CLIO TALKS BACK: Clio Visits the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, Washington, D. C. (USA)

Speaking of museums that tell the stories of politically-active women, Clio reminisces about her recent visit to the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum in the capital city of the United States of America.

August 26 is Women’s Equality Day in the U.S., commemorating the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the federal amendment that granted full suffrage to all American women. Today American women will also celebrate the campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton for president of the United States. Eighteen million persons, women and men, voted for her in state primary elections – and as Hillary remarked, there are at least eighteen million cracks in the political glass ceiling. But the state-by-state primary election system leading up political party nominating conventions remains rigidly in place.

Prior to the decision to work for a constitutional amendment, the American suffrage leaders had also been campaigning state-by-state. [See Clio’s earlier May blog on Carrie Chapman Catt for her summary of the number of separate campaigns this approach entailed]. Some western states had enacted women’s suffrage on their own, from Wyoming Territory in 1869 (statehood in 1890) to California in 1911. But suffrage advocates had faced rejection after rejection in states further to the east.

A change in tactics seemed essential. Carrie Chapman Catt pushed through the idea of pursuing a constitutional amendment as a far more efficient means of achieving the goal. The text submitted and finally ratified is: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

With the help of the wealthy Alva Belmont, women of the National Woman’s Party including Alice Paul, who spearheaded the militant campaign that ultimately provoked congressional passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, established their headquarters in this lovely house, near the U.S. Supreme Court and Capitol, and the several congressional office buildings. The house, finally purchased by the NWP in 1929, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974. Inside is a remarkable museum, containing furniture, art, and artifacts from the period of the suffrage struggle as well as the archive of the NWP. The house has recently been renovated, inside and out and the project to digitize materials in the archive is underway.

Clio was impressed by the quality of the museum’s presentation, including the video of the suffrage movement. She could sense the energy and vitality that these young American suffragettes exuded as they planned their campaigns to picket the White House and to defy their jailers after being arrested. Much of this story has been captured by the recent HBO film “Iron-Jawed Angels,” which is a must-see film for those who know little about the drama of the fight for the vote.

For additional information on the Sewall-Belmont House and the National Woman’s Party, Clio suggests consulting the website at