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House passes bill to establish a national women's history museum

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A museum dedicated to women's history is one step closer to join the monuments and museums on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last week to approve a bipartisan bill called the Smithsonian Women's History Museum Act. Now it heads to the Senate. 

As the country celebrates the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, the House voted 374-37 to establish a national women's history museum under the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Supporters said they would work to get the bill passed quickly in the Senate.

"For too long, women's history has been left out of the telling of our nation's history," the lead sponsors of the bill, Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, Brian Fitzpatrick, Brenda Lawrence and Eleanor Holmes Norton, said in a statement. "Today, the House of Representatives took an important first step to change that. Women are part of every American moment, and their contributions should be recognized and celebrated."

The bill states that "establishing a comprehensive women's history museum representing a diverse range of viewpoints, experience, and backgrounds is necessary to more accurately depict the history of the United States." 

The purpose of the museum is feature collections that highlight women's contributions to various fields throughout the history of the United States that have influenced the direction of the nation. 

"By creating a Smithsonian museum dedicated to telling American women's history, we can inspire future generations to make history themselves. Representation matters," the lawmakers said. "Let's make sure that every child can see themselves in their heroes and role models."

The bill won support from 224 Democrats and 150 Republicans. Every woman in the House voted for it  except one — Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming (and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney). 

In December, Cheney celebrated the 150th anniversary of Wyoming granting women the right to vote and run for office — 50 years before all American women gained that right. But she voted against establishing a national women's history museum, citing "equality" as a reason. 

"She believes women's accomplishments deserve to be honored in an equal manner, alongside those of men, as part of our great national story," a spokesperson for the congresswoman told CBS News.

The spokesperson added, "Congresswoman Cheney represents Wyoming, where generations of women have demonstrated grit, determination, courage and leadership in building our great state."

While other museums exist to document women's art and suffrage, they are not managed by the federal government, so they are not free to the public. The Smithsonian Board of Regents will assign a property to the museum, but it "shall give priority to a site which is on or near the National Mall," the bill states. 

The companion bill that will be taken up by the Senate was sponsored by Senators Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, and Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California.

"Telling the history of American women matters, and a museum recognizing these achievements and experiences is long overdue," said Collins and Feinstein. "Our legislation would dedicate a museum to women's history, helping to ensure that future generations understand what we owe to those extraordinary women who have helped build and advance our country."

If the bill is signed into law, it will still be quite some time before anyone can visit the museum. While the legislation creating the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture passed in 2003, it took years to develop and build, and didn't open to the public until September 2016. 

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