A Women's History Museum Might Be Coming to the National Mall...But What Would Be Inside?

A women's history museum on the National Mall. Could it happen? The House Administration Committee has agreed to hear testimony from non-profit group National Women’s History Museum, who have been lobbying for the project since the 1990s. There has been little progress on the project, largely due to issues with funding and Congressional approval, but maybe this is a sign things might finally be ready to move forward.

It raises the question, though, of what a National Women's History Museum might look like. One would assume suffragettes will be included, along with their notable leaders such as Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul. One could also expect notable women of color and Civil Rights heroes such as Harriet Tubman or Rosa Parks, people everyone can agree fought the good fight.

But what about women who led the more controversial fight for birth control, such as Margaret Sanger? What would be such a museum's take on the sexual revolution or the feminist movements of the 1970s? What about transwomen or women who fight for gay rights? And would the museum include information about the issues that women still face today, such as high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence or the continuing wage gap?

And then, of course, there is the question of perspective. As Andrea Smith has pointed out, "If one were to develop a feminist history centering Native women, feminist history in this country would start in 1492 with the resistance to patriarchal colonization." So how exactly will "Women's History" be framed in the National Mall, assuming this project ever gets off the ground? When will it start and with whom?

Looking at the online exhibits available on the National Women's History Museum's website is somewhat encouraging. They include everything from "Women in Industry" to "Clandestine Women: Spies in American History" to exhibits such as "Chinese American Women: A History of Resilience and Resistance" and "Claiming Their Citizenship: African American Women 1624-2009." Not completely inclusive, perhaps, but these all sound like exhibits I would want to visit. No sign of birth control, transwomen, or lesbians, but then again, they are hoping to get this project approved by Congress. Still, a girl can dream of so-called "radical" feminism highlighted on the National Mall.

Currently Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation to create a commission that would explore the costs and evaluate potential sites for the museum. Should it pass, the National Women's History Museum says they would want to hire a female architect to design the building, who would therefore become the first woman to design a museum on the National Mall.

Image: Ron Cogswell/flickr