President Obama on Tuesday designated the former headquarters of the National Woman's Party, founded by Mount Laurel native Alice Paul in 1917, as a national monument.
The three-story brick house in Washington will be renamed the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument in honor of Paul and Alva Belmont, a suffragist and benefactor whose donations helped the party purchase the building in 1929.
Obama took the action on "Equal Pay Day," which marks the length of time women must work into a new year to make the same amount on average that men made in the previous year.
Obama said the monument commemorates the spot "where some of our country's most important history took place. . . . This house has a story to tell, a story of the National Woman's Party, whose members fought to have women's voices heard." The suffragists, he said, "were mocked, they were derided, arrested, beaten, there were force feedings during hunger strikes, and through all of this they kept protesting for suffrage."
Lucienne Beard, executive director of the Alice Paul Institute in Mount Laurel, Paul's birthplace, said she was thrilled by the designation. "Alice Paul is really an untold story in American history, and to suddenly hear the president and others talking about her like she's someone everyone knows about was really exciting," she said.
Though Paul organized thousands of women to picket daily in front of the White House to win women the right to vote, she is less known than Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and other suffragists who had launched the movement years earlier.
"Alice's dedication to advancing the rights of women lasted a good part of her life," said Barbara Irvine, a founder of the Alice Paul Institute. "After suffrage was won in 1920, she went on to essentially write the Equal Rights Amendment and worked to get it passed until her death in 1977."
Paul's homestead, on Hooton Road, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The designation of the former party headquarters will "permanently protect one of the oldest standing houses near the U.S. Capitol and help preserve an extensive archival collection that documents the history, strategies, tactics, and accomplishments of the movement to secure women's suffrage and equal rights in the United States and around the globe," according to a White House release.
It was a place where women gathered and "worked tirelessly to draft petitions, organize protests, write letters, and provide each other with both the physical and emotional support necessary to sustain each other's intense commitment," the release said.
Paul, who was raised in a Quaker family, became interested in women's equality as a student who had traveled to London with the hope of attending college. She did not get the scholarship she had expected and became interested in the Suffragette movement. After learning its attention-grabbing tactics, she returned to the U.S. and became a leader of the movement. After she was arrested for obstructing traffic during a march, she organized a hunger strike, and it sparked public sympathy and helped win the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Paul, a lawyer, later drafted the text for the proposed Equal Rights Amendment and wrote provisions that were incorporated in the Civil Rights Act to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender. She also worked to amend the United Nations Charter to include provisions for women's equality.
In 1920, Paul said, "It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It has just begun. There is hardly a field, economic or political, in which the natural and unaccustomed policy is not to ignore women. . . . Unless women are prepared to fight politically, they must be content to be ignored politically."
Today, the National Woman's Party educates the public about the history of the movement and continues to work to win passage of the ERA.
Efforts to preserve the former headquarters, more recently known as the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, began in the early 1970s.
The National Park Service announced that businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, cofounder of the Carlyle Group in Washington, contributed $1 million to repair and restore the building. Google also announced that it would create a virtual tour to let schoolchildren experience the landmark.