Small Museum of the Month: The Alice Paul Institute

Paulsdale, the birthplace and childhood home of militant suffragist leader Alice Paul, isn’t your typical museum and arguably isn’t a museum at all. Paulsdale is the headquarters of the Alice Paul Institute, a non-profit organization whose mission is to honor the legacy of Alice Paul’s work for gender equality through education and leadership development. Paulsdale’s architecture has been preserved to look as it did around 1900 and houses a small exhibit about Alice Paul as well as the Alice Paul Archives and Women’s History Library. However, Paulsdale is not a historic house museum, it is an example of adaptive reuse which is a process of retaining the historic features of old buildings while adapting them for new uses.

One of the most interesting programs the Alice Paul Institute runs is the Girls Advisory Council (GAC), a leadership program for high school girls that brings together women’s history and contemporary issues that affect women and girls. The program is based on the Girls Learn International curriculum which educates students about the global movement for girls’ access to education. GAC meets at Paulsdale every month, but GAC members visit local businesses and historic sites and even get the chance to speak about the importance of women’s and girls’ issues with public figures, at conferences, and even at the United Nations. GAC preserves the legacy of Alice Paul by inspiring young women to be leaders and to care about the issues that she cared about.

Adaptive reuse is a useful tool for historic sites that are struggling to manage costs because it allows the site to be preserved and opens up new revenue streams to fund that preservation. Paulsdale is a particularly interesting example of adaptive reuse because the current use for the house is an innovative and appropriate way to highlight its historic importance. While Paulsdale may not be a museum in the strictest sense, the Alice Paul Institute has turned it into a monument to Paul’s work and a place to educate the public about her and her legacy. In fact, because of Paul’s political activity, it is perhaps a much more pertinent and educational use for her childhood home than a historic house museum would be.

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