If approved, the American Museum of Women’s History (AMWH) will be the 21st Smithsonian Museum to be erected on the mall in Washington, DC. After two years of working tirelessly gathering data and conducting surveys, the privately funded bipartisan AMWH Congressional Commission submitted their official report to Congress on November 16, 2016 recommending the construction and creation of a museum dedicated to women’s history. The Congressional Commission stated: “America needs and deserves a physical national museum dedicated to showcasing the historical experiences and impact of women in this country.”
After some deliberation, the Commission concluded that American Museum of Women’s History must be a part of the Smithsonian Institution. They believed it would be an insult to women’s history and women across the nation if it was not included. The Smithsonian Institution’s brand and reputation would be vital in providing credibility to the enterprise. Furthermore, the Smithsonian could not be more in favor of welcoming the American Museum of Women’s History into their fold. According to Wendy Pangburn, the Executive Director of the Congressional Commission, the leadership of the Smithsonian, including the secretary Dr. David Skorton, readily agreed that the Smithsonian was falling short of showcasing women’s contribution in American history and wanted to remedy that.
Although the government would need to donate land for the site of the museum, the construction would be privately funded. With the partnership of the national fundraising consulting firm, Odell, Simms & Lynch (OSL), the Congressional Commission said they would be able to raise 150 to 160 million dollars from the private sector. Wendy Pangburn speculates that they will even exceed that goal.
When it comes to fortitude and fundraising, the female leadership of the AMWH Congressional Commission is not to be underestimated. Unlike the Congressional Commissions of the National Museum of African American History and Culture & the National Asian Pacific Museum who each received a grant of 3 million dollars from the government, the AMWH Congressional Commission didn’t receive any financial aid. Instead of letting their disappointment drag them down, the women of the Congressional Commission of AMWH used creative strategies to overcome this challenge and procure the funds necessary to produce a quality report to Congress. In fact, they are the first Congressional Committee of its kind to deliver a hard and digital copy of their report to Congress.
In their executive summary, the Congressional Committee outlines a ten year strategic plan to develop a highly modernized and comprehensive museum devoted to showcasing the diverse experiences of women throughout U.S history. Although there are women themed exhibits in locations across the US, there has never been a museum of this scope dedicated to centralizing and collecting the material culture of women’s lives from different time-periods, backgrounds and professions.
The American Museum of Women’s History will strive to make a permanent collection that not only reflects women of all colors, but as well as women in all professions. “Most Americans know of women like Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks and the stories of how they led the movements for greater freedom and equality. But few can name the myriad adventurers, explorers and innovators in media, law, fine arts, sports, business, and science and technology, who happened to be women — and the Museum’s goal will be to make those women household names,” writes the Commission. For instance, many may be surprised the discover that a woman invented the first windshield wipers and the first safety devise for textile looms.
Under the expertise of the Smithsonian, the Commission feels confident that the American Museum of Women’s History will successfully and objectively address controversial subjects by ensuring that all ideological viewpoints are presented. Furthermore, the Congressional Commission wants the museum to use the latest technological inventions to create a multi-dimensional and “distinct multi-sensory experience for its visitors.”
There are three prospective sites in Washington, DC for the American Museum of Women’s History that meet the criteria set forth by the Commission. One location is called the “South Monument Site” that would would mirror the site of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. The other location, called the “Northwest U.S Capitol Site”, essentially mirrors the United States Botanical Gardens. And the third location that they recommend would be the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, should Congress and the Smithsonian not move forward with designating this site for the Smithsonian Latino-American Museum.
If the Commission’s 10 year plan is put into motion, the American Museum of History will be complete by 2026. In the first couple of years, a Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative would hire 12-18 scholars of women’s history to aid in the planning. Next, they would find female architects and landscape designers to lead in the construction and design of the museum.
As gender-issues and women’s rights gain more national attention, the construction of the American Museum of Women’s History could not come at a more pivotal moment. We need a national museum in the center of our nation’s capital to tell the unsung stories of American women and their contribution to this country. Wendy Pangburn said it beautifully: “This museum is needed because the stories of women are just not being told. Only 10% of American history textbooks include stories of women. History, in general, does a bad job talking about women contributions. And we want to fix that.”