Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.
– Simone de Beauvoir
January 22nd was a chilly, rainy, and downright gloomy day in DC – the day after hundreds of thousands of women marched on Washington, and two days after President Trump’s inauguration. In order to recharge, I decided to treat myself to an afternoon of self-care.
After warming up in the balmy, lush conservatory of the DC Botanic Garden, I headed over to a place that would become one of the highlights of my trip: the National Woman’s Party at Belmont-Paul Equality National Monument. This historical building housed suffragettes such as Alice Paul and Alva Belmont, for whom the monument is named, as they fought to create and ensure the rights for women.
The house has been the headquarters for the National Woman’s Party for 90 years, offering both permanent and temporary residence for women who marched, picketed, protested, and held “the party in power” responsible, a philosophy adopted from fellow suffragist family, the Pankhursts.
What is now a historical site part of the National Park Service, the house holds memorabilia from the women’s movement of the early 1900s, such as magazines, journals, and scrapbooks; textiles including Suffragette sashes, capes, and costumes; and the National Woman’s Party Papers. Great detail was given in recording budgetary items, congressional reports, telegrams, and voting cards, all of which have been preserved in the house. Features from the collection include the gavel from the first NWP meeting, Susan B. Anthony’s desk, another desk used by Alice Paul, and one of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s chairs.
Visitors are encouraged to fill out the “Pledge to Vote,” a card with their name and city on it, and to take selfies in front of a large mirror with the phrase, “I will run for office” reflected back at them. Regardless of whether or not you do really want to run, this is nevertheless empowering, inspiring, and quite humbling, seeing the image of yourself alongside the idea – the very fact – that you, as a woman, can run for office, and that it was through the actions of the women who resided and worked in this house that made that possible.
In solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, the National Museum of Women in the Arts waved its visitor fees throughout the whole weekend, offering film screenings and drop-in tours, which brought numerous guests to join in celebrating women’s achievements in the arts.
One of my favorite exhibits at the NMWA that weekend was the recreation of Simone de Beauvoir’s desk, which offered a glimpse at not just how the writer worked and lived, but expertly engaged the viewer into a deeper thought process regarding feminist writing and art. The exhibition was a hands-on experience: visitors were invited to sit at the desk, rifle through copies of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis 2, issues of The Saturday Review, and, of course, Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Each piece of literature contained a bookmark that designated a specific category: “read by,” “written by,” and “inspired by,” de Beauvoir. Though this was a recreation of de Beauvoir’s desk and memorabilia, nearby was a display case that contained pages of her handwritten 1948 manuscript of what would become part of The Second Sex, which brought the experience of imagining oneself in the writer’s shoes full circle.
Satiated by the art of Kara Walker, Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassatt, Helen Frankenthaler, Beatrice Wood, and Jiha Moon, amongst many, many others, and motivated by the women of the Suffragist movement who helped pave the way for women’s rights, I ventured back out into the rain, into a city that appeared to be crying for the loss of democracy, and I thought about education.
Many students have the opportunity to visits the museums that line the streets of our nation’s capital and experience the work of women who’ve overcome obstacles – be they physical, emotional, or financial – but an even greater many do not. These girls and young women need to be afforded the chance to have relatable role models, to know that they, too, can defeat the odds.
It is up to us to help girls and women live their dreams: by providing guidance, support, and the ability for them to see that their voices can – and will – make a difference.
Emily Greene works in Promotions for CBS and NBC affiliates in the Augusta, Georgia and North Augusta, South Carolina areas. She has a BA in Art, and is finishing a second degree focusing on Women’s Studies, Criminal Justice, and English. Active in promoting social justice, especially the awareness of women’s issues, she is the Chair of the Women’s Caucus of the Young Democrats of Georgia, as well as their Communications Director, the Vice President of the Young Democrats of Augusta Richmond County, Membership Chair and Committee Member of the Columbia County Democratic Party, and a volunteer for Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services. Emily’s work has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Cult Collective, Washington State University’s literary journal, LandEscapes, and PLACE (SACRED SPACE) Without Beginning or End, a book about weaving by Rachel Snack of Weaver House Company.