After 20 years, National Women’s History Museum still seeking bricks-and-mortar home


The Portrait Monument sits in the Capitol Rotunda and features suffragettes Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. (Courtesy National Women's History Museum)

The first official act in what became the National Women’s History Museum was to help get the statue of suffragettes Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony moved from the Capitol crypt to the Capitol Rotunda in 1997.

Some of those involved in that effort decided to try to secure a permanent place for women’s history on the Mall. The National Women’s History Museum was incorporated in 1997 “with the mission to bring women’s history back to our mainstream,” says Joan Wages, a founding board member and president of the National Women’s History Museum since 2007.

That effort is nearly 20 years old. Legislation to study the museum’s feasibility has never passed both houses of Congress. Wages says supporters are still advocating, raising money and spreading the word.

Legislation

In the past decade, bills to study the feasibility of the National Women’s History Museum have passed the House and the Senate, but never in the same session. Measures to establish a privately funded congressional commission to explore possible museum sites were introduced to the House and the Senate in February. Seventeen of the 20 women in the Senate co-sponsored the bill.

Funding

Wages won’t give exact figures on how much has been raised. The commission to study the museum’s feasibility is expected to cost $1 million. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is set to open on the Mall in 2015, is costing an estimated $500 million, but “they are a bigger museum than what we’ve anticipated. We’re hoping we could do it for $400 million,” Wages says. They won’t have a good estimate until they identify the possible land, or an existing building. There are more than 50,000 museum members across the country, but “the really big gifts will not come until we have the site. Until there’s bricks and mortar, or solid ground that we can point to,” Wages says.

Programs

Upcoming lectures in partnership with George Washington University include women in the military Nov. 12 and women in sports in February. An Oct. 9 fundraising gala will honor opera singer Denyce Graves, actress Phylicia Rashad, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and Etta Pisano, a pioneer in radiology and breast imaging.

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