Well-behaved women seldom make history.
That now famous quote (by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich) is affixed to Christine Ericksons office door at IPFW, where she is an associate history professor.
Last year, Erickson says, someone scribbled a few choice words on the bumper sticker: Thats because women didnt do anything important.
Perhaps the proposed National Womens History Museum is needed now more than ever.
On Wednesday, a bill that would allow the museums construction near the National Mall was introduced in Congress for the fourth time since 2005.
It has been a long road, says Joan Wages, the museums president and CEO.
Its just what it takes to get 530 members of Congress to agree. It takes a long period of time to make ones mark in Washington and convince them that youre serious about your project, she says.
The goal is to buy the federal land at fair market value, raise private funds and build the museum, without any taxpayer expense. If the bill passes and President Obama signs it, which Wages expects he would do, the museum could open within seven years.
Its proposed location, in the heart of the nations cultural district, makes sense because thats where the action is, Erickson says.
Washington, D.C., is a city of symbols. People around the world look to (it) as a beacon. By having a National Womens History Museum here, it will say, This nation honors our women. Thats the message we want to send, Wages says.
For now, the museum exists only online at www.nwhm.org. One exhibit is dedicated to women who ran for president; another is about those in state legislatures.
But the physical museum, once built, will tell the story of womens contributions in other areas, such as science, education and the arts. Wages expects it will feature a general timeline and the suffrage struggle.
I anticipate a major exhibit on women winning the vote, since there is no such exhibit in Washington, Wages says.
Janet Badia, director of the womens studies program at IPFW, hopes the museum wont just highlight the obvious historical figures but also will work to challenge our very notions of what kinds of contributions to history matter, she says.
That means making room to explain some of the ordinary milestones, along with the extraordinary achievements.
The cultural and legal changes the feminists of the 1960s and 70s brought about – like womens access to such mundane things as birth control and a credit card or home mortgage – have profoundly changed not just womens lives, but the very shape of our country, Badia says.
And for those who dont know much about history, such as Ericksons anonymous bumper-sticker editor, shes happy to explain why a major female-centric museum is necessary.
As anyone whos ventured to the museums of Washington, D.C., can attest, womens history is shared but often only at the margins, Badia says. Its frequently shadowed by the stories told about war, science and technology innovations, and the founding fathers.
I cant think of a better place, or way, to call attention to womens achievements, than through a museum in the heart of some of the very best museums in the country.
While it is true that women are being included and recognized in many museums, (one) devoted to womens history can only add to the historical narrative. Moreover, the way we conceptualize history also changes when we consider womens experiences. Settling the frontier, for example, was experienced differently by women than by men, Erickson says.
The museum could be a home for so many of those artifacts of womens history that often get relegated to the archive or buried in the crypt, or whatever, and rarely see the light of day after that, Wages says.
A perfect example is the statute of three suffrage leaders – Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott – that now sits in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.
It was moved there from the basement in 1997, after a long debate with Congress and only after the National Womens History Museum group offered to pay for the move, Wages says.
Besides reclaiming that hidden herstory, she also wants the museum to help tell our national story and create a legacy for the girls of tomorrow.
Wages believes that the bills introduction so early in the session is a good sign, although she warns that its unclear where it will fall on the new leaderships agenda. She also says that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, plans to have a womens restroom built adjacent to the House floor.
We hope thats a sign that he may be somewhat sympathetic. I dont know the relevance there, she says, laughing.
The National Womens History Museum Act would require the museum group to buy the federal land within three years and start building within five years after the bill is signed into law.
Hope springs eternal. I hope to live to see it, Wages says.
But she knows her history: It took the suffrage leaders 72 years to get us the vote.