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Senate Subcommittee Considers Creation of Women’s History Trail

On July 30, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks held a hearing on S. 1816, 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.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), the bill’s sponsor, testified, “Five years ago, I started working with my colleague, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter [D-NY] to establish a tourism trail to be known as the Votes for Women History Trail Route. It is a commemorative trail in connection with the existing Women’s Rights National Historical Park. It would create an auto route across upper New York state that would link properties historically and thematically associated with the struggle for women’s rights…It does not authorize any land acquisition…but links already existing sites, both privately and publicly owned, and it would assure that all the sites on the tour have verifiable connections to the expansion of women’s rights. It would also recognize that although New York is where the Declaration of Sentiments was drafted in 1848…women won the rights because of national action in amending the Constitution and passing necessary legislation. The second part of the legislation would authorize the secretary of the Interior to make annual grants for up to five years to assist in state historic preservation efforts. Then we would be able to have the National Women’s Rights History Project National Registry. So we’re going to both honor women’s rights and also be expanding to a public-private partnership that will reach across our country.”

Coline Jenkins, president of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust and the great-great granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, stated, “During the past forty years, since my first visit to Seneca Falls [NY, home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton], I have witnessed the creation of many milestones there, including the establishment of Women’s Rights National Historical Park, one of  seven parks, out of 391 units in the National Park system, that is specifically dedicated to commemorating some aspect of women’s history.  I have witnessed the establishment of The National Women’s Hall of Fame. I have witnessed the purchase of the M’Clintock House, where the Declaration of Sentiments was written; and the Hunt House, where revolution was fomented with talk and a teaspoon. Both houses are parts of Women’s Rights Historical National Park. The list of milestones in Seneca Falls goes on and on in the campaign to breathe life back into the people and places that made this an epicenter of the expansion of American democracy.  Stanton would never live to see [the] right [to vote] enshrined in the Constitution with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920…This bill is a crucial and necessary step in honoring our national history. We cannot understand the present without understanding our past.”

Daniel Wenk, deputy director for operations at the National Parks Service (NPS), stated, “We believe that particular aspects of S. 1816 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 would welcome the opportunity to work with the committee to further review existing NPS programs to determine if we could achieve the goals of section 3 and 4 of the bill within our existing authorities.”

Mr. Wenk continued, “Section 3 of the bill 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. Such activities are already within the purview of existing SHPO responsibilities. This legislation would therefore duplicate SHPO responsibilities, and divert limited available funds for broad SHPO responsibilities to a specific set of beneficiaries and purposes…[Additionally,] section 4 of S. 1816 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. The establishment of such a network would earmark historic preservation grants for a specific set of beneficiaries and would divert available resources for broader historic preservation purposes. NPS already has the authority to enter into collaborative proposals that could involve a variety of property types and that would be anchored by one or more National Register-eligible properties.”

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