It’s been a rough couple of years in the world of politics. But history has proven that even some of the most challenging times in our nation’s past have given voice and hope to the oppressed.
This year, numerous museums and institutions in Washington, D.C. celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment (June 4, 1919), which gave women the right to vote in the U.S. for the first time. The Amendment was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, and although African American women were denied voting rights in many Southern states until 1965, this centennial remains a noteworthy moment in the history of women’s rights.
So, it’s an ideal time to visit the sites where these brave women took a stand to advance the freedoms of women. Here is what we discovered and why you might want to consider heading there with your girlfriends, daughters, mom – and even the men in your life.
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea
One of the most architecturally-stunning buildings on Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress has curated the exhibit “Shall Not Be Denied; Women Fight for the Vote.” Handwritten letters, speeches and photographs of American suffragists who persisted for more than 70 years to win voting rights for women are on display along with records from the National American Woman Suffrage Association and National Woman’s Party.
The exhibition explores women’s struggles for equality, tracing the movement from before the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, through the divergent political strategies and internal divisions the suffragists overcame.
The exhibit is part of a yearlong initiative in 2019 inviting visitors to explore America’s changemakers. It will delve into the stories of dozens of diverse women who shaped the suffrage movement and made history.
The Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument
The epicenter of the women’s rights movement was this 200-year-old house located near the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court. Home to the National Woman’s Party, this was epicenter for Alice Paul and other leaders who gathered here, strategizing and advocating for equal rights. It was here that they expanded the equal rights movement from a state-by-state approach to a national effort focused on a constitutional amendment.
In 2016, President Barack Obama designated it a national monument. Guided tours are offered daily (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). The monument has been undergoing renovations in 2019, so call ahead to confirm it’s open.
National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery exhibit — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea
The “Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence” exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery tells the complex history of the women’s rights movement through a variety of mediums including photographs, paintings, newspaper clippings and engravings. Visitors can view portraits of many of the movement’s pioneers, from Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone (participants in the 1848 Seneca Falls women’s rights convention) and Alice Paul, who organized the first-ever march on Washington’s National Mall.
Original banners from the National Woman’s Party, a late-19th century ballot box and writings by influential suffragists are on display, along with much more.
The National Archives — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea
The “Rightfully Hers” exhibit at the National Archives examines the relentless struggle of diverse activists to secure voting rights for all American women. The 3,000-square-foot exhibit displays more than 90 important items including photographs, records and artifacts from the landmark voting rights victory, most notably the original Nineteenth Amendment document (on limited display).
Visitors can also view World War I–era Red Cross Uniforms, a National Woman’s Party banner and a collection of political campaign buttons.
The Daughters of the American Revolution Museum
The DAR Headquarters, located just a few blocks from the White House, features the exhibit “Ordinary Equality: DAR Members and the Road to Women’s Suffrage” through April 2021, highlighting how DAR members took advantage of increased opportunities for women to participate in social reform activities.
It was at DAR headquarters that Helen Keller was going to address suffragettes after their triumphant 1913 parade down Pennsylvania Avenue until attacked, en route, by opposing groups of men and boys.
Visitors can take a free docent tour of historic Memorial Continental Hall or explore a variety of other exhibits independently (closed Sundays). There are also events and weekly talks.
U.S. Capitol Rotunda
The Capitol building — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea
In addition to depicting past presidents in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, there is also a monument dedicated to a trio of significant women suffragists. The 14,000-pound monument immortalizes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the first women to demand the right to vote, Susan B. Anthony, who proposed the Amendment, and Lucretia Mott, a Quaker preacher who fought for women’s equality in the 1800s.
The National Woman’s Party presented the monument as a gift to the Capitol in 1921 to commemorate what would’ve been Anthony’s 101st birthday.
The Willard Hotel
The lobby of the Intercontinental Willard Hotel — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea
The luxurious Willard has a storied history, to be sure. While many famous figures, political and otherwise, have frequented the hotel over the past 200 years – from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. – it also has strong historical ties to a number of noteworthy women.
It was here that Julia Ward Howe penned the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861 and where a group of female code breakers deciphered complex codes during World War II. The Willard was also the first hotel to hire female elevator operators.
The hotel bar, still going strong today, was reportedly where witty Alice Roosevelt Longworth – the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt – is credited with saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.” I’m guessing she had plenty of takers.
The Jefferson Hotel
The Book Room at The Jefferson Hotel — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea
For those interested in booking a stay at another historic hotel with a uniquely female twist, the 99-room Jefferson Hotel (an Obama favorite) can provide guests with itineraries curated by hotel historian and former Georgetown professor Susan Sullivan Lagon, PhD. One noteworthy itinerary is “How Women Shaped American Life and Culture,” which includes walking the path of the first Women’s March in Washington in 1913.
And it doesn’t hurt that, at the end of the day, you can book a table at Quill, the hotel’s lounge, to enjoy creative, signature cocktails curated by female bartender and sommelier, Rachel Kling – who also happens to have a background in international human rights law. How very D.C.