News & Politics

A Women’s History Museum May Come to the Mall

A Congressional commission recommends adding a new museum to the Smithsonian.

A "Rosie the Riveter" working on a dive bomber in Tennessee in 1943. Photo via the Library of Congress.

After nearly two years of deliberation and just over a week after the nation did not elect its first woman president, the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the American Museum of Women’s History presented a proposal to Congress Tuesday that a new Smithsonian museum be erected in honor of our nation’s collective female history. The commission is sponsored by Senators Susan Collins and Barbara Mikulski and Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Marsha Blackburn. Representative Maloney says it’s “the first ever digital report to Congress” and you can explore it here.

In its official recommendation, the Commission suggests that such a museum be created as a formal member of the Smithsonian Institution, noting that “the brand and reputation [would] bring credibility” to the venture. To that end they specifically ask that admission be free, as it is for all other Smithsonian museums.

“America needs and deserves a physical national museum dedicated to showcasing the historical experiences and impact of women in this country,” writes the Commission. Its executive summary outlines a ten-year strategic plan to showcase the diverse experiences of women throughout the country and tackle controversial issues with various points of view.

First things first: The Commission recommends a national outreach plan that would use focus groups to “capture the breadth of diverse experiences and rich stories across geographical, cultural and economic strata,” and the creation of a “Smithsonian-wide initiative called the American Women’s History Initiative” that would act as the de facto spine of the museum before a brick-and-mortar building is created. They would bring on 12-18 scholars of women’s history to aid in planning.

Next steps include a search for leading female architects and landscape designers to “play prominent roles in the creation of the living Museum,” and the creation of the building itself.

Of course, private fundraising and the allotment of federal funding will play a huge role in whether or not such a space is even considered. The Commission estimates that it will need $150 to $180 million dollars from the private sector and asks that 75% of capital campaign fund be raised “prior to any construction.”

But where would it go? The Commission wants the museum on the National Mall, despite earlier indications that the Mall was no longer open to new building. The Commission has three preferred locations: south Monument site (which mirrors the National Museum of African American History and Culture), northwest US Capitol site (which mirrors the US Botanical Gardens), and the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building. The last option has one specific caveat; it is a suggested location “should Congress and the Smithsonian not move forward in officially designating this site […] as the future home of a Smithsonian Latino-American museum.”

After a rough week for a lot of women in this country, there just might be good news ahead.

This article has been updated to include a digital version of the report.

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Web Producer/Writer

Rosa joined Washingtonian in 2016 after graduating from Mount Holyoke College. She covers arts and culture for the magazine. She’s written about anti-racism efforts at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, dinosaurs in the revamped fossil hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and the horrors of taking a digital detox. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.

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