A Re (Re) (Re)—telling of the Narrative of Womanhouse, or In the Beginning there was a Woman with a Hammer, by Stephanie Crawford by Suzy Spence

By Stephanie Crawford,  Project Archivist at Rutgers University, Special Collections and University Archives. Used with permission of the author.

        Womanhouse is nothing, if not a great story. Womanhouse was the first project of the California Institute of the Arts Feminist Art Program (FAP). Led by educators, professional artists and feminists Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, twenty-one students along with three local fiber artists took over a dilapidated building and transformed into the “first female expression of art.”[1] Students built walls, fixed floors, installed windows, and worked without heat or running water. Composed of twenty-five mixed-media environments and six performances, Womanhouse sought to explore the complex relationship between a woman and her home by both embracing the creativity that women have exhibited in decorating maintaining their homes, as well as questioning certain gender roles as normative. It was open to the public from January 30th 1972 until February 28th of the same year. The creation stories surrounding Womanhouse do not echo the complexities and contradictory nature of the program. By utilizing archival documents and one on one interviews conducted by the author with artists involved in this project, this essay aims to create a new narrative of Womanhouse, one that utilizes more of the student’s voices and experiences.

            Womanhouse has become something akin to a feminist myth. The narrative of Womanhouse is repeated over and over in articles, cementing certain facts into place. Sandra Sider dictated the narrative of Womanhouse in “A Cradle of Feminist Art.” Tracing the Feminist Art Program to Fresno and the influence of feminist writings, Sider’s rhetoric is extremely narrative, as if she is telling a story about the creation of Womanhouse.[2] Her examination of the installations and performances center around themes: color, costume, food, etc.[3] Sider, one of the first to completely describe the installations, the creation, and the historical background, strove to place the program and Womanhouse firmly in women’s art history.

            Sasha Archibald wrote a lengthy article after viewing Johanna Demetrakas’ film Womanhouse and Lynne Litman’s films Womanhouse is not a Home during Faith Wilding’s 2015 retrospective at Three Walls Gallery.[4] Breaking “Revisiting Womanhouse,” into subsections, she discusses both the founding of the FAP and how Womanhouse embodies feminist pedagogy.[5] Her article can be read as an attempt to keep Womanhouse relevant (hey, look at this cool thing I discovered!) Lastly, Janis Edwards and Temma Balducci both attempt to resurrect Womanhouse from a straight narrative path.[6] Their articles ask great questions: why is Womanhouse not written about in a thoughtful way? How does Womanhouse connect with the feminist rhetoric of the time? How else can we talk about Womanhouse?[7] However, their articles quickly fall into the same repetitive trap, telling and retelling the same narrative.

Womanhouse becomes a story to be told: one to passed from feminist campfire girl to the next. And this limits how we talk about and understand it. Myths surround us in our culture. Estella Lauter defines myth in her text Women as Mythmakers as something that, “…usually takes the form of an unusually potent story or symbol. Regardless of its origins (in group ritual or in the dreams of individuals), it is repeated until it is accepted as truth."[8] Womanhouse is, if nothing else, a really great story that is told over and over. A mother figure in Miriam Schapiro, a bitch figure in Judy Chicago, and children-like students aiming to accomplish something larger than themselves: the story of Womanhouse is both inspiring and almost formulaic.

Lauter sees myth as a structure to understand something incomprehensible.[9] Womanhouse as myth, therefore, could stand as a way to understand early feminist art and early feminist thinking. Combining the structure of myth with feminist activity and theory, Lauter arrives at a conclusion that myths are capable of expanding and contracting within a complex system of symbols (gender). However, Lauter is interested in revision; primarily her book discusses the feminisms that are rewriting male centric mythology to reflect a female presence.[10] This essay would like to expand her careful analysis of mythmaking to discuss a proto-feminist myth, and to expand that myth in order to allow the complexities of the project shine through. That is not to say that the old myth is inaccurate, it can simply be expanded upon to provide new information and points of view.

