not only would hold up their future admission to the Union, but also blocked the legal frameworks necessary for the extension westward of the future trans-continental railroad to California.

A solution to this impasse was struck in 1854 when Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, effectively repealing the Missouri compromise and extending the notion of “popular sovereignty” from the former Mexican territories to the future states of Kansas Nebraska.  In exchange for this victory of southern states, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed for construction of the trans-continental railroad to proceed.  Still, the “popular sovereignty” provisions would soon prove disastrous, creating an immediate free-for-all as pro-slavery settlers from the south and pro-abolition settlers from the north flooded into Kansas in the hopes of  altering Kansas’ final orientation as a “slave” or “free” state upon statehood.  Tensions between the two sides were palpable, and violence would regularly erupt between the two sides off and on for the next several years. Even as Minnesota and Oregon would be added to the Union as “free states” in 1858 and 1859 (in part due to Oregon electing two pro-slavery Democrats as Senators, despite being a “free” state), the “Bleeding Kansas” era would only come to an end once the secession of the first six southern states allowed the Senate to ratify Kansas as the 34th (or the 28th, depending on your perspective) state of the Union in January 1861. The Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area was established to tell the stories from the front lines of the conflict over slavery in the years leading up the Civil War.

With these additions, there are now 2,008 total active cancellations in the Passport to Your National Parks program.   Excluding the cancellations for anniversaries and special events, there 1,912 active cancellations available.

A visually stunning candlelight tour at Fort Scott National Historic Site. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.
A visually stunning candlelight tour at Fort Scott National Historic Site. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.
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Welcome Belmont-Paul National Monument to the National Park System

The inside of the stained glass window at the new Belmont-Paul National Monument, located at 144 Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC
The inside of the stained glass window at the new Belmont-Paul National Monument, located at 144 Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC

On April 12, 2016, President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC.  The Sewall-Belmont House has actually received funding and technical assistance from the National Park Service dating back to 1974, making it an Affiliated Area of the National Park System.  However, since it has remained in private hands, it has not officially been counted as a Unit of the National Park System until now.

The two-part name continues a recent trend in compound names for new national parks. This includes President Obama designating the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument (since redesignated in the National Park System as a National Historical Park) in Maryland in 2013; President Bush designating the World War II / Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Hawaii, California, and Alaska in 2008; and Congress designating the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California in 2000.  In this case, the compound name alludes to the fact that President Obama issued the proclamation for this national monument on “Equal Pay Day 2016” – the day intended to highlight that by some calculations,  American women in 2016 will earn, on average, 21% less than men. This calculation, however, is disputed by many economists, who point out that much of the difference is explainable by factors other than discrimination.

In picking this compound name, President Obama chose to eschew going with the “law firm” name for this new park of Sewall-Belmont-Paul National Monument.  Instead, the name Sewall was dropped in favor of adding the name of famous feminist and suffragette Alice Paul.

The name Sewall comes from Robert Sewall, who had the house constructed on Capitol Hill around 1800. Historical records indicate that the Sewall family only actually occupied the house for a short time, instead renting out to numerous officials and dignitaries.  Among its many residents were Albert Gallatin, Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury, who arranged the financing for the Louisiana Purchase and the subsequent Lewis & Clark expedition.   Gallatin’s home estate in western Pennsylvania is now Friendship Hill National Historic Site.

Nonetheless, the house over time came to be known as the Sewall House. Although it cannot be verified, tradition has long held that during the British attack on Washington in the War of 1812 (now commemorated by the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail) shots were fired at the British troops from the Sewall House, leading the British to set the Sewall House on fire.  If this indeed happened, it was noteworthy as while the British burned the government buildings in Washington, they actually took care to spare civilian buildings, which they viewed as belonging to once and future British subjects.

The name Belmont refers to Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, the wealthy philanthropist and feminist who bankrolled the National Woman’s Party’s acquisition of the Sewall House.  Alva Erskine Smith was born into a wealthy family in Mobile, Alabama and her first husband was William Kissam Vanderbilt; grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the brother of Frederick William Vanderbilt.  (Frederick William was responsible for building the Hyde Park, New York estate that is now Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.) Alva divorced her husband in March 1895, and then married Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont less than one year later in January 1896.  (Oliver Belmont was the grandnephew of the famous Oliver Hazard Perry, the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812, and commemorated by the Perry’s Victory International Peace Memorial in Put-in-Bay, Ohio.)  Oliver Belmont’s sudden death in 1908 seems to have directly lead to Alva Belmont actively devoting herself to the cause of women’s suffrage.

