NAWA History 2017-04-29T03:16:43+00:00


Edith Prellwitz

EDITH PRELLWITZ, Triptych, ca. 1898, oil on panel, 29.5 x 54 in. Courtesy of Spanierman Gallery, NYC.

To create greater opportunity for professional women artists in a male-dominated art world, on January 31, 1889, five innovative women, Anita C. Ashley, Adele Frances Bedell, Elizabeth S. Cheever, Grace Fitz-Randolph and Edith Mitchill Prellwitz met to discuss the formation of a women’s art organization. In an era when women artists were associated primarily with crafts and decorative arts, the founders of NAWA envisioned an organization which would promote higher standards for women artists and provide them with the opportunity to exhibit their work.

Edith Prellwitz

EDITH PRELLWITZ, Young Woman with a Rose, ca. 1895, oil on canvas, 18 x 18 in. Anonymous loan. Photo: John Back, NYC.

The history of NAWA is a testament to the strength and resilience of a group of strong women who would not accept being shut out of the art salons, galleries and art exhibitions open to male artists during the 19th century. Their founding of the organization proves that, despite adversity and discrimination – which many feel extends to this day — women are an integral and valuable part of the arts community.

From the onset, the annual exhibitions of the women’s Art Club were a great success, attracting the participation of women artists such as Mary Cassatt, Suzanne Valadon, Rosa Bonheur and Cecelia Beaux. As the organization grew, its membership included prominent artists like Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Louise Nevelson

LOUISE NEVELSON, Royal Tide I, 1960, painted wood, 86 x 40 x 8 in. Collection of Peter and Beverly Lipman. Photo by Sheldan C. Collins.

Over the years the organization attracted many talented members who later achieved great recognition for their work. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney established the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City. Anna Hyatt Huntington created the sculpture museum Brookgreen Gardens/ in South Carolina.

Many members and supporters have exhibited in major museums and have taken their rightful place among the recognized artists of their time. Louise Nevelson, Malvina Hoffman, Cleo Hartwog, Minna Citron, Nell Blaine, Dorothy Dehner, Alice Neel, Marisol, Pat Adams, Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, Janet Fish and Audrey Flack, and other contemporary talented artists joined the organization making NAWA valid force in its time.

NAWA members represent all areas of the visual arts including painting, sculpture, encaustic photography, print-making,video art, installations and mixed media. The benefits of membership are many, including a substantial Awards program, the opportunity to display artwork throughout the U.S. in our Exhibitions program, and inclusion in NAWA’s Annual Catalog.

DOROTHY DEHNER, Portraits, 1956, 5 x 11 in.

DOROTHY DEHNER, Portraits, 1956, 5 x 11 in.

Through NAWA’s exhibitions, educational programs, events and archive, the Association fosters awareness of the monumental contribution of women to the history of American Culture and Art.

Virginia Snedeker

VIRGINIA SNEDEKER, Self Portrait, 1933

The organization is inclusive and serves professional women visual artists of all backgrounds and traditions that are at least 18 years of age and U .S. citizens or permanent residents.


The NAWA permanent collection was established under the leadership of Liana Moonie in 1991. Housed at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the NAWA collection contains the work of artists dating from the organization’s earliest days to the present. Parts of the collection are continually on view at the museum and special exhibitions were created under the guidance of Jeffrey Wechsler.