         In the Fall of 1971, twenty students were enrolled in the Feminist Art Program (FAP) at The California Institute of the Arts, located in the recently built campus in Valencia, California. Artists and educators Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago led the program with the assistance of art historian Paula Harper.[11] Shelia de Brettville taught the Feminist enrolled Design Program at Cal Arts.[12]

         The major goal of the FAP was to create a sustainable creative environment, one similar to a greenhouse, for women to learn to become professional artists.[13] Students would thrive in a secluded environment, growing from an intensive program that was meant to train them both as artists and women. The educators’ role would be characteristically more of mentor and friend than teacher. As Miriam Schapiro stated, she finally felt comfortable enough to break the boundary between teacher and student: she learned as much from the FAP as the students did.[14]  Art making would thrive from consciousness—raising sessions focusing on gender issues while art making would be evaluated based on authenticity: ideally closing the gap of misunderstanding between professor and student. Ultimately, conflicts between personalities and teaching goals would lead to fissures within the FAP.

         The FAP at Cal Arts was designed based on Judy Chicago’s successful FAP at Fresno State University. With literature from the Women’s Movement like Valerie Solanas’ Scum Manifesto becoming available on the West Coast, Chicago began to address an issue she had long buried in art school: being a woman artist.[15] Because she had in fact been considered a “serious” student bent on becoming a professional artist, Chicago’s experience of sexism was not as drastic as other students.[16] However, Chicago felt the need to hide her true work, the work that emphasized her feminine sensibility. Through the increase of Women’s Movement literature and the radical idea that gender is constructed and not predetermined by genitalia, Chicago felt the need to rediscover herself as a woman artist, to determine what women’s art was, and to help other women become professional artists.

         In the fall of 1970, Judy Chicago began teaching at University of California at Fresno. Her goals were to make a revolutionary program that would both train women students for a career in the art world, but to alter their personalities to become aware of sexism. As Chicago told Fresno department chair, “I’m very concerned about the fact that so many young women go into the college art system an so few come out the other end into professional life. I would like to address this.”[17] Students worked in a shared studio space located outside of campus, experimented with new media, read women’s writing, researched women artists, and had consciousness—raising sessions which garnered ideas for art making.[18] One of the most important contributions of the Fresno FAP was their embrace of cunt art.[19] Cunt art embraced the harsh “curse” word much like LGBT rights advocates of the word queer, in order to explore femininity and sexuality in art. The Fresno Feminist Art Program legacy ties itself to Womanhouse through its pedagogy and separatism.

         During Judy Chicago’s time in Fresno, Miriam Schapiro visited to see the students’ work. Schapiro taught painting and introductory classes at California Institute of the Arts.  Chicago and Schapiro had known each other before their meeting in Fresno. Meeting at a dinner party given by Allan Kaprow, Chicago was invited to visit Schapiro’s studio.[20] Chicago recognized much of the same elements in Schapiro’s work as her own: a hidden feminine quality. The two began an art friendship that centered on women’s art education. During her time at Fresno, Chicago felt overwhelmed and called on Miriam one night to speak about the struggles and doubts she was experiencing. It was then that Schapiro was invited, for the first time, to speak on her art and critique the students at Fresno.[21] During her visit to Fresno, Schapiro was surprised and pleased at the students’ use of performance and new media to express themselves. Schapiro stated: “The difference between the atmosphere that I was living in and the atmosphere she [Chicago] had created was astonishing to me. I felt she was involved in an appropriate historical change.”[22] Schapiro and Chicago began to discuss plans to move the FAP to Cal Arts, a new arts school in Valencia, CA where Paul Brach, husband of Miriam Schapiro was Dean of the Art Department.[23] Cal Arts would, in theory, be the perfect breeding ground for the FAP.

         California Institute of the Arts was the brainchild of Walt Disney and his brother Roy Disney. At the Hollywood premier of Mary Poppins in 1964, a short movie entitled The Cal Arts Story about the concept of an art school was shown before the main picture.[24] In order to complete the Los Angeles cultural triumph already shown in The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Los Angles Music Center, the school of art would perfect and maintain the highest standard of art and music.[25] Combining the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and The Chouindard School of Art in 1961, Cal Arts was tentatively born.[26] After Disney’s death in 1966, his foundation and his family continued to pursue his dream of a professional art school. In the fall of 1970, California Institute of the Arts was opened to students and located in a temporary downtown Los Angeles. Construction had begun in Valencia to complete a brand new campus.[27]

