From Our Archives: Mary Maschal

In honor of our 35th anniversary, we are taking a look back at the beginning of the Women’s Museum of California and the women who started it all. 

2018 marks the 35th birthday of Women’s Museum of California. In honor of this milestone, we’ve pulled items from our collection to celebrate the history of the Museum and its founder, Mary Maschal.

“I believe that we do have a heritage to be proud of. We need to have a pride in women who have gone before us” – Mary Maschal, founder of Women’s Museum of California

Mary Maschal (1924-1998) was co-founder and first president of the Women’s History Reclamation Project (WHRP) in 1983. She was devoted to improving women’s status and self-esteem by exposing the struggles and accomplishments of women. As president of the WHRP, she collected books, historical papers, and artifacts; she gave talks in schools and community groups; she lobbied politicians and activists; she applied for grants; she appealed to donors; she taped oral histories to preserve women’s stories; she traveled to women’s conferences; she persuaded women from all walks of life to come volunteer with her “at the Project.”Image030718112054-page-001.jpg

Maschal was raised believing she could not become an engineer or a preacher like her father “because girls don’t do that.” She followed tradition, married, and raised five children. Then she discovered in the 1950s that some women did occupy traditional male occupations.

Image030718112019-page-001.jpgAs a participant in the Second Wave of Feminism, she was an early member of the National Organization for Women; Women’s Conference in Houseton (1977) and the U.N. Mid-Decade Conference for Women in Copenhagen (1980). She developed a “handywoman” business. An advocate of women’s rights in organized religion, she helped create a Women and Religion Resolution in 1977 in the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Image030718112205-page-001.jpgMary envisioned a center where all women felt welcome and inspired–accessible to those who could not afford college or would never otherwise learn about women. From 1983 until 1997, Mary Mashcal assembled an extensive collection of memorabilia and aritifacts, filling virtually every room of her Golden Hill home with historic documents, banners, posters, and books. Mary and others also reached out into the community, offering lectures on women’s history to school children, professional and social organizations, and community groups. In 1995, at the urging of family and friends, Mary opened her home to the public and held exhibitions of her vast collection.  Eventually, the collection grew too big which is when the Museum moved out of Mary’s home and into the Art Union Building. The enthusiasm over Mary’s collection was the beginning of the Women’s Museum of California.

In 2007 the Museum moved once again into its current home in ARTS DISTRICT Liberty Station. The Women’s Museum currently houses a women’s history research library with over 4,000 works, archives, and in the gallery houses a rotation of original exhibits and a permanent suffrage exhibit, displaying many of the artifacts from Mary’s original collection.

If you want to help support Mary’s mission of inspiring future generations about the accomplishments of women in history consider donating to the Women’s Museum of California. Your donation helps fund future exhibits and educational programs at the Museum. Learn how you can support the Women’s Museum here

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