Opinion: Americans Deserve a Women's History Museum
There are not many things that Democrats and Republicans agree on these days. But there is this: “America needs and deserves a national museum dedicated to showcasing the historical experiences of women in this country.”
That is the unanimous, bipartisan, topline conclusion of a report by the Congressional Commission on the American Museum of Women’s History. The Commission spent 18 months studying the issue and presented its final report to Members of Congress on November 16, 2016. It recommended that a museum dedicated to American women's history belongs on or near the National Mall in Washington, DC.
And the need for such a museum is not just something that the members of a bipartisan Commission agree on. On Tuesday, 374 Members of the House of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, voted to pass H.R. 1980, the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act to establish a Smithsonian women’s history museum on the National Mall. I introduced this bill with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in March 2019. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have introduced the companion bill in the Senate.
Women have been left out of the telling of our nation’s history. Sadly, if you look at our 2,500 national historical landmarks across the country, only 5% honor women. And, studies have shown, women are underrepresented in the textbooks we use in our public schools.
Properly honoring remarkable women in public spaces will serve to inspire people of all ages today and in future generations to pursue their goals in fields ranging from STEM disciplines to politics and everything in between.
Two studies published a decade ago in the Psychology of Women Quarterly found that because women face negative stereotypes regarding their competence in the workplace, they may derive particular benefit from the example of an outstanding woman who illustrates the possibility of overcoming gender barriers to achieve success.
Years later, those examples remain hard to come by. Women have been at the center of every major moment in our nation's history and made outstanding achievements in every sector of society, but our telling of history does not properly recognize them.
Currently in the nation’s capital, there’s an Air and Space Museum, an International Spy Museum, a Textile Museum, a National Postal Museum, even a museum for buildings. But, there is no museum in our nation’s capital or anywhere in the country that comprehensively shows the history of the amazing, brilliant, courageous, innovative and sometimes defiant women who have helped to shape our country during every moment of our history. Those visiting our nation’s capital, people of all genders and of all ages, deserve to know the full story of American history.
My response to those who ask why this museum is important is this; If we fail to recognize women, we cannot empower them. Empowering women and unlocking the potential of every young person should be a universal goal.
That’s why this bill passed so overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives and why I believe it should get the same support in the Senate. This is not about politics or partisanship. This is about giving women – all women – our rightful place in history.