CNN: Women building: GOP-led House to vote on women's museum

May 7, 2014
In The News

Washington (CNN) – The election-year attention on women lands directly on the House floor Wednesday, after Republican leaders decided to allow a vote on a National Women's History Museum, changing their approach to the issue.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, has pushed the idea of a national women's museum for over 17 years. Her bill to trigger the first step, a museum commission, has passed the House and Senate before, but during separate sessions of Congress. In each case a Democratic majority in one chamber approved the museum commission but Republicans in the other blocked it.

Now top Republicans are on board, with GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor scheduling the vote for Wednesday.

"This time, the third time, is the trick," Maloney told CNN. "It's going to pass both houses this time."

What changed? Maloney is quick to credit her bipartisan cosponsor, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, who personally made the case for the museum to key GOP leaders in the House.

"She worked very, very hard to achieve this support," Maloney said, "She has been an incredible partner."

Blackburn said she started working on the idea about a year ago and called the GOP decision to advance the museum now a matter of conveying the right information. The Tennessee congresswoman had to overcome political and logistical doubts: whether Washington is museum-saturated and whether the project will espouse any liberal themes.

"It's just a process of education and saying let's sit down and get this done," Blackburn said. "I think the reason for it is to celebrate what women have accomplished in this country whether in the fight for freedom or opening doors for other women."

As for any pressure on Republicans to appeal to women this year, the Tennessee congresswoman demurred. "I think of course you 're going to hear periodically from time to time that it's the year of the woman and I think we're in one of those cycles, and rightfully so," she said. "I think the vote shows that men and women recognize there is a need to go back through our nation's history and recognize... the role of women."

When asked why there needs to be a museum for women, Maloney described a centuries-old lack of recognition for America's female leaders.

"Of all the 210 statues in the Capitol, nine are of women," she said. "Sybil Ludington rode just as far as Paul Revere, even farther, but no one's even heard of her." Ludington rode roughly 40 miles one night in 1777 to raise a regiment of revolutionary troops in response to a surprise British attack.

Helping both Maloney and Blackburn in their quest, their proposal calls for the museum to be funded entirely by private dollars. So far, Maloney says the organization behind the idea has raised $12 million, more than enough to get a commission started and complete the initial feasibility study that is part of the bill.

That feasibility study is set to take 18 months, looking at possible locations, costs and the timeline for building a museum.

The House is expected to pass the idea and send it to the Senate for approval.