"The only people who have heard about her are those who majored in women's history in college," says Joan Wages, president and chief executive of the National Women's History Museum, which has been trying to secure a permanent site on the Mall for nearly 20 years. "That is because the history textbooks still say that women were 'given' the vote in 1920. The 72 years that led up to that 1920 amendment are just erased."
That Milholland is nearly forgotten underscores the need for a museum to house those images and people who helped build some of the nation's most transformative movements, Wages says. Scholars have done all this research, "but it's not making its way into the public arena, and that will be our role, to be the bridge."
On Wednesday, Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., introduced a bill to establish a privately funded bipartisan commission to determine the feasibility of a women's history museum on the Mall.
"The history of our country, like history in general, is usually about top-ranked leaders," says Norton, who points out that legislation about the museum has been introduced for at least 10 years. "If you are writing only about leaders for a millennia, you will only be writing about men. That doesn't mean that half the population hasn't made extraordinary contributions to civilization." The proposed museum might include famous women, but its focus would be women's history, which is "mostly not made by famous women, even when that history was extraordinary."
Maloney says she'd heard of Milholland "with her white horse, marching around for suffrage movements, giving so many speeches that she fainted every time. I think people should know about her bravery."