Congressional panel calls for new Smithsonian museum of women’s history
A week after the highest of all glass ceilings proved indestructible, a congressional panel finds the country needs a national museum dedicated to showcasing the contributions and experiences of American women.
To be called the American Museum of Women’s History, the institution would open in a new or existing building on or near the Mall and would be operated by the Smithsonian Institution. Private donors would provide the estimated $150 million to $180 million needed for the construction or renovation.
“It’s long overdue, and D.C. visitors deserve to be inspired by stories of women,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney said before accepting the final report Wednesday. “It will speak to the world, making it known that Americans value women, equality and the significant contributions of women throughout our history.”
Maloney, a sponsor of the legislation that created the commission in 2014, said she had hoped the report would come after “the final glass ceiling would have been smashed with a female president.” But last week’s election “makes me feel more determined to help make this happen.”
“This needs and deserves to be an official part of the Smithsonian,” she said.
In its report, the eight-member, bipartisan panel provides a 10-year, three-part plan that begins with a Women’s History Museum Initiative within the Smithsonian that will create programs and exhibitions for other museums. Meanwhile, a site for a modestly-sized museum of 75,000-90,000 square feet would be selected and a fundraising campaign launched.
“There is a need for this and we have put forth a path that’s workable and realistic, and there’s room for everybody to be part of the process,” commission chairwoman Jane Abraham said. “What currently exists isn’t enough. We view this national museum as the coordinator, the hub with regional museums being spokes on the wheel.”
The commission reviewed 10 potential locations, with three given priority: the open land adjacent to the Washington Monument on the southern edge of the Mall (mirroring the new National Museum of African American History and Culture), the northwest U.S. Capitol Site (near the National Gallery of Art) and the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Buildings. The latter two have been selected as potential sites of a National Museum of the American Latino.
The commission recommends the building or renovation be funded with private money, rather than a 50-50 split as was the case with African American Museum and is proposed for the Latino museum.
The commission was given an 18-month timeline from its first meeting to issue its findings.
“There are so many untold stories of women’s contributions. This is a great time to remind people we want to tell those stories,” said Susan Whiting, chairwoman of the board of the National Museum of Women’s History, a nonprofit founded in 1996 that has advocated for a permanent location in the District while also creating online exhibitions and other programs.
The National Museum of Women’s History provided almost $1 million in donations and in-kind services to the commission, which received no federal funds.
The plan’s timeline acknowledges the Smithsonian’s current priorities, including an almost $1 billion renovation of the National Air and Space Museum. The reports calls on Congress to provide $2 million a year to the Smithsonian to start programs as it considers the long-term project of creating a permanent site for them.
Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton, who had met with commission members, expressed enthusiasm for their effort.
“Although building a new museum is not practical now, we recognize our responsibility to make sure that women’s history is appropriately represented in all our museums,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Maloney praised the commission members for presenting an “achievable plan” that will become the foundation for a bill to create a permanent museum.
“There is no museum in the country that shows the full scope of the determined, accomplished and sometimes defiant women. It’s important and very inspiring,” she said. “I hope Congress will adopt the same bipartisan spirit in its consideration.”