Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today introduced a bill to create a Federal commission to determine the feasibility of constructing a National Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C.  Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is introducing the companion bill in the Senate.

The other cosponsors of the bill in the Senate include the dean of the women senators Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

“We are thrilled to have this legislation introduced by such distinguished national leaders as Senator Collins, Representatives Maloney and Norton and ten prominent senators as co-sponsors”  said Joan Wages, President and CEO of the National Women’s History Museum.  “The establishment of a Commission would be a giant step forward to help obtain an all-important site for the National Women’s History Museum on or close to the National Mall – the place where our nation shows what it honors.”

Although Congress authorized various other museums such as the National Museum for African American History and Culture, the National Law Enforcement Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian, there is still no institution in the capital region dedicated to women’s role in our country’s history.

Over the years, both the Senate and House have passed different versions of a bill to create a National Women’s History Museum, but this is the first bill that would establish a commission.  Since the legislation prior to this time called for land or a building adjacent and not on the Mall, a Commission was not needed.  Wages said the NWHM Board and their advisors felt that this step was needed if they wanted to take the giant step forward to study a site on the Mall.

The National Museum for African American History and Culture, the Holocaust Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino each had commissions recommending their sites – and all but the Holocaust have been granted Mall sites. Unlike previous museum commissions, taxpayers will not fund this project.  The proposed legislation calls for the Commission to fund itself.

A museum dedicated to women’s history would help ensure that future generations understand what we owe to the many generations of American women who have helped build, sustain, and advance our society,” said Senator Collins. “They deserve a building to present the stories of pioneering women like abolitionist Harriet Tubman, founder of the Girl Scouts Juliette Gordon Low, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, and astronaut Sally Ride.  This can and should be done at no expense to American taxpayers.”

A Commission to establish the National Women’s History Museum would provide a blueprint to finally honor half of our nation’s population,” Rep. Maloney said. “Funded with private donations and not tax dollars, an institution like this would acknowledge and commemorate the deep and lasting impact women have made in American history. We already have museums for flight, postage stamps, law enforcement and many other important people and issues of interest; women are long overdue for this recognition of their contributions to the very fabric of our country.”

Women have never been content simply to be half our population.  They have made remarkable contributions from the dawning days of the nation to today’s space and technological age,” Rep. Norton said.  “Yet, the nation has no central showcase for this essential part of our history.  That showcase for women’s contributions to the nation’s history should be in the nation’s capital.”

 Although founded in 1996, the first Museum legislation for a site was not introduced until 2003.  The Museum has reviewed over 40 possible locations and narrowed its search down to 3 sites which it has considered publicly and has lobbied for on Capitol Hill.

“The failure of previous legislation actually proved to be beneficial because each delay subsequently led to the development of a better option,” Wages said. NWHM has previously offered to pay fair market value for federal land and to fund the Museum construction with private monies.

The Board has always opted for a location that will draw the largest possible attendance of visitors.  For example, one museum that is five blocks off the National Mall gets less than 200,000 yearly visitors while museums on the Mall get from one to seven million visitors annually. NWHM wants its exhibits and information to reach the widest possible audience.

“This will be the first museum in any nation’s capital to show the full scope of the history of its women and serve as a guiding light to people everywhere.”  Wages said.

Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational institution dedicated to preserving, interpreting, and celebrating the diverse historic contributions of women and integrating this rich heritage fully into our nation’s history. NWHM currently disseminates information on women’s history to thousands with close to 2 million hits annually through its Online Museum (www.nwhm.org)   There are over 45,000 links and references to the website from educational institutions such as Harvard, Rutgers and Stanford.  In addition the Museum has over 50,000 Charter Members nationwide and a National Coalition of educational, service, and professional organizations with a reach of over 8.5 million members.  Together with a host of celebrity Ambassadors and supporters, such as Geena Davis, Catherine Hardwicke, Alfre Woodard, the late Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep, the Museum is working to build a world class women’s history museum at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

 

- Christine Shepherd

Photos from Jan Du plain