Like many of you, last year we proudly wore our pantsuits (my friend even made homemade pantsuit stickers!) in expectation of historically breaking the glass ceiling. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and checking my phone which had the CNN breaking news banner and it felt like my whole world dropped out from underneath my feet. History was made, but not in the way we had expected or many of us wanted. I went to work that day despite some of my closest friends telling me that I could and probably should have taken a sick day. I cried on and off all day. I was useless. Heartbroken. Spirit broken. Devastated.
For many strong women I know, what came out of election day was a sense that America was not ready for its first female president. This was a difficult reality that felt incongruent with the modern day. How have we not progressed further from the Mad Men women secretarial era? And when will we? And… will we? So, a big march was organized, pussy hats were knitted, posters were made, and women started training for campaigns of their own. Side note: some women even used the power of blogging and gifs to release pent-up emotions and frustrations!
As luck would have it, Queen Jules and I visited the historic Sewall-Belmont House and Museum last weekend where the National Park Service has immortalized the Women’s National Party headquarters. In short, it was amazing! As many of you know, I am a fan girl of anything NPS related, so this was a combination of my two favorite topics. We stamped our national park passport books proudly. (If you haven’t bought a national park passport book, and you like history and parks, you are totally missing out.)
In 1929, Alice Paul, suffragist and one of the leaders of the woman’s right movement, moved the National Women’s Party to the Belmont house. A decade earlier, Alice and several other women had been fighting for and finally won the right for women to vote. The museum depicts several of these scenes including the famous Women’s Suffrage Procession in Washington where Inez Milholland dressed in white with a star-crested tiara while riding on horseback. It also recounts the Silent Sentinels, the peaceful protest and picketing of President Woodrow Wilson’s lack of support for women’s voting rights. The protest led to the arrest and hunger strike of unsanitary conditions while imprisoned.
Alva Belmont, a multi-millionaire socialite, had already been fighting for women’s rights and was part of the Political Equality League. Unlike the majority of the women’s right movement which focused only on rights for middle-class white women, Belmont formed the first suffrage settlement house in Harlem and included African American and immigrant women in weekend retreats. Alva later joined Alice in the newly formed National Women’s Party and purchased the Belmont house for the group so that they could keep “a vantage point from which they may keep Congress under perpetual observation.”
The Sewall-Belmont House provided an office where pieces of legislation were drafted and later lobbied, and a resting spot for the National Women’s Party. I was struck by how far we have come and how far we have to go to achieve Alice Paul’s vision. Voting was never the end goal for Alice. She wanted women to be engaged and participate in political activity. And for me this visit came full circle. I was reminded of watching interviews from the 2016 campaign where men and some women openly said they would rather have their 19th amendment taken away than elect Hillary Clinton to office. I for one am grateful for the suffragists who came before me and share with Alice that simply voting is not enough. And it was so inspiring to see women and minorities who did win their campaigns this year, including Danica Roem who is the first openly transgender state legislator. Can you hear that? It’s the most delightful sound, the sound of glass cracking.
In the words of Alice Paul, “When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row.” Here’s to planting and harvesting those seeds, my friends!