The Odd Couple Behind the Push to Build a National Women’s History Museum

Marsha Blackburn seems like an unlikely partner for Carolyn Maloney’s long-standing legislative effort, but she may be just the ally Maloney needs.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Lucia Graves
May 6, 2014, 10:33 a.m.

At first blush, it’s comed­ic — New York Demo­crat Car­o­lyn Malo­ney and Ten­ness­ee Re­pub­lic­an Mar­sha Black­burn sel­dom agree on any­thing. Now, fi­nally, the two House mem­bers have found some com­mon ground. Not that it was easy.

Malo­ney’s a staunch gun-safety ad­voc­ate; Black­burn’s pro-NRA. Malo­ney sup­ports Obama­care; Black­burn voted for re­peal. Malo­ney’s pro-abor­tion rights; Black­burn op­poses abor­tion. Malo­ney’s lib­er­al even for New York; Black­burn’s re­peatedly scored 100 per­cent on Amer­ic­an Con­ser­vat­ive Uni­on‘s rat­ings of Con­gress.

But if, as Madeleine Al­bright once said, “There’s a spe­cial place in hell for wo­men that don’t help oth­er wo­men,” Malo­ney and Black­burn won’t be found there. The con­ser­vat­ive and pro­gress­ive lions have come to­geth­er to pro­mote an ef­fort to build a na­tion­al wo­men’s his­tory mu­seum.

The bill, which would au­thor­ize ex­plor­a­tion for a mu­seum site, will come up for a vote be­fore the House on Wed­nes­day.

“Quite frankly I’m amazed that there’s not a ma­jor mu­seum any­where ded­ic­ated to the achieve­ments and con­tri­bu­tions of wo­men,” said Malo­ney, who first pro­posed the pro­ject in the late 1990s and has been fight­ing to get a bill passed ever since. Now she may fi­nally have the ally she needs.

While crit­ics note that dozens of mu­seums de­voted to wo­men’s his­tory already ex­ist, Malo­ney says that’s simply not true. There are mu­seums that hon­or wo­men’s con­tri­bu­tions in spe­cif­ic areas — for ex­ample, in the arts. But there’s no space chron­ic­ling wo­men’s over­all achieve­ments in fields as di­verse as math, sci­ence, and pub­lic policy.

The bill has been gain­ing mo­mentum since the be­gin­ning of the year, pick­ing up 48 co­spon­sors and the sup­port of House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor. Giv­en a midterm-elec­tion year in which both Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans are seek­ing to make in­roads with wo­men voters, the mu­seum pro­ject could find strong sup­port in both cham­bers.

“It shows what free­dom and op­por­tun­ity do for wo­men, and it’s a man­ner in which the ac­com­plish­ment of wo­men can be chron­icled,” Black­burn told Na­tion­al Journ­al. While she’s staunchly an­ti­abor­tion and doesn’t identi­fy as a fem­in­ist “at all,” she says she’s al­ways look­ing for ways to en­cour­age wo­men to seek op­por­tun­ity and fur­ther them­selves. And the aim of her book, Life Equity, she notes, is to help wo­men trans­late their skills to suc­cess in the work­place.

An­oth­er con­ser­vat­ive lead­er, Rep. Ren­ee Ellmers, who’s fa­cing a primary chal­lenge from eco­nom­ic com­ment­at­or Frank Roche, re­cently penned an ed­it­or­i­al prais­ing the ef­fort as well.

Ellmers, like Black­burn, is not someone who’s typ­ic­ally an ally of Malo­ney’s, and that is something she’s de­cidedly proud of. “Wo­men con­trib­ute in this coun­try and they’re con­ser­vat­ive, they’re mod­er­ate, they’re lib­er­al, and they’re all shapes and sizes,” Malo­ney told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “This is a mu­seum for all wo­men and it’s im­port­ant that all voices are part of cre­at­ing it and will be part of see­ing it through.”

The al­li­ance is also, of course, stra­tegic. An­ti­abor­tion groups have voiced con­cern that the mu­seum could serve as a ral­ly­ing point for abor­tion groups, and the in­volve­ment of a con­ser­vat­ive with Black­burn’s an­ti­abor­tion bon­afides helps as­suage that fear.

Cur­rent es­tim­ates for the cost of build­ing the mu­seum range from $300 mil­lion to $500 mil­lion, in ad­di­tion to $1 mil­lion to sup­port the ex­plor­at­ory com­mis­sion that Malo­ney’s bill would es­tab­lish. While the pro­ject would be fin­anced by private funds, it still needs con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al to be built on fed­er­al land.

If it finds a home on the Na­tion­al Mall, as Malo­ney is hop­ing, it would be one of the few mu­seums there that doesn’t rely on any tax­pay­er money. “We’re used to wear­ing high heels and walk­ing back­wards and mul­ti­task­ing all the time,” Malo­ney quipped. “So what’s new that there’s a more dif­fi­cult stand­ard in the cre­ation of a wo­men’s mu­seum?”

What We're Following See More »
Morning Consult Poll: Clinton Decisively Won Debate
2 days ago

"According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the first national post-debate survey, 43 percent of registered voters said the Democratic candidate won, compared with 26 percent who opted for the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Her 6-point lead over Trump among likely voters is unchanged from our previous survey: Clinton still leads Trump 42 percent to 36 percent in the race for the White House, with Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson taking 9 percent of the vote."

Trump Draws Laughs, Boos at Al Smith Dinner
3 days ago

After a lighthearted beginning, Donald Trump's appearance at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York "took a tough turn as the crowd repeatedly booed the GOP nominee for his sharp-edged jokes about his rival Hillary Clinton."

McMullin Leads in New Utah Poll
3 days ago

Evan McMul­lin came out on top in a Emer­son Col­lege poll of Utah with 31% of the vote. Donald Trump came in second with 27%, while Hillary Clin­ton took third with 24%. Gary John­son re­ceived 5% of the vote in the sur­vey.

Quinnipiac Has Clinton Up by 7
3 days ago

A new Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll finds Hillary Clin­ton lead­ing Donald Trump by seven percentage points, 47%-40%. Trump’s “lead among men and white voters all but” van­ished from the uni­versity’s early Oc­to­ber poll. A new PPRI/Brook­ings sur­vey shows a much bigger lead, with Clinton up 51%-36%. And an IBD/TIPP poll leans the other way, showing a vir­tu­al dead heat, with Trump tak­ing 41% of the vote to Clin­ton’s 40% in a four-way match­up.

Trump: I’ll Accept the Results “If I Win”
3 days ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.