Why a Congressional commission wants a national women's history museum
How many historically significant women can you name? No matter what your gender identity, it's likely that the number you can list off the top of your head pales in comparison to that of noteworthy men. That's not because there's a lack of fascinating women in American history. Rather, women's history has only relatively recently begun to be explored. And the nation's museums have not yet begun to catch up. But if a congressional panel has anything to do with it, that could soon change. As Peggy McGlone reported for The Washington Post, a recent report cries out against the lack of representation of American women's history. It also calls for a new national museum. It could bring the picture into balance.
The report was presented to U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney. It is the product of 18 months of meetings, research and public engagement. These were conducted by a bipartisan commission. The commission was tasked with studying the prospect of a national women's history museum. Among its conclusions were strong support for a museum that celebrates American women's history and achievements. It included a recommendation that the museum reflect diverse experiences and views. There was a plea for public and private financial support and insistence that the museum not only be under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, but have a place on or close to the National Mall.
"The first step to creating a national women's history museum is complete," said Maloney in a release. "We have an achievable plan to build this museum." It would "honor the experiences and contribution of women to our great nation."
But does the country have the political will, or the funds, to make such a museum a reality? That's a fraught question. In a statement, Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton told McGlone that, "building a new museum is not practical now." However, he said, "we recognize our responsibility to make sure that women's history is appropriately represented in all our museums. Assuming the funding recommended in the report is available, we will hire additional curators to help tell the growing and evolving story of women in American history."
Skorton noted that a similar effort devoted to improving representation of the contributions of Latinos to American history and culture has been successful. In the 1990s, as The New York Times' Kate Taylor reported, a similar panel recommended not just a museum, but an effort to correct an imbalance in the Smithsonian's coverage of Latino culture. Such a museum does not yet exist. But the Institution has focused instead on hiring more curators. It has staged Latino-centric exhibitions and beefed up holdings.
Indeed, it took over a century of talks, federal legislation and an extraordinary amount of public and private money to fund the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. It opened in September. Only in 2016 did the United States obtain a national monument specifically devoted to women's history, and even notable women still remain strikingly absent from public sculpture.
Will or no, the commission's report does lay out a path to an eventual museum. It is included in a 10-year strategic plan. It recommends the creation of an initiative to lay the groundwork for such a museum. It wants Congress to donate a prominent plot of land. And it wants a campaign to raise between $150 and $180 million in private funds alone.
Even if the American Museum of Women's History never becomes reality, the report highlights the need for the nation at large to better document, collect and celebrate evidence of the achievements and history of women. After all, nearly 51 percent of the American population is female. There's no lack of amazing historical women waiting to be acknowledged. Your list of noteworthy women may be short now. But it's about to get much longer.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is there a call for the museum to be on or near the National Mall?
Write your answers in the comments section below