Meryl Streep’s hero in Alexandria (Alexandria Times, 4/21/11)
By: James Cullum
Men have written much of history, and the National Women’s History Museum wants to change that.
For the past three years, President and CEO Joan Wages has run the museum from a small office on South Whiting Street on Alexandria’s West End. A bill, which would provide the museum with a vacant lot near the National Mall, was recently approved by the House of Representatives and is proceeding to the Senate floor for a vote.
After 20 years, the museum may soon have a prominent location to call home. But history could repeat itself.
“A majority of the population is not represented on the National Mall,” Wages said. “And I would not say that Julia Child’s kitchen and the First Ladies’ dresses are a sufficient coverage of women’s history. They’re absolutely wonderful, but there is just so much more. Millions come to Washington D.C. every year because of its extensive list of museums, because it is the beacon to the world for how a democracy looks and functions. So, for us to have a museum honoring women on or adjacent to the National Mall sends a message to the world.”
Last year, a similar bill passed the House, but was held up by Republican senators Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.). This year’s bill would allow the museum to buy land at 12th Street and Independence Avenue at fair market value from the General Services Administration. The Museum would be across the street from the National Gallery of Art and the National Air and Space Museum.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced the House version of the bill.
“Of the 210 statues in the United States Capitol, only nine are of female leaders,” Maloney said. “Less than five percent of the 2,400 national historic landmarks chronicle women’s achievement.”
Support from movie stars like Meryl Streep certainly help the cause. Streep became the Museum’s national spokesperson after Wages wrote her a letter.
Last week, the museum partnered with Good Housekeeping for the second annual “Shine On” awards to honor exceptional women at Radio City Music Hall. When asked on the Radio City red carpet who inspired her, Streep told a reporter: “Joan Wages inspires me!”
“She is immensely kind and thoughtful,” Wages said. “She just gets the importance of a museum like this that will honor women and show that they have contributed to the building of this nation in ways that they have not, to this date, been given credit.”
And who is Wage’s hero? “Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from medical school in the U.S.,” she said. “In the mid 19th century, she applied to 19 medical schools and they all turned her down. When she finally was accepted, she showed up to be admitted and they told her that her admission was a joke. But she held their feet to the fire, and demanded to be admitted. She was ostracized, ridiculed, pressured to fail and she held her ground with great dignity and graduate at the top of her class.”