07 Oct 2015

Things We Take For Granted:

A Peek Inside the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum

After blogging about the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum’s celebration of Equality Day, I was invited to take a tour of the museum. Although I’ve lived in the neighborhood for close to a decade, it seems as though every week brings a new surprise and a new amazing place brimming with interesting mementos and meaningful history waiting to be explored.

The Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, 144 Constitution Avenue NE, is one such gem. Originally a city home for the Sewall family, the house’s beauty and perfect setting hosted many important and notable guests. In 1929, the house officially became the headquarters of the National Woman’s Party, thanks to a gift of Alva Belmont, who purchased the house from the Sewall family. Belmont was a suffragist and a patron of the movement, as well as a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She eventually focused her energies on the NWP, in addition to being one of its biggest benefactors. Below, a photo tour to whet your appetite for visiting the museum. (All photos by María Helena Carey.)

If you go, click here to go to the Plan Your Visit section of the Sewall-Belmont House Museum website. The museum is open for tours on Fridays and Saturdays at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. You can pre-register for a tour here. Admission for guided tours is $8 per person for adults and children over 7 years of age.

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The iconic stained glass entrance was not an original house detail. When the NWP took over the house, they also removed an overhang so the window could let in the beautiful southern light through. During the last remodel, the entrance was moved to 2nd Street.

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Bust of Alva Belmont by Adelaide Johnson (right) and commemorative artwork featuring suffragist Inez Milholland Boissevain (left). Mrs. Boissevain’s last public words were. “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” Photo by María Helena Carey

 

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A statue of Joan of Arc occupies a place of honor in the vestibule. In the background, one of the many pickets (made of cotton and paint) that women carried to their protests. Photo by María Helena Carey

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The front vestibule, where you can see Adelaide Johnson’s beautiful busts. The busts were also used in the sculpture of the suffragists at the Capitol Rotunda. You can find more about this statue in Robert Pohl’s Urban Legends and Historic Lore of Washington D.C., including a sweet photo by yours truly. P.S. Adelaide used three of the busts you see in the photo as her bridesmaids, because she was awesome.

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View from the top floor of the house. The Joan of Arc statue is at the center. The house alone –along with its fixtures– is magnificent.

 

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More pickets. These are in the NWP’s elected colors, which our docent, Nora Hoffman-White, explained were a striking and effective branding. Women would make purple-and-gold capes and stand out in public events, thereby insuring that everyone knew they were there and what they represented.

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Even though at the time Hawaii was a territory and not a state, they ratified the 19th Amendment as an act of solidarity. The suffragists kept a Flag of Suffrage onto which they would sew stars after a new state joined the effort. Hawaii sent a beautiful star to the NWP, made of dyed bird feathers sewn on cotton.

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In addition to working at the NWP headquarters, many suffragists also lived at the house. A small sliver of what a room may have looked like, with period clothing and shoes.

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One of the best permanent exhibits at the museum is a collection of Nina Allender’s drawings for the NWP’s Equal Rights Magazine, originally called The Suffragist. Her art is warm and expressive, with a clear control of the charcoal, and the jokes are brave and pull no punches. Special note: Allender was a Corcoran alumna. <3

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Historic preservationists are trying to determine whether the wallpaper seen here was the same as the one that may have hung during the heyday of the NWP.

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NWP Banner with a self-evident truth uttered by Cuban leader José Martí.

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The NWP kept information/interview cards on all congressmen– not just on their position regarding the NWP’s work, but also on family information and other details that could be helpful to the movement.

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#YesAllWomen

Note: This post has been updated to clarify that the Sewall family owned the house prior to the NWP establishing its headquarters there.

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