Remarks by President Obama On Equal Pay Day at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Museum

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Museum

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 12, 2016 – 11:35 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.) Thank you.  Thank you.  Everybody, please, have a seat.  Have a seat.

Well, hello, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you to Chitra for the introduction.  It should be noted that today is Equal Pay Day, which means a woman has to work about this far into 2016 just to earn what a man earned in 2015.  And what better place to commemorate this day than here at this house, where some of our country’s most important history took place, and where this history needs to inform the work that remains to be done.

I want to thank some of the leaders who’ve worked to keep the house standing.  We’ve got members of Congress like Senator Barbara Mikulski, who’s fought to preserve this site for years and has been the longest-serving woman in the United States Senate.  (Applause.)  We are so proud of her.  Our Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, and her team, as we celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service this year.  (Applause.)

One of our greatest athletes of all time, one of the earliest advocates for equal pay for professional female athletes, and a heroine of mine when I was still young and fancied myself a tennis player — (laughter) — Billie Jean King is in the house.  (Applause.)  And the National Woman’s Party Board of Directors, Page Harrington, and the Executive Director of the House and the Museum.  (Applause.)  Over the years, Page and her staff have built a community and cared for this house, repairing every cracked pipe and patching every leaked roof.  We are grateful for their stewardship.  I know it was not easy.

Equal pay for equal work should be a fundamental principle of our economy.  It’s the idea that whether you’re a high school teacher, a business executive, or a professional soccer player or tennis player, your work should be equally valued and rewarded, whether you are a man or a woman.

It’s a simple ideal.  It’s a simple principle.  It’s one that our Leader of the Democratic Caucus in the House, Nancy Pelosi, has been fighting for, for years.  But it’s one where we still fall short.  Today, the typical woman who works full-time earns 79 cents for every dollar that a typical man makes.  And the gap is even wider for women of color.  The typical black woman makes only 60 cents, a Latino woman 55 cents for every dollar that a white man earns.  Now, if we truly value fairness, then America should be a level playing field where everyone who works hard gets a chance to succeed.  And that’s good for America, because we don’t want some of our best players on the sidelines.

That’s why the first bill that I signed as President was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  Earlier this year, on the anniversary of that day, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor acted to begin collecting annual data on pay by gender, race, and ethnicity.  And this action will strengthen the enforcement of equal pay laws that are already on the books, and help employers address pay gaps on their own.

And to build on these efforts, Congress needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to put sensible rules in place and make sure — (applause) — and make sure that employees who discuss their salaries don’t face retaliation by their employers.

But I’m not here just to say we should close the wage gap.  I’m here to say we will close the wage gap.  And if you don’t believe me, then — (applause) — if you don’t believe that we’re going to close our wage gap, you need to come visit this house, because this house has a story to tell.  (Applause.)

This is the story of the National Women’s Party, whose members fought to have their voices heard.  These women first organized in 1912, with little money but big hopes for equality for women all around the world.  They wanted an equal say over their children, over their property, their earnings, their inheritance; equal rights to their citizenship and a say in their government; equal opportunities in schools, in universities, workplaces, public service, and, yes, equal pay for equal work.  And they understood that the power of their voice in our democracy was the first step in achieving these broader goals.

Their leader, Alice Paul, was a brilliant community organizer and political strategist, and she recruited women and men from across the country to join their cause.  And they began picketing seven days a week in front of the White House to demand their right to vote.  They were mocked.  They were derided.  They were arrested.  They were beaten.  There were force-feedings during hunger strikes.  And through all this, women, young and old, kept marching for suffrage, kept protesting for suffrage.

And in 1920, they won that right.  We ratified the 19th Amendment.  But the suffragists didn’t stop there.  They moved into this historic house and they continued their work.  From these rooms, steps away from the Capitol, they drafted speeches and letters and legislation.  They pushed Congress and fought for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.  They advocated for the inclusion of women in the U.N. Charter and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  They campaigned for women who were running for Congress.

This house became a hotbed of activism, a centerpiece for the struggle for equality, a monument to fight not just for women’s equality, but ultimately, for equality for everybody.  Because one of the things we’ve learned is, is that the effort to make sure that everybody is treated fairly is connected.

And so, today, I’m very proud to designate it as America’s newest national monument — the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, right here in Washington, D.C.  (Applause.)

We do this to help tell the story of these suffragists.  In these rooms, they pursued ideals which shouldn’t be relegated to the archives of history, shouldn’t be behind glass cases, because the story of their fighting is our story.  I want young girls and boys to come here, 10, 20, 100 years from now, to know that women fought for equality, it was not just given to them.  I want them to come here and be astonished that there was ever a time when women could not vote.  I want them to be astonished that there was ever a time when women earned less than men for doing the same work.  I want them to be astonished that there was ever a time when women were vastly outnumbered in the boardroom or in Congress, that there was ever a time when a woman had never sat in the Oval Office.  (Applause.)

I don’t know how long it will take to get there, but I know we’re getting closer to that day, because of the work of generations of active, committed citizens.  One of the interesting things, as I was just looking through some of the rooms — there was Susan B. Anthony’s desk.  You had Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s chair.  And you realize that those early suffragists had proceeded Alice Paul by a generation.  They had passed away by the time that the vote was finally granted to women.  And it makes you realize — and I say this to young people all the time — that this is not a sprint, this is a marathon.  It’s not the actions of one person, one individual, but it is a collective effort, where each generation has its own duty, its own responsibility, its own role to fulfill in advancing the cause of our democracy.

That’s why we’re getting closer, because I know there’s a whole new generation of women and men who believe so deeply that we’ve got to close these gaps.  I have faith because what this house shows us is that the story of America is a story of progress.  And it will continue to be a story of progress as long as people are willing to keep pushing and keep organizing, and, yes, keep voting for people committed to this cause and to full equality for every American.

And so I’m hoping that a young generation will come here and draw inspiration from the efforts of people who came before them. After women won the right to vote, Alice Paul, who lived most of her life in this very house, said, “It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the right for full equality won.  It has just begun.”  And that’s the thing about America — we are never finished.  We are a constant work in progress.  And our future belongs to every free woman and man who takes up the hard work of citizenship, to win full equality and shape our own destiny.

That is the story that this house tells.  It is now a national monument that young people will be inspired by for years to come.  It would not have happened without the extraordinary efforts of many of the people in this room — not only their active support of this house and preserving it, but also the outstanding example that they are setting, that you are setting.

I’m very proud of you.  Congratulations.  Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

11:45 A.M. EDT