Organizers Face Hurdles to Creating Women’s History Museum

Organizers Face Hurdles to Creating Women’s History Museum (Hybla Valley Patch, 3/30/2011)

By Mary Ann Barton

Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce members got the scoop last week on efforts to build the National Women’s History Museum from museum president and CEO, Joan Bradley Wages. Although it exists online, charter members wish to see a bricks-and-mortar version, built with private funds, at 12th Street and Independence Avenue SW, near the National Mall.

“It always amazes me when someone says ‘Why women’s history?’ ” Wages said in a speech to the group. “It’s dangerous not to know our women’s history.”

Wages gave the lunchtime crowd gathered in a ballroom at the Hilton McLean-Tysons last week a glimpse into how women have been marginalized throughout history including at times not being permitted to read, own property, choose a marriage partner or vote.

“Did you know that less than 5 percent of statues in national parks are of women? Or that only 13 of 214 statues in the U.S. Capitol are of women?” she asked the audience of mostly businesswomen.

Chamber members also heard stories about some little-known women who have changed history:

Betsy Metcalf: Invented a method of braiding straw, leading to the straw hat industry

Hedy Lamarr: Well known as an actress, she was also co-inventor of a frequency-hopping first used by the military and used widely today in the communications industry.

Martha Matilda Harper: Created the first franchising system.

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper: Developed COBOL computer programming language.

Two U.S. senators thwart efforts to launch museum

Last fall, Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep, who serves as the spokesperson for the museum, personally pledged $1 million to back the proposed museum. The donation is one of many that have been made, through fundraisers at the national and local level, through regional council events held across the country to show support for the project.

Before building the museum, organizers must get approval from Congress to purchase land located near the National Mall. Legislation has stalled on Capitol Hill for the past seven years. Last year, it looked close after the House and Senate each passed legislation on a voice vote to approve use of the land.

But two senators, Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), put a “hold” on the legislation that would have green-lighted efforts to buy the land for the museum. Coburn’s office said the museum would be “redundant,” and too similar to museums such as the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas, the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Washington state, and the Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.) will reintroduce legislation this week. Supporters of the museum will gather for the announcement by the legislators at 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday at the House Triangle (across from the Longworth House Building on the East side of the Capitol). For more information, call (703) 461-1920.

The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce regularly holds informative events for its members.

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