Some old-guard supporters of the Sewall-Belmont House — the historic Capitol Hill home of an early women’s rights organization — are chafing over a decision by the organization to honor Laura Bush in September.
In a letter this spring to the museum’s board, the group argued that the former first lady “has done little or nothing to advance American women’s equality” and thus is not worthy of its annual Alice Award, named for Alice Paul, who helped lead the successful campaign to win the right for women to vote.
“Her advocacy on behalf of Afghan women is commendable, but she has been conspicuously absent in every major arena of American women’s rights,” read the letter, signed by more than 20 feminist activists, including some former Sewall-Belmont board members and a past president. “Nor has she challenged her party’s anti-feminist agenda in any meaningful way.”
Sonia Pressman Fuentes, a co-founder of the National Organization for Women who sat on the museum’s board for about 20 years, said she rallied feminist pals after hearing Bush had been tapped for the prize. Although their letter calls Bush “a non-feminist Republican figurehead,” Fuentes insisted their objection isn’t partisan; they had no complaints about the prize going last year to Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. (Past winners include Nancy Pelosi, Tipper Gore, Katie Couric, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Billie Jean King.)
But a source close to Bush defended the honor as a good fit, noting the advocacy work first ladies have traditionally done at home and abroad — and the fact that Sewall-Belmont recently hosted several Egyptian women activists brought to the United States via the “women’s initiative” that Bush oversees at her husband’s presidential center.
Officials at Sewall-Belmont are standing up for her, too, saying she “transcends cultural, political and geographic boundaries” in her advocacy for women.
“Through Mrs. Bush’s commitment to education, health care and human rights, she has made an impact on women’s lives both at home and abroad,” said the group’s executive director, Page Harrington.
Read earlier: Nancy Pelosi, at Sewall-Belmont House, looks back on 25 years in Congress, 6/6/12
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