Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) still remembers the trip to the National Mall that inspired HR 1980. “I found myself asking, ‘Where are the women?’” she told reporters at a press conference Monday.
“If we fail to recognize women, we cannot empower them,” she said. “But women’s stories have been largely excluded from history textbooks. Out of 2,500 national historic landmarks across the country—only five percent are dedicated to women’s accomplishments. Seeing role models doing things we all aspire to can change the course of someone’s life. Women and men of all ages deserve to see and be inspired by the remarkable women who helped shape this nation.”
Maloney wrote the first bill for establishing a diverse, complex women’s history museum over 20 years ago, in 1998. No such museum exists yet in the U.S., and only 5 percent of the country’s approximately 2,400 national monuments honor women.
“This is about giving women—all women—our rightful place in history,” Maloney declared Monday.
“U.S. history is not complete without women’s history,” American Museum of Women’s History Congressional Commission Chair Jane Abraham said in a statement Tuesday. “The contributions of women deserve national celebration and recognition. The history of American women is diverse. Women span every race, class, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, region of the country and interest. There are so many stories from so many perspectives that are missing from our current narrative. The Smithsonian is the right institution—our national caretaker of American history—to tell these stories.”
The Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act, which is expected to finally pass today during a floor vote in the House, would finally entrust the institution with that responsibility.
“There are so many vital and inspiring moments in women’s history that deserve to be highlighted so that present and future generations know the true scope of women’s accomplishments throughout our history,” Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms., said in a statement Monday. “If we do not publicly recognize and honor the women who helped shape our country, we are distorting our nation’s history.”
HR 1980 passed unanimously out of the Committee on House Administration in November and now has 293 cosponsors. The Senate companion (S. 959) has already been introduced by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Once passed and if signed by the president, it would establish a women’s history museum on or in close proximity to the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, where only nine out of 100 statues depict women.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who co-sponsored HR 1980, declared at the press conference Monday that “our country should know the names of its history-making women,” and connected this victory to the suffrage centennial feminists across the country are also ringing in this year. “Women have helped the United States since our founding, despite not being recognized for our many accomplishments,” she said. “On the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, we remember that women were arrested and jailed simply for demanding the right to vote. The Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act will memorialize these and many other women who deserve to be recognized in American history.”
Feminists are already celebrating the long overdue and now imminent victory. “This is excellent progress in bringing women’s achievements and stories to light,” Smeal said. “We look forward to watching the project unfold and will be first in line when construction is completed and the museum opens to the public.”