         The vision of Cal Arts, while influenced by Disney’s ideas, was meant to be a new Bauhaus in sunny LA. In its inception, curriculum was designed with a focus on students’ development as artists. The curriculum would “favor independent artistic work over rigid curricula, collegial relationships among a community of artists over hierarchies of teacher and student, and continuous interaction among the different branches of the arts over the self-containment of each discipline.”[28] Cal Arts had no grading system, relying on mentor evaluations in order to maintain student productivity.[29] Students had a sense of freedom on campus to learn and be involved in as much as they wanted to be.[30] Professors invited to teach included artists Allan Kaprow and Nam Jun Paik, sitar master Ravi Shankar, ethnomusicologist Nicholas England, experimental filmmaker Pat O'Neill, and animation artist Jules Engel.[31] 

         Cal Arts appears to have been an interdisciplinary environment focused on providing individualized education. However, according to Miriam Schapiro, members of the administration were initially hesitant to include the Feminist Art Program in their school. She states, “ They [a large male group of administrators] didn’t really know Judy, and she carried a volatile mythology around her, so they were cautious. But I persuaded them that, since I was fifteen years older than she, I would be the leavening influence, and I told them I believed this program could develop into something very important..... It [Cal Arts] was just a grand melee of radical procedures. And our feminist art program simply took its place.”[32] Support for the program from the college seemed to waiver on and off during its seven year run. While the FAP received enough money to hire an art historian and fund their various projects, Judy Chicago currently reads the faculty’s pseudo-radical pedagogy as yet another instance of male dominance.[33] Cal Arts continual dismissal of the FAP over the years signifies the school’s ambivalence towards it: it enjoys/ed the attention brought by the FAP, but makes little effort to incorporate the tenets of the FAP or its history into everyday life at Cal Arts.[34]

     Schapiro and Chicago co-taught the Feminist Art Program for two years.[35] Schapiro loosely taught Painting and Drawing, Chicago taught a Performance Class and Faith Wilding, the graduate assistant taught in the second quarter a class entitled Journal of Consciousness.[36] Paula Harper taught an art history class for the first year, and oversaw the collection of woman artist slides and research regarding women in the arts. Arlene Raven took over Harper’s responsibilities in the fall of 1972. Eight students initially transferred from Fresno to Cal Arts, entering both the FAP and Feminist Design Program. The program drew heavily from Chicago’s experience in Fresno, though quickly adapting to the Cal Arts environment.

     The fall of 1971 was clouded with problems for Cal Arts. Over the summer of 1971, an earthquake caused damage to Los Angeles and other southern California cities.[37] Several of the students and Judy Chicago recall that Cal Arts was closed due to earthquake damage.[38] Mira Schor recalls the floors were warped, as if they were waves.[39] Because of the damage to the campus, the first quarter of the program was delayed in starting. However, a letter to Miriam Schapiro from the Cal Arts Administration in the fall of 1971 highlights another potential problem that could have affected the start of classes. The letter addresses the problem of funding: explaining that the possibility for alternative funding had to be addressed.[40] This signals a problem with the board of directors, and possibly with the Disney family itself.

     Although the semester had not begun, the women of the FAP began to meet outside of the school, in each other’s kitchens and living rooms.[41] Chicago, Schapiro, and Wilding had to rethink the structure of the semester. Following the Fresno program, the original structure was for the students and professors to meet, read important women writers, and participate in consciousness—raising sessions.[42] The consciousness—raising sessions were meant to get the women thinking critically about their experiences, their readings, and their artwork. Chicago and Schapiro emphasized authentic art content: art that came from experience, and a distinctly female-centric experience.[43] The women would learn how to use tools and build structures. From there, the students would use their new skills and ideas from the consciousness—raising sessions to produce authentic artwork. Since there was no place for the women to meet or work, Paula Harper, the FAP art historian suggested an installation instead.[44] Womanhouse was the first project of the California Institute of the Arts Feminist Art Program.

     Womanhouse was an exploration of a woman’s relationship to the home.[45] The twenty-five installations and six performances chose to depict this theme in several ways. Some chose to celebrate the inherent creativity that women put into decorating and keeping their homes (The Dining Room). Others focused on representing the frivolity or forced nature of socialized gender roles (Lipstick Bathroom, Aprons in the Kitchen). Perhaps one of the most dominant themes is that of excess. As written by Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago in an unpublished essay, the women asked themselves: would it be like if a woman kept on crocheting, if she never stopped, if she crocheted a whole room?[46] It is in this excess that the gendered activities and roles begin to break down through humor and suffering. It should be noted that the installations represent feminisms in that the women chose to think and represent multiple points of view regarding feminist issues.

