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Womanhouse (30 January - 28 February 1972) was a feminist art installation and performance space organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, co-founders of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) Feminist Art Program. Chicago, Schapiro, their students and women artists from the local community participated. [1]Chicago and Schapiro encouraged their students to use consciousness-raising techniques to generate the content of the exhibition.[2] Only women were allowed to view the exhibition on its first day, after which the exhibition was open to all viewers. During the exhibition's duration, it received approximately 10,000 visitors.[3]


The Feminist Art Program resumed at the California Institute of the Arts in 1972 after an experimental year at Fresno State College. Paula Harper, an art historian for the California Institute of Arts Feminist Art Program, is credited for suggested the idea for Womanhouse. Schapiro would supervise Womanhouse's dramatic works, while Chicago would focus on other media. [2] It was their intention to teach without the use of authoritarian rules or a unilateral flow of power from teacher to student. [4]

The Program utilized a method of teaching that relied on Group Operation. Students would sit in a circle and share their thoughts on a selected topic of discussion. The circular teaching method was intended to provide a "nourishing environment for growth" and to promote a "circular, more womb-like" atmosphere. [4] The goal of these discussions was for each woman to reach a higher level of self-perception, to validate their experiences, as well as the "search for subject matter" to incorporate into artwork and to address their individual aesthetic needs.[5]

The project's goals, as professed by Schapiro and Chicago, were to help students overcome some problems of being a woman. These included "a general lack of assertiveness or ambition", an "unwillingness to push themselves beyond their limits”, “lack of familiarity with tools and artmaking processes”, and an “inability to see themselves as working people". It was thought that by teaching the women to use power tools and proper building techniques, they would gain confidence and subsequently "restructure their personalities" to be consistent with their artistic goals. It was Schapiro and Chicago's belief that "society fails women by not demanding excellence from them."[6]

These techniques were to result in an "exclusively female environment" that included a greater community of female artists. The goal of this community was to expose the students to "established" female artists not limited to Schapiro and Chicago. [7].


The group broke into teams in order to find a suitable location for their "dreams and fantasies". They found a 75-year-old dilapidated mansion at 533 Mariposa St. in a rundown section of Hollywood. Members of the group knocked on doors to find the owner of the house, who one neighbor remarked would "certainly not be interested in the project". After a visit to the Hall of Records, they found the owner to be Amanda Psalter. The group described their intentions for the house in a letter to the Psalter Family. In response, the house donated by the Psalter family[8] for the 3-month duration of the project. After this time, it would be demolished. [9]

In order to renovate the house, the women tackled tasks included cleaning, painting, sanding scraping and wallpapering walls, replacing windows, sanding floors, and installing lights. New walls were built for practical and aesthetic reasons and women learned wallpapering techniques to refurbish one of the rooms. [4]

The women encountered a variety of struggles during the house's renovation.[10] The house had no water, heat, or plumbing. Additional tasks included replacing 25 windows and replacing banisters that had been pulled out by vandals. They worked long hours in a “manner they were unaccustomed to”, soon coming to resent the intense, “impossible” demands, even coming to see their administrators as “monsters” and complaining that they would fail.“[10] Eventually a crew was needed to paint the exterior of the house, install locks and advise the women on basic electrical wiring. [4]

Throughout this mansion, contained a variety feminist installations, sculptors, performances, and other forms of art. By transforming a "woman's space" (such as a kitchen) into a space corrupted by radical feminist art truly made a statement.[11] Here they spoke out about women issues, as well as criticizing the patriarchy. This helped women artists and architects gain recognition and acknowledgment that their work could be seen on the same level as men. By using a mansion as their chosen setting, this furthered their statement.[12]


Chicago and Schapiro invited other local artists Sherry Brody, Carol Edison Mitchell and Wanda Westcoast to participate and to hang their work alongside that of the other women. [13].. Among the artists and CalArts students that collaborated were:[14]

