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The Women’s Museum of California was founded as the Women’s History Reclamation Project in 1983 by Mary Maschal. Originally an archival project, Maschal worked diligently to collect and preserve artifacts that demonstrated the history and experiences of women, especially here in San Diego and California. She shared her knowledge through speaking engagements, but in 1995 began opening her home to the public where she curated her vast collection to growing audiences. The community’s enthusiastic response to her exhibit open houses demonstrated the need in San Diego for a museum dedicated to women and their stories. In 1997, the collection was moved from her home in Golden Hill to the nearby Art Union Building and opened to the public on a regular basis, with the name changing to the Women’s History Museum and Education Center in 2003.


The Museum exhibits expanded with additional programming thanks to dedicated staff and volunteers. In 2001 the Museum co-founded the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame in collaboration with the county and local Women’s Studies programs. By 2011, the Museum outgrew the Art Union Building and moved to the Arts District in Liberty Station and commemorated the milestone event by changing its name to the Women’s Museum of California (WMC).


Today, the WMC maintains Mary’s legacy and passion for preserving women’s history by educating people about women’s experiences and contributions through an active calendar of originally curated exhibits, educational programs, and community events. The Museum archives in office are now located at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park.



“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


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.”


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.


As 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.

Mary 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.

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