As Congress looks to build a museum celebrating influential women in America’s history, conservative women’s groups worry about who will be included in the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) displays.
Last week, the Republican-controlled House voted to create a bipartisan commission to study the feasibility of constructing a building for NWHM, which currently exists online and in an Alexandria, Va., administrative office. The committee will select the museum’s location on or near the National Mall and determine whether or not it affiliates with the Smithsonian.
The measure passed with a bipartisan 383-33 vote and received sponsorship from two women on opposite sides of the House floor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. Not enough is taught about women’s history, they said, including details about how women gained the right to vote less than 100 years ago.
“It is a story everyone should know, how the process of suffragists and their work that carried them from Seneca Falls, New York, to Nashville where you finally saw the ratification of the 19th Amendment,” Blackburn said. “These suffragists, they were conservative women who led this fight for women’s equality.”
Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have already introduced similar legislation in the Senate.
Congress has allowed previous legislation calling for a women’s museum to die at least twice since 2005. The new bill promises to prohibit federal funding for the museum’s creation in order to draw more Republican support. However, Concerned Women for America (CWFA) President Penny Nance said the prohibition applies only to the committee—not the estimated $400 million building cost or its daily operations budget. CWFA petitioned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to vote against the bill, a request he ignored. Only Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., spoke against it.
Some of the museum’s current exhibits have raised red flags for groups like CWFA, which opposes the exhibits’ less-than-bipartisan ideology. Nance fears the museum will skew toward pro-abortion, feminist ideology, depending on the selected historians and board members. The majority of the current board members, Nance said, support leftist ideology: “The crux of the question is whose view is going to be put forward in the museum.”
Although the museum currently highlights a few conservative women like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, it ignores the pro-life views held by many suffragists and even sexual revolutionaries like Victoria Woodhull. It also overwhelmingly features liberal women, like feminists Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger.
While the museum lauds Sanger’s pro-women accomplishments, it fails to address her support for eugenics and sterilization, Nance said in a letter to House Representatives. Sanger once stated, “Birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit [and] of preventing the birth of defectives.” NWHM only mentions that Sanger’s book Women and the New Race respected eugenicists.
Nance worries the museum would give an inaccurate depiction of women’s history in America: “If you’re going to tell history, you need to tell it all.”