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Senate, House Committees Address Creation of Women’s Rights History Trail

Senate Mark-Up 

On September 11, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved, by voice vote, S. 1816, the National Women’s Rights History Project Act. The Subcommittee on National Parks held a hearing on S. 1816 on July 30 (see The Source, 8/1/08).

The panel adopted, by voice vote, en bloc amendments to the bill, including a substitute amendment by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to authorize $1 million annually from FY2009-2013 for the National Women’s Rights History Project National Registry and the National Women’s Rights History Project Partnerships Network.

House Hearing 

On September 11, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands met to consider H.R. 3114, the National Women’s Rights History Project Act. The bill would authorize the secretary of the Interior to establish a commemorative trail in connection with the Women’s Rights National Historical Park that would link properties historically and thematically associated with the struggle for women’s suffrage.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the bill’s sponsor, stated, “We have clearly come a long way in 88 years, and we still have a long way to go… It’s imperative that we continue the momentum that started in Seneca Falls, by not only ensuring that all women vote, but that they do so with an understanding of the long fight to obtain this right and with a sense of responsibility to do their part in the struggle for women’s equality. That’s precisely the objective of the National Women’s Rights History Project Act. This bill has three components that come directly from the Women’s Rights National History Trail Feasibility Study, which I commissioned in 1998 and which was completed in 2002. Specifically, this bill will establish a trail route linking sites significant to the struggle for women’s suffrage and civil rights. It also will expand the current National Register travel itinerary website, “Places Where Women Made History,” to include additional historic sites. Finally, this bill will require the Department of Interior to establish a partnership-based network to offer financial and technical assistance for interpretive and educational program development of national women’s rights history…These brave women stood up to injustice and, by changing history, opened new possibilities for all of America’s daughters and every generation to come. It is my hope that this bill will provide Americans with the opportunity to learn more about the female leaders who struggled to put our great nation on track to equality.”

Daniel Wenk, deputy director of the National Parks Service (NPS), stated, “We believe that particular aspects of H.R. 3114 provide the opportunity for all to gain a clear understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices and contributions of those associated with the quest for women’s rights in the past, and for those who continue their work today throughout the world. However, we also believe that particular aspects of this legislation divert available resources from broader historic preservation purposes to specific sets of beneficiaries and duplicates existing authorities…The Department could support this legislation if amended to delete grant authorizations in sections 3 and 4.” Section 3 of H.R. 3114 would “establish a National Women’s Rights History Project National Registry that would authorize the secretary to provide grants to State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) to assist in surveying, evaluating, and nominating women’s rights history properties for consideration to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.” Section 4 “provides for the establishment of a National Women’s Rights History Project Partnerships Network, managed through a nongovernmental entity, which would offer matching grants and technical assistance for the purpose of providing interpretive, educational, and historic preservation program development.” Mr. Wenk previously testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks in regards to S. 1816, the Senate companion bill to H.R. 3114 (see The Source, 8/1/08, for additional testimony).

Nan Johnson, president emerita of Friends of Women’s Rights Park, Inc., spoke to the utility of the National Women’s Rights History Project, saying, “Although I had attended a good college, done graduate work, and, of course, knew that women got the vote in 1920, I had never known the real, the complete story [of women’s suffrage]. In Rochester, I learned that story. I discovered the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, where Anthony lived for fifty years, and which served as headquarters for national suffrage campaigns…I visited the Ontario County Courthouse in Canandaigua, where Anthony was tried for illegal voting, found guilty, and fined $100, which she refused to pay, hoping her action would bring her case to the Supreme Court…I also had the opportunity to learn about the ties between those working for abolition and for suffrage…I became convinced that the story of the Seneca Falls Convention and the Declaration of Sentiments that it produced, is one of the most compelling stories we, as Americans, have to tell. It is a story of our democracy, growing, becoming more inclusive, and we can claim it, we can tell it as uniquely ours.”

She continued, “In addition to designating a vehicular “Votes for Women History Trail Route” in New York, H.R. 3114 includes two other components. [One additional component] establishes a National Women’s Rights History Project National Registry which would provide for a process to nominate women’s rights history properties to the National Register of Historic Places and list them on the NPS website. The [other additional] component of H.R. 3114 establishes a National Women’s Rights History Project Partnerships Network, managed through a nongovernmental entity, to provide grants and assistance in interpretive, educational, and historic preservation program development. The emphasis on cooperation and coordination among properties, on encouraging better-established sites to give a hand to new ones, is worthy and should stimulate local interest and support.”

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