National monuments in Washington, D.C., are missing a big piece of American history: women

These women deserve to be memorialized within one of America's most prominent public spaces. Congress must step up to ensure it happens.

Washington's National Mall elicits chills whenever I have the chance to stroll among the powerful monuments honoring dead presidents, those who served in our armed forces and those who fought for equality and freedom for all Americans.

But there's always something missing: women.

I'm hopeful that will change soon. It must.

This week, lobbying will begin on Capitol Hill for the go-ahead to install the first outdoor memorial in the nation’s capital to honor pioneering suffragists who fought for the right of women to vote.

The Women's Suffrage National Monument Foundation was designated by Congress in 2020 to establish a monument to share the history of the early movement for women’s equality. The nonprofit will lead the effort to fund, design, develop and construct the Women's Suffrage National Monument.

Former President Donald Trump signed the bill into law right before his term ended in 2020 – the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in national elections. Now Congress must greenlight the project if it is to be installed on the highly restricted National Mall. 

The sprawling National Mall runs from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.

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There's plenty of firepower and support for this monument. All the living first ladies – Rosalynn Carter, Laura Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michelle Obama and Melania Trump – along with current first lady Jill Biden, will serve as honorary chairs. Other ambassadors include actor Rosario Dawson, comedian Retta and podcaster Monica Padman.

First lady Melania Trump opens an exhibit of artwork by children marking the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment on women's suffrage, in front of the White House, Aug. 24, 2020.

Anna Laymon, executive director of the foundation, said the monument would recognize the contributions of women such as Susan B. Anthony, Madam C.J. Walker, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Harriot Stanton Blatch, Ida B. Wells and Alice Paul.

"Every little eighth grader who comes to D.C. on her eighth grade American history field trip, she walks the National Mall and she doesn't see herself – in anything, in any way," Laymon told me. "It isn't even like we're there a little bit. We're not there at all."

Heroes and giants of American history

Funds for such projects are typically raised privately, and it takes an average of seven to 10 years from when legislation is passed until the monument is unveiled. The most recent Washington project, the World War I Memorial, cost $42 million.

Laymon envisions something akin to a sculpture garden, one that tells the stories and journeys of the suffragettes. Ideally, a coalition of artists who represent distinct perspectives would be commissioned to create the memorial, she said.

Meet the monument's sculptor:Meet Jane DeDecker, the Colorado sculptor behind the national women’s suffrage monument

Sculptor Jane DeDecker works on a sculpture entitled "Mill Workers" at her studio in Loveland, Colo., on Feb. 23, 2022.

These women are heroes and giants of American history. They deserve the recognition and prominence within the National Mall. They deserve to be honored for what they did to bolster American democracy. 

According to a 2021 National Monument Audit, American monuments pay homage to those who are overwhelmingly white and male. The most common features reflect war and conquest. And the story of our country is misrepresented by the current monuments.

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Painting, oil on canvas by Larry Walker, of Ida B. Wells, pioneering journalist, educator and civil rights advocate born in 1862 in Holly Springs, Miss.

“Where inequalities and injustices exist, monuments often perpetuate them,” the report states. “Monuments suppress far more than they summon us to remember; they are not mere facts on a pedestal.”

Representation matters in public art

Michelle Duster, the paternal great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells and a foundation board member, told me that any resistance to the memorial would send a strong message to the women of America. It's past time for the legacies of women in history to be seen and heard, she said. 

"Working on this type of project is important because representation matters," said Duster, an author and public historian. "The way that countries and communities tell their stories can be through public artwork. So if you have little to no representation of over half the population, then that's a skewed history. This monument will address the underrepresentation of women in public artwork and also recognize what women have contributed to this country."

Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells, has written a biography, "Ida B. the Queen."

After all, where would women be without their determined grit to fight for our rights? Where would this country be without those women who pushed for equality in voting and overall democracy? I don't even want to imagine.

These women deserve to be memorialized within one of America's most prominent public spaces. Congress must step up to ensure it happens.

National columnist/deputy opinion editor Suzette Hackney is a member of USA TODAY’S Editorial Board. Contact her at or on Twitter: @suzyscribe

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