U.S. House OKs National Women's History Museum on National Mall; Senate vote sought
While the great women's rights advocates Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (pictured) surely would be proud that the U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to establish a National Women's History Museum in Washington, some, including our art critic, Christopher Knight, worry that the prime federal real estate where it would be built, the National Mall in Washington, is in bad condition and in danger of being overrun by haphazard development.
The bipartisan bill passed on a voice vote; if Senate approval follows, backers of the private, nonprofit museum, aimed at illuminating the social, cultural and historical roles played by American women, would have three years to buy a parcel alongside the mall from the government, and five years to begin construction.
According to the museum's website, it would cost $250 million to $350 million in privately raised funds to build the facility and pay for its first two years of operation. The organization's assets totaled $533,000 at the end of 2008, according to its most recent available federal tax return.
"For the first time in our nation's history, it appears Women will finally have a front row seat on our National Mall," Joan Bradley Wages, the museum's president, said in a statement -- the capital W in "Women" being her own.
The motivation for the current push was spelled out in a 2008 press release by the museum, which has offices in Alexandria, Va., and offers a "CyberMuseum" with several exhibits on its website. The release said:
"NWHM will reclaim the 'missing half" of our nation's history by educating and informing the public on women's many contributions. It will tell the story of 52% of our population through the eyes and reflections of women -- a very different story from that seen through men's eyes.
"Few statues, national parks, or historic sites commemorate women's lives or recognize their contributions to the past. Of the 210 statues in the United States Capitol, only nine are of female leaders. Less than five percent of the 2,400 national historic landmarks chronicle women's achievement and, according to a recent survey of 18 history textbooks, only 3% are dedicated to women."
The bid to start a national women's history museum began in 1996; two Senate votes in 2003 and 2005 OK'd turning the annex behind the 1899 Old Post Office building in the capital into a museum, but the measure stalled in the House.
Also on the horizon in mall-bound and mall-coveting museums: the Smithsonian's already approved National Museum of African American History and Culture, now in its design phase, and the National Museum of the American Latino, for which a congressional commission is expected to complete a feasibility study within a year.
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Credit: Associated Press.