America’s national museums cover a whole range of subjects—Air and Space, art of various designations (Asian, African, Portraits), as well as American history. Until now, however, there has been no museum to commemorate the myriad contributions that women have made to the country’s history. The bipartisan commission for the American Museum of Women’s History was created after Congress passed a bill to determine whether the museum was necessary, and if so, how the museum should be created. The commission, whose members come from diverse geographical and professional backgrounds from both sides of the aisle, submitted its report to Congress on November 16 and is currently working on putting its recommendations into practice.
“Women are over-50% of America, yet the exhibits and statues attributing success to women are miniscule, throughout the country,” Jane Abraham, Chairman of the Commission, tells The Creators Project. “Women were part of every decision, every phase… People don’t know the stories of women who actually discovered things or were the first to design innovations.” As the Commission’s website notes, only 8% of the National Historic Landmarks in DC explicitly honor women’s history, and the only woman honored in a memorial or monument on or near the National Mall is Eleanor Roosevelt.
Historical women are widely under-researched, even when their work rivals, or even outperforms their more famous male peers. One example is that of Mary Katherine Goddard, the subject of a VR film by Nonny de la Peña that the council commissioned. Goddard was the first printer of the Declaration of Independence and even signed it. Abraham also cites the example of Sybil Ludington: “She was younger than Paul Revere and rode further than him to warn of the British coming and nobody knows her name. It's that sort of story that would most likely be included.”
To take into account to more diverse perspectives, such as younger people and women of color, the Commission reached out to 16-year-old illustrator and entrepreneur Maya Penn, who created a video explaining some of the Commission’s reasoning. “We want to build the museum of the future, using the the latest technology to make stories about great women in American History come alive for kids like me,” she explains in the piece. The hope is that by creating a museum solely for women’s history, some of these women’s stories can come to light and be more widely known.
But why create a whole separate museum, instead of integrating women’s stories more effectively into existing museums? “The reality is that there's just not enough space to do a complete job,” Abraham explains, while noting that the commission has recommended exactly this strategy as a first step. “A great first phase would be to do a better, more complete job within our existing structures as we move toward an additional museum.”
“I often refer to our art museums,” Abrahams says. “We don't just have one art museum, we have a lot of art museums! There isn't just one set of museums that can house all of history. History is very rich and diverse, and women's history is also.” The report is currently with Congress, where it awaits a bevy of approvals, in the process of deciding where the museum will be located.
To learn more and get involved, visit the American Museum of Women's History Congressional Commission's website.