     Cemented in historical precedent, Womanhouse invokes similarities to the Women’s Building from 1883. During the fall of 1971, Nancy Youdelman bought a book from a thrift store about the 1883 Columbian World Exposition, which included information about the Woman’s Building.[47] The Woman’s Building was unique in the exposition in that it contained examples of feminine creativity and ingenuity, which would not have been promoted in other buildings.[48] Built by a woman architect, the Woman’s Building also hosted lectures in regards to women’s issues like prostitution, childcare, and the right to vote.[49] Similarly, Womanhouse also sought to provide examples of women’s creativity that would not be represented in other settings and provided lectures through the West Coast Women Artists Conference, in which Miriam Schapiro famously called for women to come out of their kitchen and dining room studios.[50]

     Locating and securing the space for Womanhouse was not an easy task. The students split into teams of three and scoured the city for an appropriate location to hold the exhibition.[51] Three students: Vicki Hodgetts, Shawnee Wollenman, and Chris Rush found the house at 533 Mariposa Street in downtown Los Angeles.[52] The once beautiful mansion was now in a state of disrepair, with a sign in front stating to KEEP AWAY- POLICE ARE WATCHING.[53] The three women visited the neighbors’ houses to inquire after the owner of what the women would continuously refer to as “The House.”[54] The neighbors were little help, so the determined women went instead to the hall of records and then to hall of assessors.[55] Hodgetts and crew were successful in their search: they found the owner’s name, address, and phone number: Amanda Psalter.[56] The three women crafted a letter to Psalter and called the number continuously. Finally, the students were able to reach the family’s real estate company and then the grandson-in-law of Amanda Psalter. According to the grandson-in-law, no one knew where his grandmother lived since she was a bit of an eccentric.[57]

     Hodgetts relates in her essay that the house was donated to the program, but not how. Mira Schor, Faith Wilding, and Miriam Schapiro expand upon this story. In a panel discussion in February of 2014, Schor discussed the beginnings of Womanhouse, describing how the male centered administration at Cal Arts helped to make Womanhouse possible. In her account, once the students reached the blockade of being unable to locate Psalter, the college stepped in to rent the house for $1 from the city (possibly county) for the period of three months before the demolition was set to take place.[58] Wilding confirms this story in an interview on YouTube. Since Wilding was the graduate assistant and entrusted with more responsibilities, it is entirely possible that both accounts are accurate, and supplement each other, since the Wilding and Hodgetts were involved in different aspects. However, in preparatory notes for a lecture on Womanhouse, Miriam Schapiro relates a similar, but slightly different relation of events. Written as a conversation between Sherry Brody and Miriam Schapiro, the one page “Woman House Slide Segment” addresses the pedagogical impact of Womanhouse.[59] Schapiro wrote, “ The realtor gave them the house rent-free when he realized that he could claim it as a tax deduction.”[60] While it is still unclear the exact nature of how the house was secured, the pieces seem to complement and explain each other.

     Upon securing the house, problems did indeed occur between the students and between the teachers, and between teachers and students. This left a sour taste in many of the women’s mouths for years to come. One of the first problems was the division of rooms: the ones who knew exactly what they wanted to do got the rooms they wanted, and the others were left with the rejects. In interviews conducted by the author only a few of the students could recall the day that rooms were chosen, but those that did stated that it was a flurry of movement and running to secure rooms.[61] While this may not seem like an important distinction, it tends to signal the dominance of the original FAP members who more or less knew what they wanted to do in the beginning.

