About the museum and building
The museum’s founders, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and Wallace F. Holladay, started collecting art in the 1970s, just as scholars and art historians were beginning to discuss the underrepresentation of art by women and various racial and ethnic groups in museums.
Among the first to apply this approach to collecting, the Holladays committed themselves to assembling art by women. By 1980, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay began to devote her energies and resources to creating a museum that would showcase women artists.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts was incorporated in November 1981 as a private, nonprofit museum.
In 1983, the museum purchased its building at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, a Washington landmark near the White House that was constructed in 1908 as a temple for the Masons, an organization that did not allow women members. In 1987, after extensive renovations, NMWA opened with the inaugural exhibition American Women Artists, 1830–1930, a survey curated by one of the country’s foremost feminist art historians, Dr. Eleanor Tufts.
In 2021, the museum began its first major renovation since opening, which expanded gallery space, created a new Learning Commons, and increased accessibility.