museum dedicated to African Americans is currently rising on the Mall's front yard, Martin Luther King got one, Eisenhower's is on the way, and Latinos are vying for one as well, why not a women’s history museum? There is a coalition of folks who’ve been agitating for just that since 1996. Having built a comprehensive website and an administrative office in Alexandria, little by little, they’re making some headway in moving to DC’s federal heart.
“We previously had legislation that did identify a site, but it then came on our radar that there’s another site on the National Mall,” explained Joan Wages, the museum’s president and CEO. “To consider that site, we need Congress to form a commission to study this.” Of course, she admits, “getting something through Congress is a major hurdle. But we’re working with Maloney and Collins’ staff now to see if there’s any way we could get something through the lame duck session or during the first part of next year.”
Wages declined to describe the plot she and the museum’s board have identified, though she did say it’s located on the south side of the Mall. According to Carol Johnson, a spokeswoman for the National Parks Service, the Mall is currently considered "a finished work of art"--publicity about the African American museum touts it as getting the last available spot on the Mall--but that can be overriden by Congress.
The originally-proposed site was at 12th and Independence Avenue, across from the Freer Gallery, but was less than ideal: the spot has a road running directly through it, requiring a building to arch over the roadway and mandating a number of tricky permits.
Eventual plans are fairly ambitious. The concept, said Wages, would be “a world class museum—I think we’d be looking at 200,000 square feet and up.” As for content, she laughed. “There’s hundreds of years of women’s history. I think there’ll be plenty to put in there.”
Supporters are also closely watching other museums’ strategies; after all, the African American museum also started out as a grassroots movement that took decades to reach fruition.
In the meantime, museum staff are building out the website, which is currently running 22 virtual exhibits about women’s history, such as “First but not the Last: Women who Ran for President.” There’s no shortage of topics, said Wages, adding, “Women’s history is virtually left out of history textbooks today.”
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