Not everyone is happy to see the Sewall-Belmont House, a museum dedicated to advancing women, give its highest honor to former first lady Laura Bush.
Twenty-two women, including former members of the museum’s board, have penned a letter to the museum in protest of Bush’s selection for the Alice Award, as first reported by the Washington Post. Sonia Pressman Fuentes, co-founder of the National Organization for Women, led the charge.
“When I read that the award was going to be given to Laura Bush, I felt as if I’d had a sudden onset of Alzheimer’s,” she told Yeas & Nays. “I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
It’s not Bush’s political affiliation that she objects to, Fuentes insists. “It’s not partisan,” she said. “I’m not complaining that she’s a Republican. I’m complaining that she’s never done anything for women to get this award.”
Fuentes adds that she wouldn’t give President Obama or the first lady an award either. “Both he and his wife have disappointed me in terms of women’s rights,” she said.
“Here you have a woman who was a brilliant attorney,” Fuentes said of Michelle Obama. “She’s just published a book about how to garden.”
Fuentes and the 21 others who signed the letter had a few other women in mind who could replace Bush or be added as recipients alongside her. (Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Eleanor Smeal were two suggestions.)
The Sewall-Belmont House confirmed it’s non-partisan stance to Yeas & Nays and defended Bush’s bona fides. “As with any high-profile public figure, some people agree and some people disagree, and any choice of honoree will never please everyone all the time,” museum executive director Page Harrington wrote to Yeas & Nays.
She reiterated that Bush “transcends cultural, political, and geographic boundaries in her work for women’s progress.” Bush has been involved with several campaigns for breast cancer and heart disease, some of which have sent her around the world.
Harrington did not provide specifics about disagreements over past Alice recipients. Fuentes, who was on the museum’s board for two decades, could not recall any major controversy about past award winners, which include Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, and Olympia Snowe.
“She’s a big name,” Fuentes said of Bush. “And it will bring people into the event.” She added, “Let’s call a spade a spade.”