The name Paul, of course, refers to Alice Paul.  Alice Paul has rightly earned fame as the dynamo of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.   She recognized that the cause of women’s suffrage, which had languished for more than 100 years in this country could be brought to fruition through a relentless campaign of agitation and political action.   She also recognized that she was just the person with the fame and charisma to rally a movement to do just that.

Frustrated by the pace of change, in 1913 Alice Paul, along with another woman, Lucy Burns, separated from the National American Woman Suffrage Association (N.A.W.S.A.) to form their own organization solely dedicated to a Constitutional Amendment for women’s suffrage.  Shortly thereafter, Alva Belmont merged her own women’s suffrage organization into the new group, and in 1916 the new group was renamed as the National Woman’s Party.   Just four years later the National Woman’s Party would secure its greatest success with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Around one decade later, when the National Woman’s Party needed a new headquarters, Alva Belmont was able to purchase the old Sewall House on Capitol Hill for that purpose.  Located just a few blocks from the Capitol, it was a prime location from which the National Woman’s Party could engage in their principal work of lobbying Congress to advance their cause of an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.  At the time, the National Woman’s Party officially renamed the Sewall House as the “Alva Belmont House,” but it appears that the long-standing Sewall House name was not so easily dropped out of common use, and the name Sewall-Belmont House came into popular usage instead.  Now, of course, the property will become known as the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, and I suspect that this name change will be a bit more successful than the last, what with the branding power of the National Park Service behind it.

The Toothy T-Rex, Age 4, in Seneca Falls, New York, just across the street from Women's Rights National Historical Park
The Toothy T-Rex, Age 4, in Seneca Falls, New York, just across the street from Women’s Rights National Historical Park

Many historians date the beginning of the organized women’s suffrage movement in the United States to the Seneca Falls Convention of July 1848.  Looking at the history of the early women’s suffrage movement, its immediately apparent how women’s suffrage was a natural outgrowth of the anti-slavery abolition movement and also out of the religious traditions of the Quakers.   The Quakers have long been an anti-clerical movement within Christianity, originating in 17th Century England.  The Quakers believed in the “priesthood of all believers,” and did not typically have a formal religious hierarchy.   By the 19th Century, these beliefs were evolving within Quakerism to include a more radical equality of all people, including men and women.  Not surprisingly, many of the early leaders of the women’s suffrage movement were shaped in their beliefs by the Quakers.

Today, the National Park Service’s Women’s Rights National Historical Park includes the site of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel where the Convention was held, as well as the homes of the Hunt Family and the M’Clintock Family, who were both Quakers, and the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was not.  Word of the Convention was initially spread both among progressive Quakers, and among the networks of activists in the abolition of slavery movement.  These networks included Frederick Douglass from nearby Rochester, New York, who was a friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and who published word of the Convention in his North Star newspaper.

The Convention would last for two days, women-only on the first day, with men joining on the second day.  At the end of the second day, the Convention adopted the Declaration of Sentiments, which became the seminal document of the women’s rights movement.  It is notable for its comprehensive assessment of the inequalities between women and men of that day, and is now engraved in stone at Women’s Rights NHP in Seneca Falls.  Although the first goal of the women’s rights movement would become the right to vote, from the beginning there was a broader articulation of civil and social rights – such as the right to own property, the right to higher education, and the right to become a “teacher of theology, medicine, or law.”  All of these things, however, would take many years.

The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments is now engraved in stone at Women's Rights National Historical Park
The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments is now engraved in bronze at Women’s Rights National Historical Park

Following Seneca Falls, the women’s rights movement would receive a further boost in 1851 when Susan B. Anthony was introduced to Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Since Susan B. Anthony would never marry, the absence of family commitments allowed her to spend more time travelling and organizing on behalf of the women’s suffrage movement.  Anthony would become perhaps the most-famous women’s rights campaigner in the country, and the women’s suffrage amendment to the Constitution would become informally known as the “Anthony Amendment.”  With the addition of Belmont-Paul National Monument to the National Park System, Susan B. Anthony now clearly holds the distinction of being the most-significant figure in the women’s rights movements who is not yet commemorated in the National Park System.

Despite Anthony joining the cause, however, success would not be the reward for this first generation of activists.  Following the Civil War, the women’s rights movement would split over the question of supporting the 15th Amendment, which gave the right to vote to all men, including African-Americans, but not to women.  Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton ultimately decided to oppose the 15th Amendment on those grounds, leading to a split and the forming of rival organizations.  That lack of unity may not have been decisive in the failure to secure women’s suffrage in the 19th Century, but it certainly didn’t help.

