Receipt of 2009 Annual Alice Award at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum
Secretary of State
Thank you so very much. Thank you for those really kind remarks, Audrey [Sheppard], and for this wonderful award. Audrey has been such a great friend throughout the years on behalf of women’s issues and particularly on behalf of Sewall-Belmont and the National Women’s Party. And really, we are grateful to you for that steadfast support. (Applause.)
Audrey is completing her final term as president of the NWP, and she will certainly be missed. And, Peggy, thank you for hosting such a terrific event. And Peggy’s work and advocacy has been essential to preserving this really crucial part of American history.
I remember the first time I came to this facility, and it was really a dream that it would be renovated and improved to the point where it is today. And I really give credit to everyone who’s been on the board. I want to thank Page Harrington for all she has done and for implementing such an exciting vision for the house. (Applause.)
I also want to thank Richard Moe and Bobbie Greene McCarthy. They were my partners all those years ago in Save America’s Treasures, and certainly the work that they have done with this unique public-private partnership which benefitted Sewall-Belmont early on has made it possible for us to see this vision realized.
I was particularly pleased when Congress awarded a Save America’s Treasure grant to restore the house and the collection in 1999. It was one of only four projects named in the original Save America’s legislation. (Applause.) So there was Sewall-Belmont right up there with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Star Spangled Banner. (Applause.)
I want to thank the members of Congress who are here. I heard Audrey recognizing them. Good friends, dear friends of mine, Mary Landrieu, Amy Klobuchar, Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- I think those were the names mentioned. There may be others, but I don’t see anyone. And I want to thank our partners in Congress for supporting Sewall-Belmont, for supporting Save America’s Treasures, and for staying true to the mission of the National Women’s Party to enhance and nurture the election of women, and now not only in our own country but around the world.
Alice Paul was a visionary and a pioneer. She believed that gender equality was a moral imperative as well as a foundation for progress. And her struggle for women’s rights was built on the premise that no society or nation can reach its full potential if half of the population is left behind.
Now, we have seen that played out in our own country. As Audrey referenced, the struggle for women’s rights and for women’s suffrage did not come easily; it was a very long haul. It took enormous persistence. Some of the pioneers who first declared it in the Declaration of Sentiments at the first ever Women’s Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 did not live to see their dream realized. But it was finally enshrined in our Constitution, and in the years since many in this room and our predecessors who worked so hard to realize the full meaning of what women’s equality and suffrage meant have never faltered.
And we know that where women flourish, families flourish, communities flourish, and nations flourish. That’s why this important mission of extending women’s equality and full participation is not finished, and we each have a role to play.
What made Alice Paul so special was her fearlessness. I mean, she went where most men and women would not have gone. She took on every obstacle that came her way. She was a tireless human rights activist, an unyielding advocate for the equal rights for all women. Her Quaker upbringing instilled in her the value of simplicity, and to her, it was very simple: Gender equity was so self-evident that she often would express frustration that her motivating idea that women and men should be equal partners in society caused such a ruckus in so many places – not that I ever experienced that. (Laughter.)
But Alice Paul had learned this ideal in her family, and she made it the cause of her life. And unlike many suffragists who left public life after the 19th Amendment was passed and finally became part of our Constitution, she never stopped her pursuit of equality. She worked not only for the enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States, but for women’s rights around the world. She established the World Women’s Party, headquartered in Switzerland, which worked with the League of Nations to include gender equality in the United Nations Charter, and she helped to establish the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
If she were with us today in physical form, as well as I’m sure she is in spirit, she would be heartened by two recent U.S.-introduced resolutions, a United Nations General Assembly resolution to promote political participation among women, and a United Nations Commission on the Status of Women’s Economic Empowerment.
So we have traveled a long way, but I don’t think we have yet reached any destination that we can call our own and which gives us the opportunity to rest. There is so much work to be done to improve the status of women and girls in many parts of the world. Every single day, you can pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV or log on to a website and see the reports of terrible assaults on women’s progress. We have to fight these attacks on women’s rights, and we have to address the conditions that hold women back and continue to make them the majority of the world’s poor, hungry, and unhealthy. We have to lend our voices to those who have struggled on behalf of equality and human rights, like Aung San Suu Kyi or those who are being silenced and subjected for expressing their ideas and beliefs.
And in the State Department, we have made it clear that human rights, and in particular women’s rights, are a central component of our foreign policy. I don’t believe that we can be successful in the many challenges that we face around the world if we don’t stand up for the rights of women. (Applause.)
As part of this commitment, I was very pleased that we were able to create for the first time ever the Office of Global Women’s Issues. This will coordinate foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic, and social advancement of women. It will help us mobilize concrete support for women’s rights, especially political and economic empowerment. This new office gives us a central organizing focus and place so that all of you who care so much about these issues will know that all of us, led by Melanne Verveer, the first ever ambassador on behalf of this effort – (applause) – will be ready to work with you to deal with all of these global challenges, but more than that, to seize some opportunities and create initiatives to increase women’s and girls’ access to education and healthcare, to combat violence against women in the home and on the battlefield, to make sure that women’s rights truly are viewed as human rights.
Alice Paul was once asked why she never stopped fighting for women’s equality. She answered with a saying from her mother: “When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row.” So Alice Paul never put that plow down. Her work continues today not only through this wonderful home that was hers and a headquarters for the National Women’s Party, but through all of us, I look around this room, and like Audrey, I am so impressed by the faces that I see and the stories that I know of so many of you who have carried on this work in your own way, in politics and in the private sector and academia, in advocacy, in just so many ways. And that goes for the hearty men who are with us as well who have similarly taken on this struggle. (Applause.)
So if we all hold on to the plow, it’ll go a little faster, we might get to the end of the row a little quicker. And if each of you think about ways that you can here at home and around the world make the continuance of this work part of your own lives, it will make a difference. I was thinking a few weeks ago, the first time that Melanne and I weighed in on the right of women to vote in Kuwait. This is something that I championed as First Lady and that Melanne, who as you know was my chief of staff in the White House, really carried on. And then when Melanne became the chair of Vital Voices, we began to try to use that vehicle to speak out on behalf of the rights of women in Kuwait and elsewhere to vote. And then just a few weeks ago, without quotas, without any kind of requirements, four women were elected in Kuwait.
Now, for some that might seem – well, it’s about time. But for others it was a major accomplishment on that path, down that row that we travel together.
So giving heart and support to women who are willing to take steps to have their voices heard, to really take the risks that go with speaking out, running for office, starting a business, defending the rights of others, is so important. And it means so much. I sometimes think we don’t give enough weight to what it means to just reach out person to person and say we’re with you, we care about you; to look for ways to support projects, by setting up foundations and going even on to a website like Kiva, K-i-v-a, and helping a woman who wants to start a business in El Salvador or who wants to create a better opportunity for her community somewhere in Africa. We have so many tools at our disposal that Alice Paul never had. And each of you here today has a unique ability to carry that message.
So I am deeply honored to receive this award named for one of the real giants of American history. But I know how much more we have to do, and as Secretary of State I see it every single day. But I am more encouraged than discouraged. I am more optimistic because I think history is on our side. We can see the tectonic plates shift. And I know that each of us want to see more progress on behalf of more women and girls, and together that’s exactly what we will help to bring about.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
# # #