National Women’s History Museum – Good in Theory, Bad in Practice

National Women’s History Museum – Good in Theory, Bad in Practice

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WASHINGTON, May 8, 2014 —  Heritage Action For America is warning its legion of activists that progressives and radical feminists are gearing up to turn a virtual “National Women’s History Museum” into a brick and mortar shrine dedicated to principals that are what Heritage analyst Cari Kelly describes as “a one-sided and damaging narrative about the women’s movement in America.”

Although the museum currently exists only on the internet, its proponents clamor for a prime, physical location in Washington D.C. – ideally on the National Mall. To this end, supporters have lobbied Congress to establish a commission for the purpose of organizing the foundation of the museum. The bill is HR 863. Its principal sponsor in the House of Representatives is Carolyn Maloney (12th District D-NY).

As an indication of the subjective nature of the museum under consideration, the list of co-sponsors for the bill, reads like a mash up between the House Progressive Caucus and the Democrat Caucus, plus the Democrat Women’s Caucus, if there is one. There are three interesting bi-partisan cameos that stand out in the list – Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R- NC), and Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-WA). GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor, (R-OH) has pushed HR 863 forward for a vote.

The mission of the National Women’s History Museum is summarized by its founder, Karen Stasser:

“National Women’s History Museum educates, inspires, empowers and shapes the future by integrating women’s distinct history into the culture and history of the United States.”

It appears to be a quite admirable objective. In fact, when you consider that the premise of the museum is to shine the spotlight on what women have achieved and are capable of achieving, it’s hard to find fault with the concept – especially when you mix in the assurance that the costs of development, construction and maintenance will be covered by private funding, not taxpayers. Self sustaining, what could be better?

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Some questions have been raised, however. One of them is why is it necessary to involve Congress in the formation of a organizing commission? Apparently, a lot of high profile individuals are involved with the museum as board and honorary members, and it would seem that they would be perfectly capable of setting up a commission independently, without needing a bill to go through Congress.

Another concern is that by involving Congress in the planning of this museum, HR 863, might be used later as argument that a majority of members favored the creation of the museum and therefore have an ethical obligation to enact a follow up bill at some point to provide rescue funding if and when private funds aren’t adequate to sustain it. Many other existing public museums in Washington D.C., are not fully funded by their operations and foundation money and the taxpayer underwrites them. The Smithsonian is but one example.

Finally, while it is impossible to predict with certainty, there remains the possibility that when the museum arrives at the point where exhibits begin to be created, a political neutral character of the museum could be substituted with a social and political emphasis that destroys the general appeal of the overall concept. There are already controversies arising in this regard.

Sonia Michel, writing in the New Republic discloses a move on the part of the CEO, Joan Wages, to remove the Scholarly Advisory Council, a panel of historians brought on to ensure that the storylines of the exhibits were accurate:

With no actual historians on its staff and only scant communication with scholars, much of the museum’s public presence over the past few years—online, in print, and in the events it sponsors—had communicated what we considered to be an amateur, superficial, and inaccurate understanding of U.S. women’s history. Last summer, a group of the affiliated historians had written to Wages and the board of directors to outline our concerns and ask for greater engagement, with few results.

Ms. Wages, however, alludes to a motive behind the strategy of dismissing these scholars. Wages cited the bills currently pending in Congress:

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“Recently constituted museums that have successfully navigated the legislative process,” she wrote, “did not hire museum staff, establish advisory councils, including any scholars committees, or develop museum plans until after their legislation passed and they had reached critical fundraising milestones….NWHM has been cautioned that it would be getting out in front of the Commission to develop a museum plan.”

If anything, this comment should raise more concern that any assurances of a balanced conception of Women’s History, might later morph into a shrine for political correctness – balance and objectivity be damned.

Cari Kelly of Heritage Action sketches out what sort of emphasis is possible once the project is greenlighted:

Women who have celebrated traditional, conservative or family values are outnumbered by those espousing progressive, feminist ideologies. For example, the NWHM would extol Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood and a noted advocate of sterilization and eugenics.  They reference “free love” enthusiast Victoria Woodhull, who equated marriage with “forced prostitution,” over 20 times. And of course, no tribute to progressivism would be complete without proper deference to Sandra Fluke, anti-life activist and supporter of federally funded contraception.  These values are disproportionately reflected in the NWHM agenda, not only doing a disservice to traditional ideals but actively harming the burgeoning value systems of all the young people who will look to the museum as a source of history.

Daniel Horowitz profiles the members of the executive committee:

  • Joan Bradley Wages, the President of NWHM, made political contributions to ActBlue, an anti-life Democratic PAC, Eleanor Holmes Norton,  and Barbara Boxer.
  • Susan Scanlan, member of the board of directors, contributed money to those who opposed Proposition 8 defending marriage in California.
  • Carey Shuart, the Interim Chair of the Board of Director’s gave all of her campaign contribution money to Emily’s List, a PAC whose only purpose is to support Democratic Pro Choice female candidates for office.
  • Ann E.W. Stone, the Secretary of the Board of Directors, is the founder of the organization Republican’s for Choice, an organization that attempts to infiltrate the Republican Party with the anti-life agenda.

Penny Nance, President and CEO of Concerned Women for America, said, “Currently this project has a board overwhelmingly pro-abortion and leftist in their leanings.” And it appears she’s correct in this observation. The GOP supporters of the museum and the bill in Congress to foster its development, are moderates at best. There are no Republicans that could seriously be described as conservatives. Even so, for every Orrin Hatch on the honorary members list there are dozens of reliably partisan, liberal Democrats such as Hillary Clinton, Hilda Solis, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. For every Trent Lott and Elizabeth Dole, there are scores more like Sheila Jackson-Lee, Patsy Schroeder, Barbara Boxer, Maxine Waters and Nancy Pelosi.

If safeguards cannot be reliably built into the bill, (HR 863), that ensure neutrality in the culture wars, a prohibition against a radical feminist bent to the content and an iron clad assurance of full private funding and ongoing revenue not dependent on a taxpayer rescue – the answer should be no. And that would be unfortunate, because the concept in and of itself is worth promoting.


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