Will Washington finally get a women’s history museum?

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A record number of women serving in Congress gives project’s chances a boost

By Julia Halperin. Web only
Published online: 28 March 2014

Meryl Streep personally pledged $1m to the planned museum last year. Photo: Annie Liebovitz

A long-stalled campaign to build a national museum for women’s history in Washington, DC, has gained new momentum. Key elected officials, including Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader of the House of Representatives, and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader, pledged their support this week for legislation to help create the museum.

The bill’s list of cosponsors has nearly doubled in the past four months, to 85, and a vote is expected to take place later this year. A record number of women serving in Congress—98, up from 91 last year and 24 in 1983—also gives the legislation’s chances of success a boost.

The latest version of the bill is designed to calm the complaints of Republicans, who blocked an earlier proposal in 2010 because they feared a new museum would cost taxpayers too much money. The estimated $500m institution will be financed entirely through private funds; a non-profit organisation started to raise money for the museum has already collected $18m, according to The New York Times, and the actress Meryl Streep personally pledged $1m last year. But the project still needs Congressional approval to be built on federal land in downtown Washington, DC.

Although a number of American museums are devoted to women’s accomplishments, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which was founded in 1987, none addresses women’s broader role in American history, according to the bill’s co-sponsors, the Democrat Carolyn Maloney and the Republican Marsha Blackburn. There are other gaps, too: of the 210 statues in the US Capitol building, only 15 are of female leaders, according to Maloney, while fewer than 10% of the 2,400 national historic landmarks chronicle women’s achievements.

“They say women hold up half the sky, but where do you find it? It is not in the history books. It is not in the museums. It is nowhere to be found,” Maloney said last year during her Congressional testimony. “There is a woman who rode longer and farther than Paul Revere, and nobody even knows her name. Let’s build this museum and talk about her contributions, too.”

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