On May 7, the House or Representative passed HR 863 to establish a bipartisan commission on the creation of the first national women’s history museum by a vote of 383:33. But the project is mired in controversy as some Conservative pundits seem to have made the idea of a woman’s history museum a referendum on Margaret Sanger and the reproductive rights movement. Additional critiques have called the museum’s content biased and the argued that it should not receive federal funding.
The bipartisan bill was co-sponsored by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and does not discuss the content of the potential museum nor does it authorize federal funding. The bill simply establishes a bipartisan commission to study the possible creation of a privately funded museum in Washington, DC. The commission would have eighteen months to submit recommendations to Congress after which the passage of a second bill would be needed in order to move forward with the project.
A handful of Conservative pundits have suggested that the proposed museum has an “overwhelming bias” focused on the Left, particularly objecting to the inclusion of Margaret Sanger and her ground-breaking work in support of reproductive rights and birth control. Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) opposed the museum because:
I believe ultimately this museum — that will be built on the National Mall on federal land — will enshrine the radical feminist movement that stands against the pro-life movement, the pro-family movement and the pro-traditional marriage movement,
and Penny Nance, the president and CEO of Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, echoed Bachman’s opposition, arguing:
Although history is black and white, the exhibits will be determined by human beings with biases. So far, this museum project, via its attached website and board, has clearly reflected the views of women on the left while ignoring the other half of American women
As historians, if there is one thing we know, it is that history, as long as it involves human beings, will never be “black and white.” Bias can be a real problem, however, even a cursory review of the website of the nonprofit group currently raising funds for the proposed museum makes it clear that this is not the case. The site includes a balanced representation of many kinds of women including online exhibits on Motherhood, Women in Sports, Women in the Military, Women in Early Film, the Progressive Movement and several other categories providing basic information for the general public and students and educators on the role of women in American history and daily life. Rather than being featured prominently, we found only three references to Sanger–a biographical entry, a mention of her name on Katharine Dexter McCormick’s page, and in a page on the birth control movement that appears in an online exhibit on Women in the Progressive Era.
The time for a National Women’s History Museum is long overdue. That Margaret Sanger should be featured is without question. We can only hope that historical significance, not politics will be the driving force behind the inclusion of people, events, and movements as the museum goes forward.
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