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House passes bill to build women’s history museum on National Mall

She Builds

House passes bill to build women’s history museum on National Mall

HR1980 supports building a national women’s history museum in Washington, D.C. (Liz Lemon/Flickr)

A Smithsonian museum dedicated to women’s history in the United States is closer to becoming a reality. The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill last week that would allow the build-out of a national women’s history museum on or near the National Mall in Washington, D.C

According to HR1980, two potential sites are up for consideration: One by the Senate and Capitol buildings, and one closer to the Washington Monument and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The bill’s sponsors, Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Brian Fitzpatrick, Brenda Lawrence, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, won support for the project across both sides of the aisle in the House, gaining approval in a 374-37 vote. 

“For too long, women’s history has been left out of the telling of our nation’s history,” the sponsors wrote in a statement. “Today, the House of Representatives took an important first step to change that. Women are part of every American moment, and their contributions should be recognized and celebrated.” 

Maloney, a Democrat from New York’s 12th district who now heads up the House Oversight and Reform Committee, has spent over two decades trying to get a bill in motion for such a museum. In 2014, she helped formulate legislation that allowed the creation of a congressional commission to study the idea of a museum about women’s history. She later introduced a similar bill to HR1980 that ultimately did not make it to the House floor in 2017.

national museum of african american history facade as seen from above
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (foreground) was built in 2016 after a decades-long fight to pass legislation for its construction in Congress. (Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC)

The last Smithsonian museum to be inaugurated on the National Mall was the Adjaye Associates-designed NMAAHC in 2016. If the timeline of that project is any indication, a women’s history museum might not break ground for several years once a companion bill is passed in the Senate. The NMAAHC took four years to build; eight years to begin construction after legislation was passed in Congress, and over 20 years after the proposal was first introduced on the House floor. 

It’s unclear just how long the journey from bill to building will be, but what is clear is that there will reportedly be a larger push than ever this year for the museum due to the upcoming presidential election and this summer’s centennial celebration of women’s suffrage in the United States. Many believe a project like this is long overdue.

According to CBS, Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) was the only woman in the House that voted against the bill last week, saying she “believes women’s accomplishments deserve to be honored in an equal manner, alongside those of men.” Other critics have cited concerns over whether the museum would be truly inclusive and whether or not it would show both sides of women’s issues such as abortion rights, though a section of HR1980 clearly states that curators will take steps to ensure “diversity of political viewpoints in exhibits and programs.”

Senators Susan Collins and Dianne Feinstein are sponsoring a similar bill, which will soon come online in the Senate. If also passed, the next question over the museum’s future will revolve around funding. As part of the Smithsonian Institution, the project would be paid for via a combination of federal funds and private donations, as well as grants from philanthropic foundations.