Heard on the Hill

Women’s History Month Update on a Women’s Museum

Advocates say they are ‘closer than ever’ to making museum a reality

Joan Wages, left, and Susan Whiting are shown at a brunch for the the National Women’s History Museum in 2015. (Courtesy National Women’s History Museum)

Here is your Women’s History Month reminder that a National Women’s History Museum for the National Mall is still in the works. 

Just more than 20 years since the organization to build the museum was founded, there is a congressional commission to study its creation and a team of people ready to follow through if it gets greenlighted.

One of them is a direct descendant of Susan B. Anthony, a revolutionary foremother of the country.

Susan Whiting is the chairwoman of the board of the National Women’s History Museum, which, so far, does not have a physical building. She said she’s devoted herself to building the museum in order to properly celebrate female role models.

“Susan B. Anthony is one of my relatives and I always heard about her and heard about her perseverance to do great things,” Whiting said. “Her story is known but many, many other people who contributed to our history don’t have their stories in our textbooks, in articles, and the way we think about American history.”

“Role models matter and they inspire people to do things they didn’t know are possible,” she added.

The potential museum would be the first in the nation’s capital devoted solely to women and the organization wants it sitting on the National Mall with the other Smithsonian museums.

“I think we could be a beacon for the rest of the world and more importantly, for men and women, for girls and boys, in the U.S.,” Whiting said. “It’s a really important time for us to reflect such a major part of our history.”

[Word on the Hill: Time for a Women’s Museum?]

In 2014, former President Barack Obama signed into law legislation authored by New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, establishing the bipartisan congressional commission to look into building the museum. Co-sponsors of the legislation included Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, both Republicans, and Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland. 

Last November, the commission came up with key recommendations for going through with the building after 18 months of research and speaking with scholars. 

One recommendation was that “the museum deserves a prominent site on our National Mall and that it should have a strong collection of artifacts and memorabilia that will be part of the museum and that the museum can also borrow artifacts from Smithsonian and other institutions,” said Joan Wages, president of the National Women’s History Museum.

“From these recommendations, we feel like we are closer now than ever to having this museum and making it a reality,” she added.

The organization has identified 2020 as a major year for the project.

“You never know what Congress is going to do, but we hope to have a major effort underway, certainly by 2020, which is the hundredth anniversary of women having the vote,” Wages said. “We hope to have the site and if we don’t have the building, we could pitch a tent, but have a celebration on our National Mall to celebrate it coming.”

For comparison, former President George W. Bush signed legislation allowing the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in November 2003. It opened last September.

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