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House Administration Explores Creation of Women’s History Museum

With a record 101 women serving in Congress, the National Women’s History Museum is hoping to finally bring to fruition its dream of a permanent home on the National Mall.

In 1997, a group of women successfully pushed to transfer a monument to suffragettes Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony from the Capitol Crypt to the Capitol Rotunda.

They faced ample resistance from Congress and began circulating an “All the Excuses Fit to Print” newsletter to mobilize their efforts to honor the nation’s foremothers alongside its forefathers.

Moving the 7-ton statue “out of the basement and into the living room of the Capitol” took five years of perseverance, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney said Wednesday, describing the early victory for the group behind the National Women’s History Museum.

The New York Democrat offered the story as one example of “how hard it is to get anything done related to women,” during a House Administration Committee hearing on a bill that would establish a commission to study the potential creation of a National Women’s History Museum.

Various versions of the legislation, which would task an eight-person bipartisan commission with figuring out a location and fundraising plan for a Washington, D.C.-based museum, have passed both the House and the Senate, but never during the same Congress.

“The legacies of women who paved the way before us and helped shape our nation deserve to be preserved and shared with our citizens,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who worked with Maloney to draft the bill and testified in favor of the privately funded vision for the museum.

About $12 million has been raised for the effort, according to the National Women’s History Museum, which currently exists as a nonprofit with no physical home. Construction would likely cost $400 million to $500 million, with an annual operating cost of almost $20 million, estimated Joan Wages, president and CEO of the organization.

“We have a fundraising plan that if you passed this bill today, we could start working tomorrow,” Wages promised, describing phone calls with women nearing retirement who would be interested in donating to the cause as part of their legacies.

House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., expressed enthusiasm for the museum’s concept and its private funding model, calling it “the right approach” in an environment of budget constraints.

In addition to funding, the commission would also explore governance. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., questioned whether the National Women’s History Museum would be interested in joining the Smithsonian Institution, which has added two major facilities to its collection in the past decade. If the women’s museum joined those 19 museums, it would have major repercussions on its structure, collections management and finances.

Wages said she would be happy to discuss an “opportunity to become part of the Smithsonian family” but emphasized that the group is still aiming to be privately funded. They would like to have free admission, like the Smithsonian museums, but those details have yet to be worked out, Wages explained to CQ Roll Call.

Miller wanted to know if the group, which has targeted the National Mall as its desired location, would consider locations farther away from the choice real estate. She mentioned the soon-to-be-vacant FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest and extra space available for lease in the Government Printing Office’s North Capitol Street building as two potential spots.

Wages tied that question back to the suffragettes.

Women earned the right to vote after the group that will be honored in the National Mall’s next addition — the National Museum of African American History and Culture — so, by her logic, “the last spot is just being saved for us.”

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