144 Constitution Ave. NE
The house has been a center of political life in Washington for more than 200 years.
The house is one of the oldest residential properties on Capitol Hill and has been a center of political life in Washington for more than 200 years. Robert Sewall, for whom the House was first named, was from one of Maryland’s most prominent and influential families. After purchasing the lots from Daniel Carroll and the federal government to build his new home, construction of the house at 2nd and Constitution Avenue, NE (formerly B Street) was completed by 1800.
Shortly after the house was built, Sewall rented it to Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury under President’s Jefferson and Madison, who occupied the house from 1801 until 1813. When Gallatin left in 1813, the United States was embroiled in war against the British (also known as the War of 1812). In August 1814 during the British invasion of Washington, the Sewall house became the only building from which an attempt was made to resist the British army. Subsequently, the house was significantly damaged and most likely destroyed. Sewall had the house rebuilt after the fire, and by the time of his death in 1820, the work was complete.
After remaining in the ownership of the Sewall family for over 120 years, the house was purchased by Senator and Mrs. Porter Dale, of Vermont, who rehabilitated the house after about 10 years of vacancy.
The National Woman’s Party (NWP) purchased the house from Senator and Mrs. Dale in 1929 as well as two row houses immediately north of the main house for use as their headquarters. Upon moving into the property, which they renamed the “Alva Belmont House,” the NWP headquarters also functioned as a hotel and second home for some members. By the time the group moved into the house it had occupied space in several locations in Washington. The prominence of its various headquarters was a reflection of the group’s desire to have a powerful impact on national politics, and also played a role in the visibility of its efforts. The group’s new location continued this tradition and retained a prominent presence for the group on Capitol Hill. The NWP finally found a permanent headquarters when it moved into the house, and has remained in the building for over 90 years.
The house is architecturally significant for its location and early construction date as well as the alterations to the house that reflect both the changing tastes of its owners and the changing architectural styles in the city of Washington over the years.
Periods of Construction
Four periods have been identified:
1. Original Construction (circa, 1800, 1820)
2. Stylistic Modifications (circa 1880)
The pitched roof was altered to the current mansard style with dormers, possibly in 1879. In 1881 an entry portico was built which may have been necessary due to the lowering of the street grade in the 1870s. The stained glass fanlight was most likely added around this time.
3. Porter Dale (1922–1929)
During his occupancy, all areas of the building were modified and several window openings were added. It was reported that the Dales planted a rose garden containing 500 bushes.
4. National Woman’s Party (1929–present)
The NWP removed the entry portico and added several window openings and bathrooms to accommodate their need for living quarters and offices. Their most significant alteration was the conversion of the carriage house to the Florence Bayard Hilles Feminist Library.
1964: District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites
1972: National Register of Historic Places
1974: National Historic Landmark
Designated by the Secretary of the Interior
1974: National Historic Site
Selected by Congress and placed under the auspices of the National Park Service for its restoration and maintenance
1998: President’s Commission
Named an outstanding national heritage site
1999: Save America’s Treasures
Chosen by Congress as one of only four projects named in the original Save America’s Treasures legislation along with the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Star Spangled Banner
2005: HGTV Restore America site
Chosen by Home & Garden Television as one of 12 historic sites to receive a grant and national recognition for its restoration efforts
NWP Headquarters Timeline
1912-1916 – 1420 F Street NW
First headquarters secured by Alice Paul-the rent was $60/month
1916-1918 – 21 Madison Place, NW
Also known as Cameron House and the “Little White House”, and now called the Benjamin Ogle Tayloe House
1918-1921 – 14 Jackson Place
1921-1929 – Old Brick Capitol
Replaced by the Supreme Court in 1932
1929-2016 – Alva Belmont House, later renamed Sewall-Belmont House
2016-Present – President Obama issues a proclamation, Sewall-Belmont House becomes the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument
For more on the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument and information from the National Park Service, visit this site.