     The second and third problems revolved around the faculty. According to Faith Wilding and Robin Mitchell, Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro were seldom at The House during its creation.[62] Schapiro and Chicago were most likely in New York City some of the time, helping to organize the West-East Bag’s West Coast Women Artists’ conference, which was held at the beginning of Womanhouse, in Los Angeles.[63] Other times they were possibly promoting Womanhouse: the turnout and amount of press could not have been fueled by word of mouth alone. While all of this was necessary, students felt taken advantage of.[64] They were required to spend all of their extra time, money, and resources on making this project a success. Since the house had no running water, the students had to either use the backyard or walk to the corner gas station.[65] There was no heat or electricity in the house, which created an unfavorable work environment. The students felt as if too much of their time was dedicated to fixing, and not to art. Lastly, Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago had ceased to get along during the making of Womanhouse. After their presentation on Womanhouse and the FAP at the Corcoran Art Conference in Washington D.C, tensions rose high between the two women. It was obvious to the students, who felt the need to pick sides.[66]

     The problems discussed here in the FAP are not meant as gossip, but glimpses into the actual workings of the FAP. It was a difficult time for the students and teachers alike. They were overworked, tired, and upset. The teachers were not just mentors, or fellow learners. There was a clear division between student and teacher in the amount of time required at the house. However, problems aside, the women were able to work with one another to complete the house. It opened to the public a mere two months after the women secured the house.  

     Womanhouse opened to the public on January 27, 1972 and closed on February 28th of the same year, seeing roughly 4,000 visitors.[67]  After its closing, the house was demolished by the city in order to build much-needed apartment buildings. It disappeared as quickly as it began. Womanhouse was the first of its kind; it was radical in its use of performance, environment, and craft as fine art; and it was made into a fantastic story of adversity, triumph and feminism. Womanhouse closed with an appropriate end: a dinner party. Karen LeCcoq and Shawnee Wollenman write about how on the last day of Womanhouse there was an auction.[68] This is confirmed by the auction notes found in Miriam’s Papers at Rutgers.[69] Afterwards the women feasted on things they bought from Meyer’s Delicatessen and the bread dough that the Dining Room food was made from.[70] The house was dismantled and eventually was torn down to make room for apartment buildings, which still stand today. Most of the pieces of Womanhouse have been lost or thrown out over the years. Only a stocking from the Laundry Room, one Egg to Breast and The Dollhouse survive.[71]

     It would be irresponsible to end with anything less than a calling for more work to be done concerning early feminist art history. Feminist art lives with a bad reputation: as “messy, diaristic indulgences” tinged with the stigma of essentialism.[72]Early feminist art and Womanhouse are in danger of being forgotten. As Joellyn Snyder-Ott concluded in her 1974 article regarding The Women’s Building of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, “…and I thought, ‘why didn’t I know of all this before, and why did I have to gather this information piece by piece from many sources?’”[73] Since embarking on this project, three of the women associated with the FAP and Womanhouse have died.[74] While Miriam Schapiro’s papers have been retained at Rutger’s University, Sherry Brody and Paula Harper’s papers are nowhere, possibly lost or discarded.[75] And although Schapiro, Wilding, and Chicago have given many interviews, others have not. The urgency of this project, then, should be obvious. Not only should more research, continuing research, be focused on women’s art history, it should continue to reflect and evaluate the narrative that encapsulates the art and the artists. Without these efforts, another essay in the future will ask the same questions, and come to the same conclusions.


[1] Susan Stocking, “Through the Feminist Looking Glass.” Los Angeles Times (July 9, 1972): np.

[2] Sandra Sider, “Womanhouse: Cradle of Feminist Art,” Art Spaces Archives Project,

http:/as-ap.org/content/womanhouse-cradle-feminist-art-sandra-sider-0 (accessed December 4, 2011).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sasha Archibald, “Womanhouse Revisited.” The Believer 11, no. 9 (Nov/Dec 2013): 13-21.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Janis L. Edwards, “Womanhouse: Making the Personal Story Political in Visual Form,”

Women and Language (2005): 42-46; and Temma Balducci, “Revisting ‘Womanhouse’: Welcome to the (de)Constructed Dollhouse,” Woman’s Art Journal 27, no. 2 (Fall-Winter 2006): 17-23.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Estella Lauter, “Introduction: Steps Towards a Feminist Archetypal Theory of Mythmaking,” in Women as Mythmakers (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 1.

[9] Ibid, 3.

[10] Ibid,10.

[11] Miriam Schapiro was a successful painter who came into her own during abstract expressionism in New York and was then working in a minimal style. Judy Chicago had been consistently working with minimalism.

[12] Dorie Atlantis and Suzanne Lacy transferred from the Fresno FAP into the design program. Youdelman, Chris Rush, Karen LeCocq, Faith Wilding, Shawnee Wollenman, and Jan Lester transferred to the FAP at Cal Arts from Fresno. 

