Support grows for Smithsonian museum of women’s history

Support grows for Smithsonian museum of women’s history
© Greg Nash

Momentum for a museum of women’s history on the National Mall is building, with 198 lawmakers signing on to co-sponsor legislation to create it.

That’s a jump from 150 co-sponsors on June 6, a surge in support that is edging closer to a House majority.

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“I believe that there’s no reason not to support it,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill. “It helps the country, it helps women, and it’s truly bipartisan.”

Maloney took a letter to the White House Thursday asking President Trump, first lady Melania Trump and adviser Ivanka Trump for their backing.

The top Republican sponsor, Rep. Ed Royce (Calif.), said he is encouraging House members from both sides of the aisle to support it.

“We are seeing such a large amount of bipartisan support for this legislation because of how well-planned this effort has been,” he said. “Everyone agrees that our National Mall should include a Smithsonian that tells the story of America’s great female leaders.”

The measure now has 30 GOP co-sponsors. 

Maloney first proposed the museum in 1995 and has been pushing for serious consideration ever since.

The process to build a new Smithsonian museum on the Mall is notoriously slow, as it involves acts of Congress, federal appropriations and coordination with the institution’s Board of Regents.

The newest addition to the Mall, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was first proposed in the 1920s and first given serious consideration in the 1970s.

“We can’t wait such a long time. We need to get it done,” said Maloney.

Unlike the African-American museum, the proposal for the women’s museum doesn’t request federal funding for its construction.

The women’s museum would be built with private funds and then operated within the Smithsonian Institution’s budget.

“The way we wrote the bill is that it would be part of the Smithsonian, but it would be built with private money, which we estimate will be $150 million to $180 million,” said Maloney.

She said being part of the Smithsonian is not only a prestigious honor but helpful in raising money for construction and operating costs.

The National Mall is a national park, and as such it has strict limits on new construction; there are only four locations left on the Mall that could potentially house new museums.

Under the proposed bill, the Board of Regents would choose between two sites: a plot directly across the Mall from the African-American museum and a Senate parking lot near the United States Botanic Garden.

After 1995, Maloney proposed a bill in every legislature until a law was passed in 2014 creating a privately funded commission to study the possibility of a women’s museum.

That commission returned a report in November issuing recommendations on how to move forward, including proposed locations and funding alternatives.

The Smithsonian is launching a $10 million fundraising effort to curate objects in its current collection that are relevant to women’s history.

Some of those objects could join external donations to form the museum’s permanent collection.

“It takes vision, determination and collaboration to see a project like this cross the finish line. Leaders like Carolyn Maloney, Laura Bush and countless others have done an exceptional job of including as many voices as possible in the conversation to build support for a National Women’s History Museum,” said Royce.

The current bill was introduced in March and numbered H.R. 19, in honor of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote when it was ratified in 1920.

If passed, it would provide a roadmap to construction of the museum, which Maloney said would help fill a void in the Smithsonian’s depiction of American history.

“We have to do everything we can to turn this dream into a reality,” she said. “How can we empower the next generation if we don’t tell them the whole story?”