This week, I was lucky enough to tour the Sewall- Belmont House and Museum with the other NOW interns. Tucked right on Capitol Hill between several Senate office buildings and the Capitol, this museum is a gem for any feminist. The House was the home to the National Women’s Party during the fight for Suffrage in the early 1900’s, and within its walls is a fascinating walk through the history of the suffrage movement and the brave leaders who spearheaded the effort. The museum holds everything from the small but important difference between “suffragists” and “suffragettes” (it’s suffragists!!), to the important speeches and banners that the leaders held in front of the White House in 1917. Although I consider myself to be well versed in the history of suffrage, this museum taught me so much about the drastic efforts of these great female leaders to earn the right to vote.
It was so fascinating to learn about the physical, emotional, and verbal abuse that suffragists suffered through just to earn something that today we see as a crucial right of democracy. While working at NOW, I am working towards equality for women every day, but this work is often through a telephone, on a computer, or at a well organized and civil rally. In 1917, Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony were imprisoned, force fed, and physically abused in their fight for women’s equality. The political environment in which they were fighting for the right to vote was so oppressive that the President, Congress, and even the police would completely ignore them at best, and more often would conspire against them. It is crazy to think that the rally I attended last week for Social Security is the same place where these brave suffragist leaders were arrested for “traffic obstruction” as they picketed the White House for the right to vote.As we were leaving our tour, our guide was sure to leave us with an important message that really put things in perspective. As young women, we often take for granted the fact that though the things we are fighting for are important, we have made it this far because of the foundation that these suffragist women built for us. Our guide reminded us not just to “stand up” through our votes, but to also “speak up” and encourage others to vote and to use the freedoms that were earned for us by these great suffragist leaders.