The idea is not new, but it has made its way to the United States Congress, where lawmakers recently passed a bill authorizing a national museum dedicated to women’s history. The initiative is intended to address the under-representation of women in memorials, monuments and museums across the country.
The Smithsonian Women’s History Museum will be established as part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, which already has some 20 museums, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The proposed legislation also includes the creation of a National Museum of Latin American, which “will illuminate the contributions of Latinos to the history of the United States”.
The idea of a women’s history museum has been before Congress since at least 1998, when Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney introduced a bill to explore the idea of creating one. But it wasn’t until 2014 that a congressional commission was created to study the potential for creating an institution dedicated to the contributions of women to the American nation. His conclusions were categorical: it was high time for a museum to tell the stories too often overlooked in school books and national monuments. In fact, only 10% of the statues in the famous National Statuary Hall Collection represent women.
“Most Americans know women like Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks and the stories of how they led the movements for more freedom and equality. But few can name the myriad of adventurers, explorers and innovators in the fields of media, law, fine arts, sports, business, science and technology, who happened to be women – and the museum’s goal will be to make familiar names of these women, ”the commission wrote in its report.
Women’s history museums, still rare
While potential visitors will have a few years to wait for the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum to open, the Smithsonian Institution may already begin to hire staff and decide on the museum’s programming. According to the Washington Post, the new institution will build on the work of the American Women’s History Initiative, which has a mission to “create, educate, disseminate and amplify the historical record of the achievements of American women.” Since its inception in 2018, the American Women’s History Initiative has hosted several exhibitions and conferences on the theme of notable women such as Emily Howland, Georgia O’Keefe, and Janet Echelman.
The Smithsonian Women’s History Museum will have a broad and challenging mission: legislation approved by the Senate states that it must “present the diversity of experiences and perspectives of all women in the United States, reflecting on the elements that distinguish the women of one another while highlighting the experiences that many of these women share. This is not an easy task !
Although institutions dedicated to women’s history are still relatively few in number, there are examples in Ireland, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Mexico. Many take the form of virtual museums, like the Istanbul Women’s Museum or the MUSEA website run by the University of Angers in France.
Header image: Eric Baradat / AFP