[13] Paula Harper references the term greenhouse in her article “A View from the 1980s,” 763. It can also be found in “Feminist Art Program Description,” Miriam Schapiro Papers, Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives. 

[14] Oral History Interview with Miriam Schapiro, 1989 September 10, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[15] Judy Chicago, Through the Flower, 59-60.

[16] Ibid.

[17]  Chicago does not name the department chair by name. Judy Chicago, Through the Flower, 70-71.

[18] Faith Wilding, “The Fresno Feminist Art Program,” in By Our Own Hands: The Women Artist’s Movement Southern California 1970-1976 (Santa Monica, CA: Double X, 1977), 10-11. 

[19] Cunt art is in an extreme response to the search for a distinctly women’s art, and making art out of a directly female experience.

[20] Judy Chicago, Institutional Time: A Critique of Studio Art Education (Monacelli Press, 2015), 32. In their initial meeting, Miriam was skeptical regarding the importance of gender in art. This attitude is not uncommon: Lucy Lippard also discusses her initial aversion to being seen as a woman writer. Schapiro and Lippard both aimed to be viewed as artists, not gendered artists. Lippard discussed her “click” when she realized that gender does indeed matter. Schapiro does not discuss this moment in any literature, but must have experienced something similar. Lucy Lippard Lecture, The New School, 2014.

[21] Judy Chicago, Through the Flower 81-83.

[22] Oral History Interview with Miriam Schapiro, 1989 September 10, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[23] It was common for universities to hire couples back then. Judy’s partner Lloyd Hamrol worked at Cal Arts and so did Miriam’s husband Paul Brach.

[24] Walt Disney Productions, “The Cal Arts Story,” https://calarts.edu/about/history (accessed November 22, 2015).

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Cal Arts History,” https://calarts.edu/about/history (accessed November 22, 2015).

[28] Ibid.

[29] “Mentor Evaluations,” Miriam Schapiro Papers at Rutgers University; Cal Arts Brochure, Feminist Art Program Materials at California Institute of the Arts.

[30] Mira Schor, in her book Wet, describes Cal Arts life like an episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse (he went to Cal Arts). She says that she didn’t go to Cal Arts, she lived it. Mira Schor, Wet: On Painting, Feminism and Art Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), 131.

[31] Cal Arts History, https://calarts.edu/about/history; Oral History Interview with Miriam Schapiro, 1989 September 10, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[32] Oral History Interview with Miriam Schapiro, 1989 September 10, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[33] “Interview with Judy Chicago,” December 13, 2014. Minimalism and conceptualism dominated the student and faculty work (which Chicago reads as male centric), the faculty was largely male, and interest in the FAP was minimal. According to Chicago, only a few of the professors came out to see Womanhouse. The only verifiable people from Cal Arts that attended Womanhouse were Paul Brach, Lloyd Hamrol, and Robert Corrigan.

[34] Feminism at CalArts: The Ideal Persists, Special Edition of Walt 3, no. 1 (September 1983).

[35] Schapiro continued for another 5 without Arlene Raven or Judy Chicago.

[36] Miriam Schapiro, “Establishing a Feminist Art Program Part 2,” unpublished essay in Miriam Schapiro Papers at Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University, np. Judy Chicago, Institutional Time, 42.

[37] Los Angeles Times Blog, “Southern California, This Just in,” http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/02/sylmar-earthquake-anniversary-dam-almost-collapse.html (accessed August 2, 2015).

[38] “Interview with Judy Chicago,” December 13, 2014; “Interview with Nancy Youdelman,” March 14, 2014; “Interview with Robin Mitchell,” May 21, 2014; and “Interview with Ann Mills” May 22, 2014.

[39] “Interview with Mira Schor,” March 24, 2014.

[40] Letter to Miriam from the Dean, Miriam Schapiro Papers, Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives.

[41] Womanhouse exhibition catalog, np; and Amy Jin Johnson, “Interview with Faith Wilding on Womanhouse,” YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50oc4e3S3_Y (accessed June 14, 2014).

[42] Faith Wilding, Youtube interview.

[43] Miriam Schapiro, “The Education of Women as Artists: Project Womanhouse.” Art Journal 31 no. 3 (Spring 1972): 268-270.

