April 13, 2016

Flotsam & Jetsam: A historic women's site belatedly honored

Sam Smith – Before there was the Progressive Review, in the 1960s I  started and edited a newspaper east of the US Capitol in a area generally known as Capitol Hill but which we dared to dub Capitol East to include a much larger and heavily black community beyond the “the Hill.”

One of the buildings in our neighborhood was the Sewall-Belmont House which has just gotten some overdue attention, thanks to Barack Obama. Reports the NY Times:

The red-brick house on Capitol Hill served for decades as a national headquarters and dormitory for the so-called iron-jawed ladies lobbying for equal rights, even as male members of Congress sought to raze it to make room for offices for themselves. British soldiers set it on fire during the War of 1812 to squelch American resistance, and generations of Washington brides and grooms have held their wedding receptions in its historic halls. On Tuesday, President Obama designated the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum as a national monument for women’s equality, declaring the three-story structure a symbol of the American fight for civil rights.

Back in the 1960s, my wife Kathy decided to write a piece for the Capitol East Gazette  about the building and knocked on the front door only to be greeted by none other than Alice Paul, who Wikipedia describes this way:
American suffragist, feminist, and women's rights activist, and the main leader and strategist of the 1910s campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits sex discrimination in the right to vote…. Alice spent a half century as leader of the National Woman's Party, which fought for her Equal Rights Amendment to secure constitutional equality for women. She won a large degree of success with the inclusion of women as a group protected against discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She insisted that her National Woman's Party focus on the legal status of all women and resisted calls to address issues like birth control.
Paul, then arund 80, agreed to talk with Kathy on one condition: that she call her representative in Congress and seek support for National Women’s Party’s current agenda. Kathy explained she was a DC resident and so was unrepresented in Congress, but that she had been assistant press secretary to Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. After she put in a call to her former staff buddies, Paul granted her an interview.

A few years later I wrote a song sung by an actress playing Alice Paul in a musical about DC that went like this:

My name is Alice Paul
Although I have been called
A lot of other things
that I won’t tell you.

Because I have perceived
That women are aggrieved
And they surely need
Some civil liberty. 

We don’t find it too enrichin’
To be messing in the kitchen
If you want us to stop bitchin’
You had better start in switchin’ 

I am a suffragette.
They say that I’m all wet
They aint’ seen nothing yet
I’m gonna tell you.

The fight for women’s rights
May last ten thousand nights
But we won’t rest
Until the battle's won

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