The New York Times Editorial Board: A Women’s History Museum, at Last?

Mar 21, 2014
In The News

It took seven decades before the rudely banished monument to three historic suffragists — Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott — was hauled up from the basement of the United States Capitol in 1997 and restored to its rightful place by the rotunda.

The path has been no less tortuous for a proposed National Women’s History Museum to be built on or near the National Mall. The proposal, foiled by largely Republican opposition for years, suddenly started to gain traction when the House Republican majority leader, Eric Cantor, unexpectedly told The Hill that a vote would be permitted this year on a study commission for the museum.

This is considerable progress, whether due to male chauvinist remorse in an election year or the need for a fuller and fairer telling of history. Committee hearings begin next week, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers is optimistic that the proposal to build the museum from private resources without a cent of taxpayer money can satisfy budget hawks who objected to past plans.

Representative Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who first proposed the museum, said the blessing from the Republican House leadership was “a huge boost” to remedy the “historical quicksand” that women stand on. “With each step we take forward, the steps behind us disappear,” she declared on the House floor.

A Republican co-sponsor, Representative Marsha Blackburn, a conservative from Tennessee, hails the project as one created “by the women of this nation for the women of future generations.” With so many museums and causes now dotting the capital scene, many subsidized with taxes, an institution dedicated to women in history is long overdue. Senate sponsors, led by Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Susan Collins of Maine, note that fewer than 5 percent of the country’s 2,400 National Historic Landmarks chronicle women’s achievements.

Only nine of 210 statues in the Capitol are of female leaders. Soon after the statue of the three suffragists was completed in 1921, opponents in an all-male Congress banished it and had its inscription, which lawmakers denounced as “blasphemous,” removed. It read: “Woman, first denied a soul, then called mindless, now arisen, declared herself an entity to be reckoned.”