Overlooked, Thought-Provoking Sights in Washington, DC

Last month, as I wrapped up nine years in Washington, DC, I took a break from packing to walk the city one last time. Enjoying springtime on the Mall, I thought about Washington sights that too few people visit, places that cut through the noise of a self-important city to the heart of our democracy.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

"More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars."

That is one of nearly two dozen quotes by President Roosevelt inscribed in the memorial dedicated to him. Much to my initial surprise, it isn't a statue, but a series of naturalistic outdoor rooms along the Tidal Basin created from stone, water and trees. The quotations, inscribed in the stone, take visitors through the Depression and the New Deal, World War II and the leadership the president provided through those difficult years.

"The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world."

I first visited the memorial while the US was newly at war in Afghanistan and gearing up for war in Iraq. Roosevelt's words were a welcome contrast to "let's get 'em!" and "you're either with us or against us" messages coming from the Bush White House and the Hill. I kept thinking that much of what Roosevelt said would be criticized as unpatriotic or "socialist" today. Every member of Congress and any administration should visit this memorial.

Also still relevant is the work of Eleanor Roosevelt, who has a section at the end of the memorial. Her "My Day" column, which my grandmother says she never missed, is well worth reading. From human rights to nuclear disarmament, her words still ring true.

Sewall-Belmont House and Museum

This museum, found right behind the Hart Senate office building, houses the historic National Woman's Party and was the Washington home of founder and Equal Rights Amendment author Alice Paul from 1929 until 1972.

The house has many interesting items, such as banners and photographs, but two moved me the most. One was an original jailhouse door pin, one of the pins given to suffragettes who were imprisoned for protesting in front of the White House. While in prison, they went on hunger strikes and were force fed. They endured terrible treatment. I think of them every time I vote, and I feel immense gratitude.

The other was the desk at which Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. This simple but powerful idea was shaking the country in the 1970s when I was a young girl. Talk, both positive and negative, about "women's libbers" and the ERA was everywhere. While that fight was in full swing, Alice Paul and other suffragettes were still living in the house, getting to see where their work had taken the nation.

The museum staff and volunteers are happy to give tours, which I found aren't lectures but conversations. There's also a shop that takes online orders. I happily picked up a coffee mug for my grandmother, who was born a year and a half before women could vote, and who has never taken that right for granted. My next purchase will be a replica of the jailhouse door pin.

A few more for the future . . .

I never got to a few places despite having them on my "to do" list for ages. One was the Frederick Douglass House, which is a museum run by the National Park Service, and the other is the African American Civil War Museum, which is next to the memorial along historic U St. I may have missed getting to the sites, but I will read up on each.

What are you favorite historic places in the nation's capital? How do they connect you to our past?