“Remember the ladies,” Abigail Adams famously advised her husband, John Adams, in 1776, when he was attending the Continental Congress and busy formulating his ideas about the new government. John Adams, who went on to become the second president of the United States in 1797, did his best. But that was a long time ago, and women have long acted as their own advocates. One day, perhaps, Americans might marvel that there was ever a time when a woman couldn’t vote, own property, succeed in sports, run a large company, become the president. In the meantime, let us now celebrate the achievements of women in many realms.
Start: The Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument on Capitol Hill.
On April 14, 2016, President Obama proclaimed the historic Sewall-Belmont House a national monument to women’s equality, the first of its kind in the National Park Service. As the headquarters for the National Woman’s Party since 1929, the house serves as both a museum honoring the many women who have struggled for women’s equality and an education center supporting activities that continue that battle. The site plans a whole host of special programs in 2019–2020 to mark the centenary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. The monument takes its name from National Woman’s Party founder Alice Paul and the party’s benefactor, Alva Belmont.
From the house, head up to 1st St. and turn left. Give a nod to the Supreme Court, where three of the nine justices are women, then cross the street to reach the:
A record 529 women ran for office in the 116th Congress (2019–2021), 472 for a House seat, 57 for a Senate seat—at least 200 more than ever before! The 2018 midterm elections occurred after this book went to press, but certainly, female candidates appeared poised to increase their ranks beyond their previous 19% standing in Congress. Let’s hope! Visit the Capitol to salute all of the women congressional members, past and present, starting with the first, Montana Rep. Jeannette Rankin (1917–1919), whose statue stands in the Capitol Visitor Center. For in-depth information about women who have served in Congress, access http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/WIC/Historical-Data/Women-Representatives-and-Senators-by-Congress/.
Return to Constitution Ave. and either flag a taxi (easy to do in this part of town) or start walking and hop on a DC Circulator National Mall bus, when you reach the bus stop at the National Gallery of Art. Or you can walk the whole way (about 1 1/2 miles) to the:
The most popular exhibit in the museum is the First Ladies exhibit, which gives First Ladies their due as strong and interesting people in their own right. Also don’t miss Julia Child’s Kitchen (in the “Food: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000” exhibit), a tribute to a different kind of icon; “Uniformed Women in the Great War,” presenting the role of women in World War I; and the individual stories of ordinary women woven throughout the museum’s exhibits, such as that of abolitionist Lucy Caldwell, who lived “Within These Walls,” an occupant of the old Ipswich House on view, from 1836 to 1865. And the Star-Spangled Banner? The handiwork of a woman, or rather, several women: Mary Pickersgill and daughter, nieces, and a maid.
You could walk it, but you’ll have to navigate a terrifying traffic circle; it will be safer to hop on the Metro at the Smithsonian station on the Mall, directly across from the American History Museum. Board a Blue, Orange, or Silver Line train headed in the direction of Franconia/Springfield and get off at the Arlington Cemetery stop and walk to the:
4. Women in Military Service for America Memorial
This is the only major national memorial honoring all servicewomen, from the American Revolution onward. Its archives include information about two nurses aboard Commodore Stephen Decatur’s ship United States during the War of 1812, and the more recent development when, in late 2015, for the first time in American history women became eligible for all military occupations and positions, without exception.
The best thing to do from here is to board the Metro, take the Blue, Orange, or Silver Line headed into D.C., and get off at Metro Center, exiting at 13th and G sts. and walking a block north to the:
From Renaissance paintings to contemporary sculptures to silver pieces created by 18th- and 19th-century Irish and British female silversmiths, this museum is full of masterpieces by women.
Walk to 14th St. and head north, going around Thomas Circle at Massachusetts Ave. to pick up Vermont Ave. on the other side. Proceed about a block to the:
Mary McLeod Bethune bought this house not as a residence, but to serve as headquarters for the National Council for Negro Women. So although she did live here from 1943 to 1949, it is the sense of her professional rather than personal life that you absorb from the exhibits—which speak volumes. Look for a black-and-white photo of FDR’s cabinet in the 1930s, and there you will see a panel of white men and, in their midst, this black woman. When you consider that Bethune was born poor, the 15th of 17 children of former slaves, you start to truly appreciate her accomplishments.
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