[44] There is no contestation that Harper suggested the idea. Judy Chicago Through the Flower, Miriam “The Education of Women as Artists: Project Womanhouse,” Harper, “A View from the 1980s,” 762.  

[45] As suggested by Paula Harper, Ibid.

[46] Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, “The Liberation of the Female Artist,” Unpublished Essay in

 Judy Chicago Papers, Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.

[47] “Author interview with Nancy Youdelman.” March 15, 2014.

[48] Jean Madeline Weimann, “Prelude,”in The Fair Women: The Story of the Woman’s Building, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1893 (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1981), 1-5 and 141.

[49] Ibid., 266 523-549.

[50] Alexa Krasilovsky, West Coast Women Artists’ Conference (Los Angeles: California Institute of the Arts), np.

[51] Womanhouse exhibition catalog, 1972.

[52] Vicki Hodgetts, “The Kitchen at Mariposa,” unpublished essay, 1972, page 3, found in Miriam Schapiro’s Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.; and Faith Wilding YouTube interview.

[55] Womanhouse exhibition catalog, np; and Hodgetts, “The Kitchen at Mariposa,” 3-4.

[56] Hodgetts, “The Kitchen at Mariposa,” 3.

[57] Ibid. The grandson-in-law states that Amanda did not tell anyone where she was living, met family on corners of streets and phoned them from a pay phone.

[58] Mira Schor, Panel Discussion at A.I.R. Gallery, February 2014.

[59] Miriam Schapiro, “Woman House Slide Segment,” Miriam Schapiro Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University.

[60] Ibid.

[61] “Ann Mills interview,” May 22, 2014; and “Robin Mitchell interview,” May 21, 2014.

[62] Faith Wilding Youtube interview, “Robin Mitchell Interview,” May 21, 2014.

[63] The West-East Bag was a feminist group of artists and writers from the West and East coasts. They had meetings and circulated a brochure/zine that published opportunities for women and short articles. Both Schapiro and Chicago were members. Alexa Krasilovsky, West Coast Women Artists’ Conference (Los Angeles: California Institute of the Arts): Pamphlet; and West East Bag Newsletter, 1972 in Miriam Schapiro Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University.

[64] Shawnee Wollenman “Response from a Feminist Point of View.” The Big News (March 7, 1972): 5.

[65] “Janice Lester Martin interview,” May 23, 2014; “Robin Mitchell interview,” May 21, 2014.

[66] “Nancy Youdelman interview,” May 15, 2014; “Karen LeCocq interview,” May 11, 2014; Faith Wilding Youtube interview.

[67] Womanhouse exhibition catalog, np.

[68] “Karen LeCocq Interview,” March 11, 2014; and  Shawnee Wollenman, Big News, 1972.

[69] Miriam Schapiro Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University.

[70] Wollenman, Big News 1972, 5.

[71] Nancy Youdelman owns the stocking, Faith Wilding owns the breast, and The Smithsonian owns The Dollhouse. 

[72] Carolee Schneeman, Interior Scroll, 1975, performance.

[73] Joellyn Snyder-Ott, “Woman’s Place in the Home (That She Built),” The Feminist Art Journal 3, no 3 (Fall 1974): 18.

[74] Miriam Schapiro on June 20, 2015, Sherry Brody on January 30, 2015, and Paula Harper on June 3, 2012. Mira Schor, “Remembering Miriam Schapiro (1923-2015),” Hyperallergic (June 22, 2015), http://hyperallergic.com/216461/remembering-miriam-schapiro-1923-2015/ (accessed September 6, 2015).  “Sherry Brody Obituary,” Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2015. Denise Grady, “Paula Hays Harper, Art Historian, is Dead at 81,” New York Times (June 25, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/26/arts/design/paula-hays-harper-feminist-art-historian-dies-at-81.html?_r=0 (accessed September 6, 2015).

[75] Speaking with Brody’s daughter, it is clear she either does not wish to share her mother’s materials, does not know where they are, or they are lost/destroyed. Harper does not have any archival institution listed in worldcat.org.

