Bills to Establish a Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Introduced in Congress

Bills proposing a new Smithsonian Institution museum that would highlight the contributions of women throughout U.S. history were introduced in both chambers of Congress on March 28.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ten Republicans and 16 Democrats cosponsored the proposed legislation in the House, among them were Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). One senator, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), cosponsored the upper chamber’s bill.

The establishment of the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum will bring to light the untold stories of women in U.S. history, Maloney wrote in a March 28 news release.

“The U.S. needs and deserves a comprehensive women’s history museum that will inspire men and women of all ages and for future generations,” Maloney wrote. “For too long, women who have made extraordinary contributions to our nation have been left out of the telling of our history.”

While the Smithsonian supports the idea of a women’s history museum, the institution does not currently have the necessary resources to create the museum, according to Linda St. Thomas, chief spokesperson for the Smithsonian.

“We support the idea behind it, which is to tell the stories of women in American history that have been sometimes overlooked or not brought out as much as we think it should be,” St. Thomas said in an interview with The Hoya. “However, as much as we agree with the ideas behind this new museum, we are not able to deal with new building right now.”

The Smithsonian is focused on two ongoing renovation plans, a $650 million project to overhaul the Air and Space Museum and an effort to remove mold and renovate the Smithsonian Institution Building, commonly known as the Smithsonian Castle, according to St. Thomas. The renovation project planned for the Air and Space Museum is set to be completed in the next six years and will also feature new exhibits.

Despite not having a separate museum on women’s history, the Smithsonian has developed exhibits and programs that are dedicated to the topic, St. Thomas said.

“You have exhibitions, programs, Votes for Women, a new exhibition that opened about suffrage at the Portrait Gallery and a book that’s coming out,” St. Thomas said. “So, we have a lot of programs and activities about women’s history and focused on women, but not a building.”

A legislative push for the museum comes after a bipartisan congressional commission was formed in December 2014 to determine the necessity, feasibility and potential content of the museum. The commission unanimously concluded that a women’s history museum was needed by the American people in a report to Congress in November 2016.

The national women’s history museum would recognize the past achievements of American women, Collins wrote in a March 29 news release.

“American women have made invaluable contributions to our country in every field, such as government, business, medicine, law, literature, sports, entertainment, the arts, and the military,” Collins wrote. “Telling the history of American women matters, and a museum recognizing these achievements and experiences is long overdue.”

Creation of the bipartisan commission followed similar legislative efforts in the 114th Congress led by Collins and Maloney along with former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who now serves as one of the senators for Tennessee.

The last museum created by the Smithsonian, the African American History Museum, was completed in 2016 after a 13-year process sparked by similar legislation proposed the museum’s construction.

Should the bill pass Congress and be signed by President Donald Trump, the museum would need new legislation to determine funding and appropriations for the museum. After the bill passes, the Smithsonian could then begin planning for the museum’s location and eventual construction, according to St. Thomas.

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