Blog Posts, Culture and Politics

The Washington Post’s She The People: National Women’s History Museum Deserves a Place on the National Mall

The Washington Post’s She The People, May 10, 2012

If only it were possible this Mother’s Day …

I would thank Sojourner Truth and Harriett Tubman for their work in the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements of their time.

I would thank Susan B. Anthony and Victoria Woodhull for their dedication to women’s suffrage and strong opposition to violence against women.

I would thank Madam C.J. Walker for her work as a businesswoman, black hair care entrepreneur and philanthropist.

I would thank Anne C. H. Green, who fought for and won equal pay after succeeding her husband as publisher of the Maryland Gazette.

I would thank Estelle Griswold for her storied role in obtaining legal recognition of the right to privacy in the use of contraception.

There are thousands of phenomenal women who have changed the course of history and of our lives, and they deserve a place where they can be honored not only on Mother’s Day but every day of the year.

 It was on Mother’s Day 15 years ago that the suffrage statue of  Lucretia  Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony was moved from its hidden space in the U.S. Capitol basement to the Rotunda. These three women initiated and then led the battle to enfranchise America’s women, who make up over half of the population.

The successful effort to relocate the statue was led by the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM), on whose board of directors I sit. NWHM raised the funds to cover the cost and put together a coalition of women’s organizations to generate public support to move the statue out of its 76-year confinement in the Capitol basement.  In 1997, the statue was finally moved to the Capitol rotunda.  Today, more than 4 million visitors a year to the Rotunda can see this monument.

This Mother’s Day is the time for the next step to be taken.  Once again, the NWHM is leading the way.

Since its founding in 1996, the museum has raised millions of dollars used in its educational efforts, and established an endowment which will help launch the effort to build a museum on or near the Mall in Washington, D.C.

NWHM has also created an online museum with exhibits showcasing women’s contributions and history (complete with lesson plans for teachers); developed a grass-roots network of 46 leading national women’s service and professional organizations reaching more than 8.5 million people; attracted more than 50,000 charter members;  established an honorary board of directors composed of more than 200 members of the U.S. Congress and past and present members of the Cabinet; and set up a National Scholars Council (NSC) and a Scholars Advisory Committee (SAC).  These scholars help build important relationships between the museum and the academic community and advise on current and future exhibits.

NWHM’s public education effort is beginning to fill the void about women’s history by disseminating information and programs through multimedia educational materials, publications and the Online Museum.   Annually, the Museum distributes more than 5 million pieces of mail, which include historical information and educational materials about women’s history as well as fundraising appeals.  In addition, four traveling exhibits and one permanent exhibit have been created in locations in Virginia, the District of Columbia  and New York.  The highly rated Online Museum had more than 1.7 million hits in the past year.   There are 45,000 links to the museum Web site from educational institutions at all levels, including universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Rutgers.  Many teachers download lesson plans provided on the Web site.

It’s time for the National Women’s History Museum to have a physical home in our nation’s capital.   Washington is a city of symbols —  it is where we as a nation show what we honor.  We should honor the achievements of American women and women around the world.  This museum will be a beacon to the world.

Many of the same issues that impacted the lives of our foremothers continue today. We must honor the lives of our nation’s foremothers and never forget that despite the many gains we have made as women, the struggle continues.

It would make for a wonderful and most fitting Mother’s Day tribute if the NWHM received congressional approval to build a permanent home on the Mall.  The legacy of all of the contributions women have made to our nation and the world should be honored and reflected in such a museum.

Michelle D. Bernard is president and chief executive of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy and is a member of the board of directors of the National Women’s History Museum.  Follow her on Twitter @michellebernard.

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