The National Women’s History Museum wishes mothers everywhere a very happy Mother’s Day! On the second Sunday in May, people all over the country honor their mothers with chocolates, flowers, and cards. Mother’s Day is especially important to NWHM as it served as a jumping off point more than a decade ago for our Museum. Our first project—to move the Suffrage Statue (Portrait Monument) out of the Crypt into the U. S. Capitol Rotunda—came to fruition on Mother’s Day 1997.
NWHM honors Mother’s Day, every day, 365 days a year. One of our exhibits, “Profiles In Motherhood,” is unique and a preview of a future exhibit in the physical Museum that will be focused on “Everyday Women.” Take a look at one of the profiles featured in the exhibit from our Bill Sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney:
“When I got the news in 1980 that I was pregnant with my first child, my first reaction was joy that I was about to become a mother. My second reaction was fear that my career might never be the same. There were two major questions: Should I quit my job to take care of my child full-time, and would my employer give me any choice?
I decided to try to hang on to my job because it was as hard earned as it was improbable…I was Senator Manfred Ohrenstein’s director of special projects when I became pregnant. Although Senator Ohrenstein was a strong advocate for women’s issues, most employers at the time took it for granted that a woman would leave her job when she had a baby. But I wanted to go back to work after I had my baby.
I told Senator Ohrenstein that I was pregnant—and that I wanted to return to my job after having the baby. I just happened to mention this at a party I was giving in his honor.
He was very polite but incredulous that I would think of returning. The State Senate’s human resources representative wasn’t even polite when I called to ask what kind of leave was offered for pregnancy. “Leave? What kind of leave?” the woman asked. “Most women just leave.” She told me that a pregnant woman had never asked to keep her job. She suggested I apply for disability and see what happened. I rejected that idea on principle because pregnancy isn’t a disability, it’s a joyous event.
Because of this experience of wanting to have both children and a career, as a member of Congress I supported the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 with great personal satisfaction. It was the first major federal bill that tried to balance work and life for Americans. It guaranteed a majority of American workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or a child relative or to recover from a serious illness.
In the years since, I have sponsored many bills that have enhanced the lives of mothers and their children around the world. Due to significant health benefits for the mother and child, the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend six months of exclusive breastfeeding for all infants. We need to do all we can to support mothers when they decide to breastfeed. That is why I have introduced legislation for many years to protect a mother’s right to breastfeed and promote breastfeeding as an option for working mothers. I was so proud to partner with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to pass into law a provision of our bill, the Breastfeeding Promotion Act (H.R. 2819, S. 1744) on March 23, 2010.
I also believe it is important for children to be educated on the diverse contributions women have made to our great nation, which is why I support the National Women’s History Museum. Women’s history is largely missing from textbooks, memorials, museum exhibits and many other venues. In contrast, men have hundreds of years of written history available to reflect upon and use for inspiration. Of the 210 statues in the United States Capitol, only nine are of female leaders. Less than five percent of the 2,400 national historic landmarks chronicle women’s achievement and a recent survey of 18 history textbooks found that only 10% of the individuals identified in the text were women. The museums and memorials in our nation’s Capitol demonstrate what we value. We have museums dedicated to flight, postage stamps, law enforcement and many other important people and issues of interest, but not to women. NWHM would provide women, comprising 53 percent of our population, a long overdue home on our National Mall to honor their many contributions that are the very fabric of our country.”
Text from Rep. Maloney’s book “Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated” and from her website.