The National Mall might look like it's at capacity for museums, but some members of Congress want to squeeze in at least one more.
The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday to establish a Smithsonian Women's History Museum. The Smithsonian Board of Regents would be charged with selecting a location for the new museum, "with priority given to a site that is on or near the National Mall."
"For too long, women's history has been left out of the telling of our nation's history," the bill's lead sponsors, Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), said in a joint statement released after the bill's passage. "By creating a Smithsonian museum dedicated to telling American women's history, we can inspire future generations to make history themselves. Representation matters. Let's make sure that every child can see themselves in their heroes and role models."
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have co-sponsored a companion bill that's currently working its way through the upper chamber. The House bill passed with a vote of 374-37.
Establishing new Smithsonian museums doesn't happen overnight. Far from it: The most recent addition to the institution's network, the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, opened in the fall of 2016, 13 years after Congress passed the legislation to create it. Rep. John Lewis (D-G.A.) began championing legislation for an African American museum within the Smithsonian system in the late 1980s.
There's also been talk of creating a National Museum of the American Latino. The nonprofit organization Friends of the American Latino Museum has been advocating for it since 2004, and a House subcommittee held a hearing last year. The legislation hasn't moved forward since then.
If either of these museums gets approval from both chambers, the next question will be funding. Typically, Smithsonian museums are paid for with a combination of both federally appropriated funds, private philanthropy, foundation grants, and corporate sponsorships.
"With Congress's support, we'd be happy to [open a women's museum]," said Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas. "We know we can build great museums — we just did it with the African American Museum. It just takes Congressional support and funding."
The passage of the women's history museum legislation comes during the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage. Existing D.C. museums like the National Archives and the National Portrait Gallery have been marking the centennial with special exhibits and performances, motivating The New York Timesto select the city as the No. 1 place to visit in 2020. And just outside Washington, a suffrage museum recently opened in Lorton, Va., near the site where 72 suffragists were imprisoned in 1917 for picketing the White House.
"Our country should know the names of its history-making women," said D.C. Rep. Norton. "Women have helped the United States since our founding, despite not being recognized for our many accomplishments."