After more than 17 long years of work, advocates may at long last establish a National Women's History Museum on the National Mall — or at least get a little closer.
But celebration over the news that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will bring legislation to the floor this year establishing a commission for the museum is being overshadowed. There's a fierce battle dividing the museum and its historians, an incident that women's history activist Denise Baer is referring to as the "Friday night massacre of women's history," a reference to the Nixon administration's "Saturday Night Massacre."
"Women's History Museum Fires Historians," reads an email sent to reporters this week by Sonya Michel, a professor at the University of Maryland (College Park) and one of the historians recently let go by the forthcoming museum.
In one sense, that is true (depending on your definition of "fires"). The museum organization's president and CEO, Joan Wages, dissolved the 18-member Advisory Council in a March 14 letter. But the real story behind the dismissals of the women's historians, all of whom are female, is much more complicated.
It starts with Wages, a former lobbyist who got involved with the women's museum organization in the late 1990s. After several failed pushes for legislation on the Hill that would allow the museum to begin building on the National Mall (they have their eyes on a spot off of 12th Street, near the Freer Gallery of Art, among other possibilities), Wages and her organization began to rethink their legislative strategy in 2010.