The leaders of the movement would continue actively working for the women’s right to vote for some 50 more years, all of them into old age, but to no avail.  Lucretia Mott, a Philadelphia Quaker who played a leading role in drafting the Declaration of Sentiments would die in 1880 at the age of 87. In 1887, a women’s suffrage amendment would finally receive a vote in the U.S. Senate, but was defeated by a vote of 16 in favor to 34 against.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton would die in 1902 at the age of 86. Susan B. Anthony would die in 1906, also at the age of 86.

Not surprisingly, historians cite the period of 1896 to 1910 as the nadir of the women’s suffrage movement as the heroes of the Seneca Falls generation began to fade away and it was unclear as to whom would succeed them.  The organizations they founded, like the N.A.W.S.A. would continue, but they were under-funded and the cause of a Federal Constitutional Amendment had largely been abandoned in favor of pursuing women’s suffrage on a state-by-state basis.

A bust of Alice Paul outside one of the rooms she worked in at the Belmont-Paul National Monument.
A bust of Alice Paul outside one of the rooms she worked in at the Belmont-Paul National Monument.

Enter a young Quaker woman from Mount Laurel, New Jersey named Alice Paul.  The year after Susan B. Anthony’s death, in 1907, Alice Paul would set out to Great Britain at the age of 21 to continue her education with postgraduate study at the London School of Economics and to join the women’s suffrage movement in that country.   It was in Britain that Paul would have what she called her “conversion experience” and where she would join the militant wing the British women’s suffrage movement. It was in Britain that she met famed British activist Emmeline Pankhurst, and is also where she met fellow American Lucy Burns, which whom she would form a life-long partnership.  It was also in Britain that she would be convinced that women’s suffrage would not be achieved by persuasion alone, but that the cause would require more forceful demonstrations.

Indeed, she would live this out in Britain, ultimately being arrested several times for civil disobedience.  Once arrested, a frequent tactic of the suffragists, Paul included, was to begin a hunger strike, in hopes of securing a shortened sentence.  However, after a particularly boisterous protest in late 1909, one in which Paul and other suffragists smashed windows, the stakes were significantly raised. In this instance, the British authorities responded to the hunger strike by holding down Paul and force-feeding her through a tube.  The experience was so traumatic for Paul that she literally had to be carried out of the jail once her sentence was over.

A few months later, in January 1910, Alice Paul returned to the United States after three years in Britain.  By this time Alice Paul was a suffragist celebrity in the United States.  Moreover, she returned to the United States convinced that the goal of the women’s suffrage movement must be a Federal Constitutional Amendment, and that passage of this Amendment would require employing the same tactics of the militant suffragists on the other side of the Atlantic.  By the end of 1912, she had completed her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania and had secured authorization from the N.A.W.S.A. to set up shop in Washington to begin lobbying activities for a Constitutional Amendment.

Historic women's suffrage banner, from the National Women's Party vollection.
Historic women’s suffrage banner, from the National Women’s Party collection.

Once she arrived in Washington, she immediately set to work organizing confrontations in support of women’s suffrage and re-energizing the women’s movement through her charisma and her flair for the dramatic. Some of the brilliant protests she organized included a “March on the White House” the night before Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural parade in 1913, and the staging of “Silent Sentinels” in continuous peaceful protest outside the Wilson White House. The Sentinels would maintain a small fire in an urn, in which they would burn copies of any Woodrow Wilson speech referring to “freedom” or to “liberty.”  These attempts to embarrass Woodrow Wilson were in keeping with Alice Paul’s grand strategy that all Democrats must be held responsible for the failure to pass the women’s suffrage amendment, since they were the party in power at the time.   Alice Paul’s application of this opposition to all Democrats in the 1914 elections led to her break with the avowedly non-partisan N.A.W.S.A. and the founding of the National Woman’s Party, in 1916.

Now in charge of her own organization, Alice Paul only accelerated her campaign from there, leading to more civil disobedience and more arrests, both by herself and by the many supporters she inspired to join her.  At one point, after many National Woman’s Party members were arrested after another protest, she specifically sought out arrest to join them, and was given a seven month sentence.  In protest of the terrible conditions, she once again began a hunger strike, and this time she was force-fed raw eggs through a tube before ultimately being released.

However, soon the tide turned. In April 1917, the United States entered the First World War.  The next January, Woodrow Wilson called for passage of the women’s suffrage amendment, quote, “as an urgent war measure.”  The House of Representatives passed the amendment shortly thereafter. The Senate would finally follow suit more than one year later, passing it in June 1919 on its third attempt,  sending the amendment to the States for ratification. The amendment was added to the Constitution upon ratification by Tennessee in August 1920, just in time for women across the U.S. to vote in the 1920 Presidential election. After 70 years of struggle, the women’s rights movement had achieved its most-important victory, and its hard to describe the role of Alice Paul as being anything less than central to this achievement.

