Kirsten Hammerstrom pulled out the cabinet drawer, opened the flat box and unfolded the thin conservation paper to find what she was looking for: two century-old gray ribbons bearing the inscription “Woman’s Movement for Constructive Peace.”
Each had a tarnished star fixed to the fabric, and Hammerstrom turned it over to show how the star was attached. “A great big safety pin,” she said, “which is kind of funny.”
“They would pin to your shoulder, and the star would glitter,” she said.
The pin and ribbon had been harnessed more than 100 years ago in the fight by American women to secure a public voice and, finally, in 1920 the right to vote. Now they were being donated to the government, along with hundreds of thousands of other artifacts from the early women’s rights movement.
The National Woman’s Party said earlier this month that it was donating a large collection of artifacts, many from the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, to the Library of Congress and the National Park Service.
The monument, a 220-year-old federal style brick mansion at 144 Constitution Ave. NE, has been home to the party since 1929, and the repository of memorabilia from the early struggle for women’s rights.
The artifacts are “the materials that the National Woman’s party and its predecessor organization, the Congressional Union, assembled as their work, as part of how they demonstrated, how they fought for women’s rights,” said Hammerstrom, the site’s collections manager.
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“There are hundreds of banners and dozens of sashes, flags, all kinds of things,” she said. “I have lost contact of how many boxes I have processed. … I think it’s 16 or 17 pallets of material that was gifted to the Library of Congress, doubling the size of their collection.”
The library already holds many of the party’s papers, but the donation will add 310,000 documents, 100 scrapbooks, 4,500 photographs, 750 volumes of periodicals and 2,400 books, dating back to the 1860s.
“Some parts of the collection are very fragile,” said Elizabeth Novara, the American women’s history specialist in the library’s manuscript division. “It’s over a hundred years