A National Mall Standoff: Can a New Monument to Women Join All the Men?
The National Mall in D.C. tells America’s story through monuments to war heroes and inspirational leaders. But what the Mall doesn’t yet have, as the country approaches its 250th year, is an independent monument to women.
President Donald Trump signed legislation in 2020 that authorizes the construction of a monument to the passage of the 19th Amendment and women’s suffrage on federal land in D.C. But the effort has stalled, partly because of a tense disagreement over where to put it.
The nonprofit Women’s Suffrage National Monument Foundation, which has been leading the memorial effort, is backing legislation to build it on the same grand stretch where monuments like the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Wall and Washington Monument stand. The National Park Service says it has to go elsewhere.
The monuments on the National Mall make up what is “considered a substantially completed work of civic art,” Michael Caldwell, an associate director with the National Park Service, testified in a hearing last month, citing a 1986 law known as the Commemorative Works Act. NPS “strongly supports honoring the American suffragists’ long struggle” in “a place of national honor and prominence,” Caldwell said, but it must protect the Mall by discouraging “any new commemorative works within it.”
Many more monuments have been proposed than the National Mall could fit.
Congress has made only one CWA exemption before, in 2021, for the Global War on Terrorism Memorial. It would need to approve legislation for another for a suffrage monument to be built there, too.
On paper, the Women’s Suffrage National Monument Location Act has bipartisan congressional support, having been introduced in March by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Off Capitol Hill, its proponents include first ladies from Rosalynn Carter to Melania Trump and historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin.
But Anna Laymon, the executive director of the monument foundation, said she has gotten “the shoulder shrug” from the congressional staffers and officials — mostly men, she says — with whom she has spoken about the project. “I won’t care about this unless someone makes me,” she said of the reaction she has received.