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S. 1498 (115th): Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum Act

The Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act would establish the creation of a new museum on the subject by the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The actual construction of the building would be financed fully by private donations, estimated at $150-$180 million. Taxpayer dollars would be used for the actual operation of the museum once it’s up and running, as is true for the other Smithsonian Institution museums.

The bill was introduced in March 2017 by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY12), numbered H.R. 19. The bill’s number was intentionally held by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to honor the 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote.

The Senate version was introduced a few months later in June 2017 by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the museum would serve to honor the accomplishments and story of half of the U.S. population.

“I believe we’re closer now to a women’s history museum than ever before,” Maloney said in a press release. “Our bill is gaining more and more bipartisan support in Congress and with this new initiative, the Smithsonian is laying the groundwork for the collection and stories that will be told in a new museum. We’ve got to keep the momentum going and do everything we can to turn this dream into a reality.”

“From the founding of our country, women have always been at the center of every major moment, but too often women are left out when the story of our nation is told,” Maloney continued. “We need to change that. We need this new museum to preserve the full story of our past and ensure that women are empowered to strive for their full potential.”

What opponents say

One opponent is the head of the Smithsonian Institution itself, David Skorton. “We’re not in a position to initiate any new museums in the near future,” Skorton told the Washington Post.

He did pledge to include more exhibitions dealing with women’s history across the Smithsonian’s existing 21 museums through their recently-announced Women’s History Initiative. Skorton claims that the Initiative would essentially accomplish the same goals as an individual museum.

However, despite some similar previous worries from Smithsonian officials about an African-American history and culture museum — such as potential lack of funding or space — such a museum was eventually opened in 2016 and now attracts 3 million visitors per year.

Odds of passage

The House bill has among the most cosponsors of any legislation introduced in this Congress: 251 total, with 192 Democrats and 59 Republicans. That’s about 57 percent of all House members.

Interestingly, the Senate version is far less bipartisan. Besides the Republican lead sponsor Collins, all the 22 other Senate cosponsors are Democrats — not a single Republican.

Seven women senators are not cosponsors: Republicans Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). Two Democratic women senators haven’t signed on either: Tina Smith (D-MN) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

It awaits a potential vote in either the House Administration or Natural Resources Committees (Federal Lands subcommittee), or the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Last updated May 29, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jun 29, 2017.

Smithsonian American Women's History Museum Act

This bill establishes a comprehensive American women's history museum within the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, to provide for: (1) the collection, study, and establishment of programs related to women's contributions that have influenced the direction of the United States; (2) collaboration with other Smithsonian museums and facilities, outside museums, and educational institutions; and (3) the creation of exhibitions and programs that recognize diverse perspectives on women's history and contributions.

The bill establishes a council within the Smithsonian Institution to: (1) make recommendations to the Smithsonian's Board of Regents for the construction of the museum; (2) advise and assist the board on the administration and preservation of the museum; (3) recommend annual operating budgets for the museum; and (4) report annually to the board on the acquisition, disposition, and display of objects related to women's art, history, and culture.

The council shall have sole authority to: (1) acquire artifacts for the museum's collections, (2) dispose of any part of the collections but only if funds generated are used for additions to the collections, (3) specify criteria for the use of the museum's collections and resources, and (4) preserve and maintain the collections.

The museum's director may carry out educational and liaison programs in support of its goals.