Museums and the Women’s March

The Women’s March on Washington on January 21, one month ago to this day, was incredible. It was the biggest protest in US history; it spanned cities around the country and countries around the world and all seven continents; more than 1 in 100 Americans participated. I attended in DC with a contingent from my congregation, and there was no marching to be done while I was there, because the march route, and the surrounding blocks and nearby Mall, quickly filled up with people, with no room to move. (I heard that after I left in the early afternoon, there was eventually some marching from Independence Avenue to the White House.)

One of the prettiest signs I saw at the Women's March ("We March for All People")

One of the prettiest signs I saw at the Women’s March

My group stood on the Mall, part of a formidable sea of pink. One young woman in our group had been knitting extra pussyhats, and gave one to me. Some members of our chorus led us in songs. At one point, a nine-year-old in our group started singing “This Little Light of Mine,” and it caught on all around us. (I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there.) Other times, we picked up the chants we heard around us: This is what democracy looks like. Misogyny has got to go. Black lives matter. When they go low, we go high.

None of us could see or hear any of the speakers. We understood there was a stage, but we wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about it. Crowds were overwhelming, socks were wet, shoes were muddy, stomachs were growling, cell phone networks were spotty, and one tablet had to keep six or seven children entertained. If we had been paying concertgoers or sports spectators, we probably would have felt we didn’t get our money’s worth. But here we were part of a historic moment, making our voices heard and getting galvanized for what would prove to be a very trying month to come. And the signs alone made it all worth it.

What role did museums play in this occasion?

Before the march. To prepare for the march, knitting artists got busy and made what would become an ocean of pussyhats – so many hats that yarn stores experienced pink-yarn-shortages. In many cases, knitting became a social event, with knitting parties popping up like the one held at KMAC Museum in Kentucky.

During the march. On the National Mall, we were surrounded by museums. A few museums, such as the National Air and Space Museum, Sewall-Belmont House, National Museum of the American Indian, and National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), joined restaurants, non-profits, and houses of worship to serve as official welcome centers during the event. NMWA also offered free admission for the weekend.

Women's March on Washington, with National Museum of the American Indian in the background

Women’s March on Washington, with National Museum of the American Indian in the background

After the march. Museums around the world, including the National Museum of American History and the Virginia Historical Society, are collecting signs from the march. The Fuller Craft Museum in Massachusetts and the Michigan State University Museum are asking for examples of pussyhats. Who knows what exhibits we will see commemorating the march 25 years from now?


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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