ELLE.com: Washington Rules in Favor of a National Women's History Museum
Last night, the House approved a bill that could finally make a national women’s history museum a reality. It's a pretty big deal. You might not realize that, because you might not know how long the fight for such a structure has been going on (more than a decade) or how many roadblocks it has hit along the way. Regardless, H.R. 863 just passed the House, so if you, too, want to see a national, female-focused museum created, you should celebrate, because it is a big deal.
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), the bill's co-sponsor, has been fighting for the creation of a national women’s history museum “for 17 years,” she tells me, so she’s naturally collected a few talking points along the way. She fires them at me quickly, telling me of the flat-out forgotten females (like Sybil Ludington, “who did the same thing Paul Revere did in 1777, yet she rode 40 miles longer,”) and the underrepresented ones, like how “in the U.S. capital there are 210 statues, but only 13 are of female leaders.” Despite recent feminist advancements (like President Obama's equal pay initiative and #BanBossy, which seem to be shifting cultural attitudes), the U.S. has long had a chauvinist bent both with how it records history and how it celebrates it, and Maloney would like to see a museum dedicated to women's achievements rectify that.
Still, she feels that “it’s important” that the female-focused museum not just be built anywhere but be a national one, located on the National Mall—which is precisely what’s making its creation so tricky. Space on the Mall is limited, and “the politics of the Mall are fierce,” Maloney says. Plus, building the museum in that location could be very expensive, with numbers like $400 and $500 millionestimated.
Both of those concerns—that the museum would use too much valuable space and tax-payer money— are why Maloney and Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) drafted that bill that got passed today, H.R. 863. It’s a very, very smart step, because the bill doesn’t ask that the government approve the museum outright. Instead, it just asks them to “create a commission to study the feasibility of a museum on the National Mall.” Then, once they have the people and the money (all private funding at this stage, mind you) to siphon into studying the museum’s best prospects—the ideal place to build, the most cost-effective way to do it—they’ll have a better shot at coming up with a really, really solid game plan for how to go about it.
Hopefully, if the bill passes the Senate, too (it passed the House with a vote of 383-33, so things are looking good), the newly established commission will cook up a plan for creating a national women’s museum that appeases many who opposed it because of those practical reasons, not ideological ones. (The latter group includes Rush Limbaugh, who recently scoffed that women already have many national museums, "called malls," a comment Maloney thinks "does not deserve comment." We agree.)
But surely, even if they can't find the most ideal place on the National Mall to make everyone happy, and even if it is still expensive to erect a brand new museum, maybe people will come around and realize we need a female-focused museum anyway. Offering a little perspective, Maloney points out, “We have the National Postal Museum and the International Spy Museum on the National Mall.” Surely they can make room and resources for one for the country's women, too? There, Maloney says she’d love to see women like Sandra Day O’Connor, the retired Supreme Court Justice, and Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State, honored in exhibits. Of course, if the museum ever does get built, we’d hope to see Maloney and Blackburn honored in there, too. And with the passage of H.R. 863 in the House, it seems that might, maybe, become a reality.