Sewall-Belmont House Act of 2015
STATEMENT OF PEGGY O’DELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1975, A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE SEWALL-BELMONT HOUSE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
March 17, 2016
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1975, a bill to establish the Sewall-Belmont House National Historic Site as a unit of the National Park System, and for other purposes.
The Department supports S. 1975.
S. 1975 would establish the Sewall-Belmont House National Historic Site as a new unit of the National Park System to preserve and protect the site and to interpret the nationally significant resources related to the women’s rights movement.
The bill establishes the boundaries of the historic site within the parcel located at 144 Constitution Avenue, Northeast, in Washington, D.C. The bill allows the Secretary to establish the Sewall-Belmont House National Historic Site as a unit once the Secretary determines that the National Woman’s Party (NWP) has transferred the land and any improvements to the land within the boundary to the Secretary, and when the Secretary and the NWP have entered into a management agreement. The bill requires that the management agreement provide for the National Park Service (NPS) operation and management of the national historic site while the NWP retains ownership and management of the NWP collection, which includes extensive library, archival, and museum holdings relating to the woman’s suffrage movement. The management agreement shall also provide for collaboration and cooperation by the NPS and the NWP on management and interpretation of the Sewall-Belmont House National Historic Site.
The Sewall-Belmont House was constructed on Capitol Hill around 1800 by Robert Sewall and has been home to the NWP since 1929. From here, Alice Paul, longtime leader of the NWP, wrote new language in 1943 for the Equal Rights Amendment, which became known as the “Alice Paul Amendment,” and led the fight for its passage in Congress. Throughout the 20th century, the NWP was a leading advocate of women’s political, social, and economic equality.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the NWP drafted more than 600 pieces of legislation in support of equal rights for women on the state and local levels, including bills covering divorce and custody rights, jury service, property rights, ability to enter into contracts, and the reinstatement of one’s maiden name after marriage. It launched two major “Women For Congress” campaigns in 1924 and 1926 and lobbied for the appointment of women to high federal positions. The party also worked for federal and state “blanket bills” to ensure women equal rights and was instrumental in changing federal legislation to provide equal nationality and citizenship laws for women. NWP lobbying helped to eliminate many of the sex discrimination clauses in the National Recovery Administration’s codes and assisted in the adoption of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The NWP successfully campaigned for the inclusion of Title VII in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and remained a political action committee until 1997.
Alice Paul continued to work actively out of the Sewall-Belmont House until failing health forced her to relocate to Connecticut in 1972. As the only extant structure associated with the NWP, the Sewall-Belmont House continues to serve as NWP headquarters as well as a museum and research library.
The political strategies and tactics of Alice Paul and the NWP became a blueprint for civil-rights organizations and activities throughout the twentieth century. The Sewall-Belmont House National Historic Site is an appropriate place in which to interpret the women’s rights movement and tell the stories of women’s suffrage and the ongoing fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. The site would tell the story of a determined band of women who put their lives on the line to get the vote for half the nation’s population.
On May 30, 1974, the Secretary of the Interior designated the site a National Historic Landmark based on its role as the headquarters of the National Woman’s Party and its association with Alice Paul. At the time, it was the only site in the United States dedicated to the contemporary women’s movement. Later in 1974, Congress established the Sewall-Belmont House as a National Historic Site and authorized a cooperative agreement between the NWP and the Secretary of the Interior for the preservation and interpretation of the house. The site is currently an affiliated area of the National Park System with the NPS providing financial and technical assistance for preservation and interpretation through a series of cooperative agreements.
S. 1975 reflects the recommendations of the November 2014 Sewall-Belmont House: Feasibility Study of Potential Operating Models under NPS Stewardship (NPS feasibility study) which evaluated criteria of feasibility and a need for NPS management. National significance and suitability criteria were satisfied by the site’s National Historic Landmark designation and affiliated area status. The NPS feasibility study recommended a model that would transfer ownership of the house and associated property to the United States with day-to-day operational responsibilities and visitor services to the NPS, while allowing NWP to retain ownership and management of the museum’s collection and to lead educational programs and outreach efforts.
If established based upon the management model recommended in the study, the NPS estimates that the site would require an immediate one-time cost of $1.2 million for repair and replacement of equipment that is in danger of failure, and an annual operational cost of $693,000 for salaries, supplies, operations and management. All funds would be subject to NPS priorities and the availability of appropriations.
The inclusion of the Sewall-Belmont House National Historic Site in the National Park System would assure the preservation and interpretation of the nationally significant story of women’s suffrage and women’s rights in the United States -- a critical part of our Nation’s history and culture.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have regarding this bill.