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Reading 4: Excerpts from “Mrs. Wiley is Guest of Honor”

In 1930, Anna Wiley hosted a party to celebrate her new position as the chair of the national council for the National Woman's Party and to celebrate the opening of the new headquarters. The following text is excerpts from the speech she gave at the party.

I bid you all welcome to our new Headquarters in the name of the organization which I represent. . . . .

The real purpose of this tea is to show you our beautiful new headquarters and to tell you that you are at all times welcome here to join us, to consult with us, to secure any information we may have. In other words, to work with us in every way for the benefit of women.

I regret that our national president, Mrs. Belmont, is not here with us to welcome you, but I rejoice that Miss Paul could take time from her legal research to come and be with us. We hope that Mrs. Belmont will come to America in the spring to dedicate these headquarters, at which time we trust that you will all participate.

This historic and beautiful building is the gift to the National Woman's Party of Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont and bears her name, as we call it the Alva Belmont House. Mrs. Belmont will go down to history as a pioneer. She was a pioneer suffragist, and when that question was settled by the Nineteenth Amendment, she again was a pioneer in the effort to secure the removal of the disabilities against women in the law. When many women wanted to go home and rest, after the suffrage campaign was over, she gave the advice that we could not afford to rest, that our work was not yet done and that we must go on. Now that this question of discriminations against women has entered the international field, again it is Mrs. Belmont who by her influence and generous financial assistance is helping to wage the campaign against the introduction of an unjust codification of the world law on nationality to be drawn at The Hague next March.

Speaking of herself in the Ladies' Home Journal of September, 1922, Mrs. Belmont said:

‘ Someone must pay the price in criticism, even in ostracism, for every advance which the world makes. The blazing of the trail by the pioneer is never an easy task. * * * Today the world holds up its hands in horror over something which tomorrow it will have to accept as an established fact.' . . . .

This building is one of the most ancient in the city. It has always been the good fortune of the Woman's Party to have as its headquarters (since we moved from the tiny basement room on F street, where Miss Paul formed this organization) an historic building, viz., the Don Cameron mansion and the General Sickles residence (both on Lafayette Park), the historical ‘Old Brick Capitol,' which we have just left, and now this ancient house, the home of the Sewell family of Maryland. The original house is said to have been built in 1772, twenty-two years before the city was built. Another account gives it that Robert Sewell bought the land at sale on January 29, 1799, and that the house was built the next year. For a time the house was rented by Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury. In August, 1814, the house is said to have been destroyed by the British in retaliation for a shot fired by some one, no one knows who, because the family had fled, which shot mortally wounded the horse ridden by the British General Ross. The house was rebuilt the next year. Until 1876 the house remained in the hands of a Robert Sewell. It then passed by marriage to the Dangerfield family until 1892, when at the death of Senator Barbour (whose wife was a Dangerfield) the house became the subject of lawsuits and litigation. In 1922 it was purchased by Senator Porter H. Dale of Vermont, from whom we bought the house in March, 1929.

Perhaps it is not altogether strange that the National Woman's Party should always inhabit venerable structures because the subject of its program is as venerable as the world itself, being none other than justice, simple justice to half the human race.

Questions for Reading 4

1) How many National Woman's Party headquarters does Wiley mention? Apart from being NWP headquarters, what do they all have in common? Why does Wiley believe the Sewell-Belmont House is a good building for the NWP to use?

2) Wiley talks about Mrs. Belmont and mentions Alice Paul. What is Mrs. Belmont doing in 1930? How does this work build on the suffrage movement? What kinds of laws do you think Alice Paul might be studying? Why?

3) Wiley quotes Alva Belmont. Who do you think paid “the price in criticism, even in ostracism, for” women's advancement in politics and society in the 20th century? How did those people pay it? What things do you think you and your classmates “accept as an established fact” today that people were horrified by 100 years ago? Why?

4) How do Mrs. Belmont and Mrs. Wiley view their role in human history? Are they humble or proud about their struggle? What evidence in this reading supports your answer?

Reading 4 contains parts of a speech published in Equal Rights on February 15, 1930 in Vol. 16, No. 2, found in the National Woman's Party archives in Washington, DC. Courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, home of the historic National Woman's Party

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