03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Equality: Past, Present and Future

Last week, Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University became the first woman to win the prestigious Nobel Prize for Economics in its 41-year history. What made her achievement even more remarkable is the fact that she's not even an economist; she's a political science scholar.

But what are the chances that anyone will long remember this historic first? Not very good, I'm afraid, if "history" is any guide. And by "history," I don't mean the way things happened once upon a time in the real world. By "history," I mean the way we select, portray and celebrate the stories we tell ourselves and our children about our shared past.

"Historically" speaking many remarkable feats and historic firsts achieved by women have been left out of both the telling and the remembering. While all school children are taught about John Smith and John Alden, how many are also taught about Anne Forrest and Anne Buras, the first two women to settle in Jamestown? The two Anne's had to summon the same courage and fortitude and had to face the same hardships and perils as the two John's, but these remarkable women are little noted and not remembered.

In Washington DC, where we make a special effort to embrace and celebrate our shared history, we have museums for postage stamps, textiles, news, medicine and spies. But women, representing half our population, are not as well represented as our stamps.

Of the 211 statues in our nation's Capitol, only 11 are of female leaders. Only 10 percent of the significant figures in our textbooks are women. Less than 5 percent of our 2,400 national landmarks chronicle the achievements of women. This is not because great women didn't exist. It is simply the case that we can do a great deal better in telling the whole story.

Did you know that the first patent for an automotive windshield wiper went to a woman? It went to Mary Anderson in November of 1903. Have you heard of Maud Younger, who was instrumental in presenting the very first Equal Rights Amendment to Congress in 1923? Or did you know that Hedy Lamarr, the great movie star of the 30's and 40's, was also the inventor of a way to manipulate radio frequencies so that top-secret messages could not be intercepted during World War II? These are compelling stories about great women and they are missing in action in the story of our history.

To correct this "historical" oversight I have sponsored H.R. 1700, a bill to establish a National Women's History Museum near the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. My bill directs the General Services Administration to sell property, located across from the National Mall at 12th Street and Independence Avenue, to the National Women's History Museum at a fair market rate. The bill has passed the House and a companion bill will soon be introduced in the Senate.
We are now one step closer to having a place where we can all celebrate the inspiring stories of forgotten American women. And we are one step closer to a time when our daughters and sons can realize the dream of a more perfect union, where true equality lies not just in our future, but in our past and present as well.