How long must women wait?

How long must women wait?
© Getty Images

The women were determined, motivated, unwavering. They descended on Washington in droves to join a daily picket line outside the White House. They stood silently in an effort to force President Woodrow Wilson to support an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote. They held placards asking, “Mr. President, what will you do for Woman Suffrage?” and “How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?” As the president drove by, he tipped his hat at the protesters.

Many were arrested and jailed. Some went on hunger strikes and force-fed through feeding tubes while imprisoned — all for the equality they had yet to achieve and the progress they sought to protect. The pickets began in January 1917 and continued until President Wilson finally endorsed the suffrage amendment in 1918. Women achieved the right to vote in 1920 with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment — 144 years after our country’s founding.

ADVERTISEMENT
These courageous women did not give up. They confronted every obstacle. They fought for what they earned and deserved as Americans. Our history is replete with milestone moments such as these, moments in which women made history as suffragists, as scientists, as entrepreneurs and as activists.

 

We don’t lack women who make history — but we do lack the concerted effort to commemorate the history they made. Beyond the reality that women still have much to achieve in terms of full equality, there lies the challenge that America has much to achieve in terms of properly memorializing and educating future generations about women’s accomplishments.

The absence of women as role models is astonishing. The National Women’s History Museum — an online educational organization with a goal of building a world-class museum on the National Mall — has issued a report, “Where are the Women?: A Report on the Status of Women in the United States,” that examines the status of women’s history in state-level social studies standards. Learning standards describe what states expect students to know and be able to do at specific stages of education. The report finds that women’s experiences and stories are not well integrated into U.S. state history standards. The lack of representation and context in state-level materials implies that women's history is not important.

But women aren’t left out of just the classroom. Of the 100 statues in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, only nine are women. Only 3 percent of the members of Congress who have served since 1789 are women, and only 32 of the Fortune 500 companies have women at the helm today.

And yet again, we tell women — more than half our nation’s population — they must wait. The Smithsonian Institution has said it is “not in a position to initiate any new museums in the near future.” But, it can “accomplish the goals of a museum” with the Women’s History Initiative — the Smithsonian’s effort to elevate the profile of women and their contributions. Adding a few curators and interns is hardly enough to ensure we include women in the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers and more than 180 affiliates. That definitely does not “accomplish the goals of a museum.” Anything short of a physical museum on the National Mall continues to underrate, undervalue and under-recognize women’s roles, contributions and accomplishments to our country.

For more than two decades, a group of women and men from all walks of life has worked with Congress and others to build a physical museum — a place where men and women, boys and girls can go to expand their understanding of women’s roles and leave with a complete view of American history. In March 2017, Reps. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyNew York Rep. Maloney endorses Gillibrand for president Pelosi says impeaching Trump 'just not worth it' Dems feel growing pressure on impeachment MORE (D-N.Y.) and Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceFormer GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lawmakers propose banning shark fin trade Bottom Line MORE (R-Calif.) introduced H.R. 19, the Women’s History Museum Act with 251 cosponsors. And last June, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' MORE (R-Maine) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGOP lawmaker offers constitutional amendment capping Supreme Court seats at 9 Overnight Energy: Judge halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change | Dems demand details on Interior's offshore drilling plans | Trump mocks wind power Dem senators demand offshore drilling info before Bernhardt confirmation hearing MORE (D-Calif.) followed with S. 1498, the American Women’s History Museum Act with 11 cosponsors. Such a museum would inspire all to see that there are no obstacles to becoming whatever they want to be.

We support a strong public-private partnership that ensures the museum takes its place among the other great museums in Washington. We advocated for the legislation to create a physical museum and are ready to work with others to raise private funds to build it. The National Women’s History Museum recommends a 200,000- to 250,000-square-foot building — similar to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian — with an anticipated cost of $400 million for building, staging, two years of operating costs, and an endowment.

In the wake of the #MeToo, #TimesUp and #PressForProgress movements, women’s voices are finally being heard. Following in the footsteps of our suffragist sisters more than 100 years ago, we now ask Congress how long must women wait for a National Women’s History Museum that tells our stories and gives women the respect they earned and deserve for their contributions to our country?  We believe we have waited long enough. Our time is now.

Susan D. Whiting is board chair for the National Women’s History Museum, a trustee for the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, The Trust for Public Land, and Denison University. She is the former vice chair of Nielsen and a board director for Alliant Energy, Kemper Insurance, and Hyde Park Angels. A cousin of Susan B. Anthony, she is passionate about education and history.