The National Women’s History Museum isn’t even a museum.
How is that possible? On Saturday I attended L.A.’s “Women Making History” Brunch to support and bring awareness to this museum’s heroic efforts to be recognized on the Mall in Washington D.C. Whenever I attend events like this I try to do my homework beforehand: I pulled the website and scanned the list of trustees, board members, honorary board members and ambassadors to see how they are raising awareness and funds for the museum. While doing so I was stunned… The NWHM isn’t a museum yet. (more importantly, I was embarrassed that I wasn’t aware of this fact). During the brunch the hosts showed a video featuring the hilarious duo Frangela, who wryly made the same observation. Turns out I was in good company. Among the professionals, documentary film makers, actresses and writers that I met this weekend, many were unaware of the fact that a quiet political battle was being fought to break ground on an important historical cultural institution.
The Mission of the National Women’s History Museum is to “educate, inspire, empower, and shape the future of women by integrating our distinctive history into the culture and history of the United States”. This got me thinking about how poor my knowledge of Women’s History is. I grew up going to very conservative schools where African-American and Women’s History were completely ignored in my textbooks. In college I became a sponge making up for lost time by learning and embracing my history as an African-American, but I never gave significant thought to the fact that I hadn’t done the same with Women’s History. Sadly in the 25 years since I’ve graduated from High School, not much has improved. In fact, only 10% of the historic figures represented in history textbooks are women, despite women comprising 51% of the population.
While this disparity is daunting it need not be debilitating. I am encouraged by the inroads the STEM community has taken to reach out to girls and encourage them to explore careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. While our girls need to be encouraged that they CAN do whatever they want, they also need to be shown that they DID. They need to know about those that paved the way like Grace Murray Hopper, the creator of one of the earliest computing programming languages, COBOL, or 30’s Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr who had a surprising side hustle of creating anti-jamming communications technology that served as a conceptual foundation for WI-FI (enabling wireless communication technology used today).
Back to the museum.
In order for a museum to be built on the National Mall, it must pass through Congress. For the NWHM to even be considered, a commission must be formed to establish site specifications, organizational governance, operational protocols and fundraising (coincidentally the NWHM would be solely funded through private funds without taxpayer dollars). A bill to create the commission was overwhelmingly passed by the House, yet is apparently stuck in the Senate with two holdouts.
While the brick and mortar efforts appear to be in temporary stasis, their digital repository is robust and includes bios of pioneers in Education, the Arts, Politics, Civil Rights, Activism, Technology, the Military, etc. This effort should be celebrated on its own.
I’m a firm believer that roadblocks present opportunities and I think the NWHM has a unique opportunity to leverage technology to encourage dynamic engagement and exploration of its site to fulfill the museum’s mission. In the meantime I applaud the efforts to expand awareness through the museum’s ambassador network, and yesterday’s event honored 3 women who have made history in their own unique ways, with each one making a difference in the lives of others.
Why do we need a Women’s Museum? Because we are organizers, innovators, supporters, moguls, trailblazers, soldiers and creators whose stories and contributions to the world deserve to be told, heard and never forgotten.
For more on the museum and how you can get involved, click the link below.