Should National Mall include women’s history museum?

December 11, 2013
A statue of suffragettes Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the U.S. Capitol. (Courtesy of National Women's History Museum).
A statue of suffragettes Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the U.S. Capitol. (Courtesy of National Women’s History Museum).

A House panel on Wednesday plans to consider development of a women’s history museum at the National Mall, a concept that has languished for 17 years due to lack of funding and setbacks in Congress.

The House Administration Committee is scheduled to hear testimony from Joan Bradley Wages, president and CEO of a nonprofit group that has raised money and lobbied for the project since the late 1990s.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) has sponsored legislation that would create a commission to recommend plans for the museum and report on questions related to including costs, potential sites, a governing structure and whether the facility should be part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Wages’ group, known as the National Women’s History Museum, ran into trouble last year after a Huffington Post investigation uncovered possible conflicts of interest and mismanagement.

The group, which survives on donations, had awarded contracts to a direct mailing business run by Ann E.W. Stone, the organization’s former vice president. It has since canceled the contracts, and Stone, who now holds the title of secretary, does the work free of charge.

“Things are better than back on track,” Wages said in an interview Tuesday. “We’re moving ahead. The challenge is getting 535 members of Congress to agree.”

The National Women’s History Museum said it plans to hire a female architect for the project. She would become the first woman to design a museum on the National Mall, the group said.

Two bills that would have advanced plans for the museum passed with bipartisan support in one chamber of Congress only to stall in the other during recent years.

In one example, a 2010 measure died after Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) threatened to place a hold on the legislation. They said the organizers had raised little money and the new museum would duplicate other museums that already receive federal funding.

Wages said earlier this year that her group estimates that a national women’s history museum would cost about $400 million to create, while the commission to study the matter would run $1 million, according to a Post article.

National Women’s History Museum started in 1996, with its first official project being to move a statue of suffragettes Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony from the Capitol crypt to the facility’s Rotunda, according to the group’s Web site. The organization raised $85, ooo for that endeavor, and the monument was moved to the desired location on Mothers’ Day in 1997.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail with news tips and other suggestion.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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