Art History, Museum

The National Museum of Women in the Arts

The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), located in Washington, D.C. is the only major museum in the whole world solely dedicated to women’s achievements in arts (visual, performing, literary). The idea for this museum came from the will to answer a very simple and obvious question (but not common): Where are all the women artists?

National Museum of Women in the Arts
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The museum was founded by Wihelmina Cole Holladay and Wallace F. Holladay, art collectors who started their collection in the 1960s, by then scholars and art historians were beginning the discussion of the underrepresentation of women and various racial or ethnic groups in the collections of museums and in major art exhibitions.

The Holladays committed themselves for over 20 years to assembling art created by women, being among the first to apply a revisionist approach to their collection. In the 1980s, Wihelmina devoted herself to creating a museum that would be unique in the world, the first that would exhibit only the art created by women, having Holladays collection as the heart of the institution’s permanent collection.

The NMWA was founded in November 1981 as a private, non-profit museum. During the first five years, the museum operated from temporary offices with docent-led tours of the collection at the Holladay residence. There was also the presentation of special collections.

The museum opened its doors in the spring of 1987 with inaugural exhibition American Women Artists 1830-1930 (a definitive survey curated by one of the USA’s foremost feminist art historians, Dr. Eleanor Tufts.

The NMWA building, which is listed on the U. S. National Register of Historic Places, is the old Masonic Temple near to the White House. It was refurbished in accordance with the highest design and security standards; being the winner of numerous architectural awards.

The Collection

Since its opening, the museum has acquired a collection of more than 4.500 pieces in a variety of styles and media. The works date from the 16th century to the present day. Among the earliest works of the collection is the Portrait of a Noblewoman by Lavinia Fontana (c. 1580).

Portrait of a Noblewoman by Lavinia Fontana, c.1580
(Photo credit: WikiArt)

There are also special collections as the 18th century botanical prints; works by British and Irish women silversmiths from the 17th-19th centuries; and more than 1.000 unique and limited-edition artist’s books.

The permanent collection of the museum includes works by Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Rosa Bonheur, Louise Bourgeois, Camille Claudel, Judy Chicago, Rosalba Carriera, Elaine de Kooning, Angelica Kauffmann, Judith Leyster, Marie Laurencin, Alice Neel, Clara Peeters, Gabriele Münter, Lila Cabot Perry, Elizabeth Murray, Rachel Ruysch.

The Library and Research Center

The Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) provides researches with information about women visual artists from all time periods and nationalities. It is open to students, scholars, researches, museum professionals and to the general public too.

Its collection includes 18.500 volumes of books and exhibition catalogues, 50 periodical titles and research files on 18.000 individual women artists, which include correspondence, reproductions, articles and other material.

The Arts and Entertainment Network Media Library hold approximately 500 videos, DVDs and audio tapes among other audio-visual materials such as video art, interviews, documentaries and films directed by women.


  • NMWA – National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • WikiArt
  • Wikipedia