Why Isn’t There a Women’s History Museum? Now’s the Time to Make it Happen

BlogHer Original Post

One of my favorite things to do in Washington D.C. is to visit museums. There are halls devoted to science, art, journalism -- even postage stamps – but surprisingly, there is not an institution dedicated to preserving the contributions of women in this nation.

Now’s the time to try to change that. A bipartisan group in Congress – led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced a bill in February to explore the construction of a National Women’s History Museum.

It’s an idea that’s essentially been in works since 1994, when a group of Congresswomen began trying to get a statue of women's rights activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott moved out of the basement of the Capitol and into the rotunda. Seems like some people thought the statue was too “heavy” or too “ugly” to be displayed in such a prominent place. After raising $85,000 for engineering studies to prove that the rotunda floor was indeed strong enough, and the suffragettes were put on display.

Image Credit: Advencap via Flickr

Still, only 13 of the over 200 statues in the Capitol are of women, according to Maloney, who added that only 5% of historical landmarks honor the achievements of women. In a phone interview, Maloney told me:

“A vital part of achieving equal rights for women is acknowledging and remembering the deep and lasting contributions women have made throughout history. And women are largely missing from textbooks, memorials, museums exhibits, and many other venues.”

That group of Congresswomen who moved the statue eventually became a non-profit group to raise money and work towards the formation of a National Women’s History Museum. But fast-forward 20 years… and that museum is still nowhere to be found.

But in February, Blackburn and Maloney introduced a new bill in the House to get the process rolling once again. They’re not asking for taxpayer money, they are simply trying to form a commission to raise money, search for potential sites, and explore the possible exhibits that would be included.

“Setting out to raise all the money for it, do not need one penny,” Blackburn told me over the phone as she rushed to catch a plane. “This is a project, of women, for women, by women.”

At a time when the Republican Party has been coming under fire for not valuing women, there has been bipartisan support for this project, as well as high-profile supporters, such as Meryl Streep who has already pledged $1 million to the project.

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) writes in an op-ed for The Hill:

“As one of only 19 Republican women in the House of Representatives, I see firsthand how our underrepresentation can impact our future opportunities. But as we continue to increase our ranks, our daughters need an environment to learn about the conservative heroes who made this possible—women like Jeanette Rankin, Sandra Day O’Connor and Condoleezza Rice. These women have earned their place in history, and our girls should have every opportunity to study them and feel inspired by their contributions.”

When asked who they’d like to see honored in a future museum to women’s history, both Blackburn and Maloney mentioned Sybil Ludington, a female counterpart to Paul Revere. The blacksmith’s legendary horseback ride is mentioned in any textbook’s account of the Revolutionary War, but Ludington – who rode even longer distances – is little known. Ludington’s story is one of those already chronicled on the National Women’s History Museum website

As I browsed the site, the more I became excited about the idea of a women’s history museum, which could include not only the pioneers of women’s rights, but more marginalized chapters of women’s history, such as sections dedicated to profiles of motherhood, early African American women and Chinese American women in the West.

But the bill still needs to pass the House of Representatives (which is over 80% male), and a similar bill introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MA) needs to pass the Senate.

“Are we surprised that we can’t pass the ERA, that we still earn 77 cents to the dollar, if we can’t with our own money – build a museum dedicated to women? What’s so riveting or upsetting to people that they can’t get behind it?” asked Maloney.

The House Resources Committee will take up the bill on March 25, and supporters hope it will go to a full vote soon afterwards. Want to see the National Women’s History Museum became a reality? Let your Congressperson know how important it is to you.

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs about raising an Asian mixed-race family at HapaMama.

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