With the 19th Amendment added to the Constitution, the question then became “what next?”  In this interview, Alice Paul relates that her National Woman’s Party was heavily in debt from the long campaign.  In the months immediately following ratification, the National Woman’s Party would basically shut down, the headquarters would be closed, and all efforts would be devoted to fundraising in order to pay off the debts.  Meanwhile, the N.A.W.S.A., having accomplished its mission, would reorganize itself into the League of Women Voters, which we know to this day.

Joan of Arc was a natural source of inspiration for Alice Paul and the National Women's Party.
Joan of Arc was a natural source of inspiration for Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party.

Reading about Alice Paul, however, you kind of get the sense that she would never really be happy unless she was engaged in campaign to make a difference. Having spent more than a decade of her life agitating for women’s suffrage, its hard to envision her retiring to a quiet life somewhere. So its not at all surprising that in 1921, when Alice Paul convened a meeting of National Woman’s Party to decide whether the continue, the decision was a resounding “yes.”  Just as when Alice Paul first returned to the United States from Great Britain with the conviction that the top priority should be a Federal Constitutional Amendment, the new goal would also be a Constitutional Amendment.  Two years later, in 1923, Alice Paul and others would return to Seneca Falls for the 75th Anniversary of the Declaration of Sentiments and to propose a new amendment to the Constitution establishing full equality for women.  After some revisions in future years, it would become what we know today as the Equal Rights Amendment.   The simple text of Article 1 of the ERA 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.”

The campaign to secure passage of the ERA would consume the rest of Alice Paul’s life.

In 1972, Congress finally passed the ERA and submitted it to the States, with a deadline of 6 years for ratification.  Alice Paul would die in 1977 at the age of 92 with the ERA just two States shy of ratification. Unfortunately for the ERA, no further ratifications would come by the 1979 deadline, and instead, some States would actually rescind their ratification.  There was a half-hearted attempt to try and extend the deadline for three years to 1982, but by then it was clear that the momentum for the ERA, and indeed the dynamo behind so much of the women’s movement, had been lost. The extended deadline also expired with no additional ratifications, and the ERA was defeated.

Just as the 15th Amendment had split the women’s movement in 1869 by extending the right to vote to African-Americans, but not to women, the ERA, which was modeled on the language of the 15th Amendment, also split the women’s movement.  From the beginning in the 1920’s, many in the women’s movement expressed concern that the ERA would take away special privileges enjoyed by women, such as special protection under labor laws and laws regarding alimony. In later years, other objections would be raised including that some of the consequences of the ERA would include taking away the exemption of women from the draft, prohibiting maternity leave policies, and ending “dependent wife benefits” under Social Security.   Another objection  raised in the 1970’s was that an ERA prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex would also require the government to extend recognition of marriage to same-sex couples, since marriage was defined at that time based on opposite-sex couples.  Ironically, the Belmont-Paul National Monument in Alice Paul’s honor was established less than a year after the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution required that anyways – even without passage of the ERA.

It is unfortunate, but understandable, that the lasting legacy to Alice Paul in the National Park System will be associated with the unsuccessful ERA effort, rather than her brilliant campaign and greatest triumph.  After passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, the rebooted National Women’s Party found a new headquarters in 1921 in a building called the Old Brick Capitol.  When that building was ultimately condemned in 1929 under eminent domain to make way for the Supreme Court Building, Alice Paul’s old friend, Alva Belmont, stepped in with the funding to secure the old Sewall House as a new headquarters.  Alice Paul would lead the campaign for the ERA from this building for nearly 50 years.

The National Woman’s Party would continue to lobby for the ERA for more than a decade.  In 1997, the National Woman’s Party decided to cease its lobbying efforts and to focus on preservation and education.  Even though the building will now be managed as part of the National Park System, the National Woman’s Party will remain an active partner at the site, including managing their extensive collection of historical artifacts associated with the campaign for the ERA, the life of Alice Paul, and the women’s suffrage movement.  With its new designation as part of the National Park System, many more visitors to Washington, DC will encounter the story of this extraordinary leader, and will remember the legacy of how through sheer determination and charismatic inspiration Alice Paul changed the course of history.

This historic banner from the National Women's Party collection is a fitting motto for the way Alice Paul lived her life.
This historic banner from the National Women’s Party collection is a fitting motto for the way Alice Paul lived her life.

 

 

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