In February, the House of Representatives in the United States voted to pass a bill that will see a new museum constructed in the capital which will be entirely devoted to the history of women. It will occupy a new site on the National Mall in Washington DC which is already home to the National Museum of Natural History, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum as well as relatively new additions, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture which opened in 2016. The proposed new museum will be dedicated to women’s history in the United States and will be part of the Smithsonian Institution.
Above: National Mall (Shutterstock)
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of the new institution will be in the region of $375 million. However, the 350,000 square-foot museum will be able to spread this outlay over a ten year period. In addition, it is expected that some of the pieces that will go on display in the new gallery spaces will be taken from other museums already within the Smithsonian Institution’s orbit. Some artefacts and displays that are devoted to the role of African American women are already on show in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, for example, and there is already a large attraction devoted the aviation pioneer, Amelia Mary Earhart, located in the National Air and Space Museum. It is expected that judicious use of the Smithsonian’s already extensive collections will mean that the overall budget of the new museum can be stuck to.
Changing the Face of History
Linda St. Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution, was keen to stress that the Women’s Museum would only be expecting half of its funding to come from US federal grants and that the rest would be sought in the form of private donations. Despite this assurance, 36 Republican Representatives and one independent from Michigan voted against approving the budget for the museum. Nevertheless, the bill passed by an overwhelming majority with no fewer than 374 Representatives of both parties voting for the measure.
“Women have been omitted from the story of our nation’s history,” said Carolyn Maloney, a Democratic Party Representative from New York. Maloney, who was one of the bill’s sponsors, said that she thought the museum would be about giving all women their rightful place in the history of the United States. Speaking on the floor of the House, she said that it was obvious, due to the lack of national landmarks or historical textbook entries dedicated to women, that the issue needed to be readdressed. “Women and men… deserve to be inspired by the remarkable females who helped to shape this country,” she added.
Susan Brooks, a Republican Representative from Indiana, co-sponsored the bill. She said that once the museum is built, it would enable her children and subsequent generations to more fully comprehend the impact that American women have made on history. While debating the bill, Brooks referred to the record-breaking number of women politicians who had been elected to Congress in the mid-term elections of 2018 which, she argued, meant that members of the Congress should also support the proposal.
While the vote does not guarantee that the museum will go ahead, it is an important step towards making this institution a reality.
Addressing Gender Imbalance
According to the terms of the legislation, the board of the Smithsonian Institution will now have until the summer to propose a site for the new museum on, or near to, the National Mall. In fact, the Smithsonian has already taken some measures to recognise the role of women in US history more fully. For example, in 2017, it established the American Women’s History Initiative at a cost of $2 million. There is also a research and documentation project named ‘Because of Her Story’ that is up and running. However, until the new museum opens its doors to the public, many in America will continue to point out the gender imbalance that is evident when public monuments, museums, art galleries and history books are taken as a whole.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.