By Our Own Hands, by Faith Wilding by Suzy Spence

By Our Own Hands by Faith Wilding, Copyright, 1977, by Faith Wilding and
DoubleXUsed with permission of the author

In the fall of 1971, the relocated Feminist Art Program started at California Institute of the Arts with 25 students.  Since the school was still under construction, the Program met in the private residences of the students to plan its first project, Womanhouse, which had been conceived by Paula Harper, an art historian who had joined the Program’s staff.  In planning a large beginning project, the Program faculty hoped to accomplish several things:  first, to let students confront their problems as women while grappling with the demands of a project rather than undergoing initial extended consciousness-raising; second, to give students the chance to learn many skills and work collaboratively; and last but most important, to force the students to begin pushing their role limitations as women and to test themselves as artists.  As it turned out, all of these hopes were realized, and Womanhouse has become an example to feminist art classes everywhere of the great potential of an initial collaborative project.

Womanhouse began in an old deserted mansion on a residential street in Hollywood and became an environment in which:  “The age-old female activity of homemaking was taken to fantasy proportions.  Womanhouse became the repository of the daydreams women have as they wash, bake, cook, sew, clean and iron their lives away.  Before actually creating the art environments and pieces, the students had to do extensive reconstruction on the house which had been empty for many years, and in which vandals had broken most windows, fixtures and furnishings.  Soon the women skillfully wielded electric saws, drills and sanders, they learned to drywall, paint and glaze windows.  The work was done under taxing conditions, for it was winter and Womahouse had no heat, hot water, or plumbing.  Struggling with these obstacles, the unfamiliar techniques and tools and the stringent deadlines, aroused tremendous anger in the women.  Group meetings were held to deal with these feelings and other problems, and those women were working collaboratively also met in small group consciousness-raising sessions.  The women invited three professional artists from the community, Wanda Westcoast, Sherry Brody and Carol Edson Mitchell to collaborate with them and exhibit their work.   Several times a week some of the students met to prepare a program of performance pieces about housework, women’s role conditioning, nurturing and body experiences.  Judy Chicago has described these performances and the various rooms of Womanhouse fully in her book.

Womanhouse was to open to the public from January 30 to February 28, 1972.  It had taken two full months to complete and had attracted nation-wide attention in the media (footnote 3).  During the month it was on view thousands of people of all ages came to see it.  Womanhouse was an historic event, a happening to which audiences came with different expectations than those they usually bring to art.  Womanhouse was in fact the first public exhibition of “feminist art,”

and as such was received with mixed reactions, as characterized by William Wilson’s review in the Los Angles Times:

Lair of Female Creativity:  An art-environment project called “Womanhouse” is as cheerful and disarming as a pack of laughing schoolgirls under a porcelain sky…Womanhouse is pervaded with the spirit of comfort and magic that women bring to living, their endless inventiveness, bottomless energy and gentle persuasive humor.  Judy Chicago’s “Menstruation Bathroom is the heaviest project on view.  It ought to bring any many to an awed and somber sense of respect…We are made to understand that women, simply in their being, are creative.  Their houses, meals and children represent art out of masculine reach.  Womanhouse reminds us that the female is our only direct link with the forces of nature and that man’s greatest creative acts may be but envious shadowings of her fecundity.

This review with its mixture of real perception and platitudinal mumbling misses much, and reflects clearly the male attitude of “worship, withdraw and forget” which women have been trying to change.  The review omits some very important points:  Womanhouse with its sickly pink kitchen, its woman trapped in the sheetcloset, its bride crashing into the wall, and its endless homage to costume, make-up, and domesticity could also be understood as a sharp critique of the confinement of female creativity to a limited sphere.   Womanhouse was a new kind of art-making which took private and collective female experiences as its subject matter.  Nor does the review say anything of this art as social and political realism which is to be taken seriously, and which was the impetus for much of the autobiographical, personal art-making in vogue among both male and female artists today.

Working collaboratively on Womanhouse enriched each participant’s ideas and taught her new skills.  During this time, the women had many discussions together and enlarged their views of personal and human experience and women’s lives.  Meeting the public in Womanhouse was also a valuable education for the students, who learned how to give tours to articulate what they were doing, and to maintain their own vision in the face of criticism.

Although Womanhouse gave all the participants a feeling of great satisfaction and group solidarity, some of them had difficulty deriving a sense of personal accomplishment from it, and many longed to get back to their individual work.  Cal Arts was now ready for its students, and had provided a large, fully equipped studio for the Feminist Program as well as a complete set of tools and generous course support money.