In 2018, 103 women were elected or re-elected to the House of Representatives. Many refer to this as “The Year of the Woman” due to its record breaking numbers. Among these powerful women is Carolyn Maloney, Democratic Representative of New York. She is, and has been, spearheading the movement of establishing a Women’s History Museum designed to focus on the various contributions women have made throughout history. On Tuesday, February 11th, the house passed Bill H.R.19: Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act with a landslide vote.
The American Museum of Women’s History Congressional Commission is responsible for this. Though it comes as little surprise that such a bill would pass in a Democratic-Majority House, there were high levels of bipartisan support. The bill passed 347-37, with 36 Republicans and 1 Independent voting against the creation of the museum. Among the main supporters of this bill are Representative Maloney (D-NY), Representative Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Representative Lawrence (D-MI), and Representative Norton (D-DC).
The museum is set to be part of the Smithsonian, with a location on the National Mall, consisting of existing exhibits at museums such as African American, Air and Space, and American History, as well as exhibits never seen before. As for finances, it is estimated to cost $375 million dollars over the span of roughly 10 years for the 350,000 square foot proposed building. However, it may come as a relief to many that the construction is set to be private funding, while operations, planning, and design will be federally funded.
This was not an overnight mission so to speak. In fact, Maloney first proposed legislation in 1998, beginning a 16 year fight to establish a committee centered around the creation of a women’s history museum. In 2014, alongside Representative Blackburn (R-TN), Senator Milkulski (D-MD), and Senator Collins (R-ME), the American Museum of Women’s History Congressional Commission was founded. The Commission sent out a report with their proposal in 2016, and now, as of last week, it has passed in the House.
The bill must travel to the Republican-Majority Senate before construction and planning can take place. Many are worried that the importance of this museum will be lost in the shuffle of the costs, but Maloney expresses the many reasons as to why we, as a country, need this. For starters, she, amongst others, want to demonstrate to the civilians of this country, and civilians worldwide that the United States values and appreciates women. She brings attention to how “No comprehensive museum anywhere in the U.S. is dedicated to the full story of women’s history” and how only 5% of all the national monuments are in honor of women.
Time and time again textbooks exclude and disregard the contributions of women to our history. This is why a space that can aid in celebrating women, educating the masses, and promoting future equality and betterment is of the utmost importance. However, it will continue to be a fight, this is just a step in the right direction. Last March, Senator Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Collins (R-ME) proposed a similar bill to the Senate, but it has yet to leave the Republican chambers. The African American Museum, the latest addition of the Smithsonian was approved in 2003, but took until 2016 for opening. Yet, women are using their voices more now than ever in the House. One of the 293 bipartisan co-sponsors is Representative Brooks (R-IN), and she states that the addition to the Smithsonian would ensure that “future generations understand the impact of our women.” This bipartisan support demonstrates that the polarization of America’s politics can be put on hold at least long enough to better gender inequality, and continue pushing for the rights and voices of many. Hopefully this attitude and activism will hold up in the Senate and continue in the upcoming election.