The founding of the Woman's Building in Los Angeles in 1973 was the culmination of several years of activity (see Bibliography) by women artists who were energized by the feminist movement in this country. This activity included protests of major museums for their exclusion of women artists, the opening of gallery spaces dedicated to the work of women, the founding of the first feminist art education programs (in 1970, by Judy Chicago at Fresno State College and in 1971 by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro at California Institute of the Arts), and the first large scale public feminist art installation, Womanhouse. In 1973, artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven founded the first independent school for women artists, the Feminist Studio Workshop. The FSW focused not only on the development of artmaking skills (in visual arts, writing, performance art, video, graphic design and the printing arts), but also on the development of women's identity and sensibility, and the translation of these elements into their artwork. Central to the founders' vision was the idea that the arts should not be separated from other activities of the burgeoning women's community, and the three looked for a site for their school that could also be shared with other organizations and enterprises.
NAKED LADY, a sculpture by Kate Millet, is raised to the roof of the Woman's Building in 1978 to celebrate the fifth anniversary.
This space, the Woman's Building, opened in November 1973. The Woman's Building took its name and inspiration from a structure built by Sophia Hayden for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago to house exhibitions of cultural works by women from around the world. When the Woman's Building first opened in 1973, it occupied the site of the old Chouinard Art Institute near MacArthur Park. Hundreds of women came from across the United States (and from as far away as Canada, Mexico, Holland and Switzerland) to attend the FSW. The facility was also home to galleries, theater companies, Sisterhood Bookstore, Womantours Travel Agency, a coffeehouse, and the offices of the National Organization for Women. In 1975, the Woman's Building moved to a building on North Spring Street, near Chinatown. At that time, the organization began to generate its own programming, so the entire three floors of the reconverted warehouse were filled with artistic activities. In 1981, the Woman's Building underwent major organizational change as a shift occurred in the cultural and economic climates of the United States. By that year, the organization's founders had all left to pursue other projects, and a "second generation" of FSW graduates would carry the organization through the next decade. That year the FSW closed, as the demand for alternative education diminished.
The educational programs of the Woman's Building were restructured to better accommodate the needs of working women. That same year, the Woman's Building also founded two profit-making enterprises to strengthen its financial base: the rental of artists' studio space, and WGC Typesetting and Design, a full service design studio. During the 1980s, greater emphasis was placed on expanding the multicultural base of the organization, and on providing opportunities to assist women artists in their professional development. Until its closing in 1991, the Woman's Building was an internationally recognized symbol of the vitality and substance of women's creative achievements.
Insurgent Muse: Life and Art at the Woman's Buildingby Terry Wolverton (2002)