  • Beth Bachenheimer (Shoe Closet, Dining Room)
  • Sherry Brody (Lingerie Pillows)
  • Judy Chicago (Menstruation Bathroom, Cock and Cunt Play)
  • Susan Frazier (Aprons in the Kitchen)
  • Camille Grey (Lipstick Bathroom)
  • Vicky Hodgett (Nurturant Kitchen)
  • Kathy Huberland (Bridal Staircase)
  • Judy Huddleston (Personal Environment)
  • Janice Johnson
  • Karen LeCocq (Leah's Room)
  • Janice Lester (Personal Space)
  • Paula Longendyke (Garden Jungle)
  • Ann Mills (Leaf Room)
  • Carol Edison Mitchell
  • Robin Mitchell (Painted Room, Dining Room)
  • Sandra Orgel (Linen Closet &Ironing)
  • Jan Oxenburg
  • Christine Rush (Necco Wafers)
  • Marsha Salisbury
  • Miriam Schapiro (Doll’s House)
  • Robin Schiff (Nightmare Bathroom)
  • Mira Schor (Red Moon Room)
  • Robin Weltsch (Nurturant Kitchen)
  • Wanda Westcoast
  • Faith Wilding (Womb Room & Waiting)
  • Shawnee Wollenmann (The Nursery)
  • Nancy Youdelman (Lea's Room)


Womanhouse was the first feminist art project to receive attention on a national scale following its review by Time magazine. [1]

Lack of scholarly attention paid to Womanhouse is attributed to its very early production in the context of Feminist art, its lack of controversiality in relation to other installations of the time (most notably Chicago's own The Dinner Party), and some accusations of essentialism. However, it is also argued that the piece illustrates, complicates and subverts a "false binary" of essential and constructed identity which enhances its value and relevancy.[15]

A 1972 review in the Los Angeles Times by William Wilson described Womanhouse as a "lair of female creativity" that "reminds us that the female is our only direct link with the forces of nature". Though he remarks that "man's greatest creative acts may be but envious shadowings of her fecundity", this review highlights stereotypical patriarchal attitudes surrounding connections between women's bodies, the domestic, and nature that Womanhouse attempted to critique. [16]


Miriam Schapiro arranged for a 47-minute documentary film to be made about the project and released in the summer of 1972. The project was produced by Johanna Demetrakas under the auspices of the American Film Society. Demetrakas was said to be "impressed" and "inspired" by the project. [17][18] Its European distribution is assured by le peuple qui manque. [19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Revisiting Womanhouse
  2. ^ a b Recalling Womanhouse
  3. ^ Meyer, Laura (2011). Sondra Hale and Terry Wolverton, ed. From Site to Vision: The Woman’s Building in Contemporary Culture,. Los Angeles: OTIS School of Art and Design. p. 91. 
  4. ^ a b c d The Education of Women as Artists: Project Womanhouse
  5. ^ Schapiro, Miriam (Spring, 1972). "The Education of Women as Artists: Project Womanhouse". Art Journal (College Art Association). Retrieved 10/04/2014. 
  6. ^ "Womanhouse catalog essay". Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  7. ^ Womanhouse Catalog Essay
  8. ^ Cite error: The named reference Catalog_Essay_pg._2 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  9. ^ Recalling Womanhouse
  10. ^ Cite error: The named reference Catalog_Essay_pg._2-5 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  11. ^ Performance Anthology. San Francisco CA: Last Gasp Press. 1989. 
  12. ^ Jones, Amelia (2003). The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. New York NY: Routledge. 
  13. ^ Cite error: The named reference Catalog_Essay_pg._5 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  14. ^ "Womanhouse". Womanhouse.refugia.net. Retrieved 2014-01-12. 
  15. ^ Balducci, Temma (Fall-Winter, 2006). "Revisiting "Womanhouse": Welcome to the (Deconstructed) "Dollhouse"". Woman's Art Journal (Old City Publishing, Inc.). Retrieved 09/04/2014. 
  16. ^ Revisiting Womanhouse
  17. ^ Cite error: The named reference Catalog_Essay_pg._6 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  18. ^ Schapiro, Miriam (Spring-Summer, 1987). "Recalling Womanhouse". Women's Studies Quarterly (New York, NY: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York). Retrieved 07/04/2014. 
  19. ^ "WOMEN MAKE MOVIES | Womanhouse". Wmm.com. Retrieved 2014-01-12. 


  • Harper, Paula, The First Feminist Art Program: A View from the 1980s, Signs, vol. 10, no. 4, summer, 1985, p. 762-781.
  • Raven, Arlene, "Womanhouse," The Power of Feminist Art, London: Thames and Hudson, 1994, p. 161-172.
  • Schapiro, Miriam, The Education of Women as Artists: Project Womanhouse, Art Journal, vol. 31, no.3, Spring, 1972, p. 268-270.

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