The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago

Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago. Press Image / Through the Flower Archives
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Quick Facts About The Dinner Party

Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago. Press Image / Through the Flower Archives

The art installation called The Dinner Party was created by artist Judy Chicago between 1974 and 1979. She was assisted by many volunteers who created the ceramics and needlework. The work consists of three wings of a triangular dinner table, each measuring 14.63 meters. On each wing are thirteen place settings for a total of 39 place settings, each representing a mythical, legendary or historical woman. The criteria for inclusion was that the woman had to make a mark on history. All but one of the place settings represents a vulva with creative style.

In addition to the 39 place settings and the key women of history represented by them, 999 names are represented in Palmer cursive script inscribed in gold on the 2304 tiles of the Heritage Floor.

Panels accompanying the art provide further information on the women honored.

The Dinner Party is currently permanently installed in the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

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Wing 1: Prehistory to the Roman Empire

Egyptian sculpture of Hatshepsut with a ceremonial beard
Egyptian sculpture of Hatshepsut with a ceremonial beard. CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images

 Wing 1 of the three table sides honors women from prehistory to the Roman Empire.

1. Primordial Goddess: the Greek primordial goddesses included Gaia (earth), Hemera (day), Phusis (nature), Thalassa (sea), Moirai (fate).

2. Fertile Goddess: fertility goddesses were associated with pregnancy, childbirth, sex, and fertility.  In Greek mythology this included Aphrodite, Artemis, Cybele, Demeter, Gaia, Hera, and Rhea.

3. Ishtar: a love goddess of Mesopotamia, Assyria,and Babylon.

4. Kali: A Hindu goddess, a divine protector, consort of Shiva, destroyer goddess.

5. Snake Goddess: in Minoan archaeological sites in Crete, goddesses handling snakes were common household objects.

6. Sophia: the personification of wisdom in Hellenistic philosophy and religion, taken into Christian mysticism.

7. Amazon: a mythical race of women warriors, associated by historians with different cultures.

8. Hatshepsut: in the 15th century BCE, she ruled Egypt as Pharaoh, taking on the power that male rulers wielded.

9. Judith: in the Hebrew scriptures, she gained the trust of an invading general, Holofernes, and saves Israel from the Assyrians.

10. Sappho: a poet from the 6th-7th century BCE, we know from the few fragments of her work that survive that she sometimes wrote of the love of women for other women

11. Aspasia: to be an independent woman in ancient Greece, there were few options for an aristocratic woman. She could not produce legitimate children under the law, so her relationship to the powerful Pericles could not be marriage. She is reputed to have advised him on political matters.

12. Boadicea: a Celtic warrior queen who led a revolt against Roman occupation, and who has become something of a symbol of British independence.

13. Hypatia: Alexandrian intellectual, philosopher, and teacher, martyred by a Christian mob

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Wing 2: Beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation

Christine de Pisan presents her book to French queen Isabeau de Baviere
Christine de Pisan presents her book to French queen Isabeau de Baviere. Hulton Archive/APIC/Getty Images

14. Saint Marcella: a founder of monasticism, an educated woman who was a supporter, protector, and student of Saint Jerome.

15. Saint Bridget of Kildare: Irish patron saint, also associated with a Celtic goddess. The historical figure is supposed to have founded a monastery at Kildare about 480.

16. Theodora: 6th century Byzantine empress, influential wife of Justinian, subject of scathing histories by Procopius.

17. Hrosvitha: a 10th century German poet and playwright, the first European woman poet known after Sappho, she wrote the first plays known to have been written by a woman.

18. Trotula: author of a medieval medical, gynecological, and obstetrical text, she was a physician, and may have been legendary or mythical.

19. Eleanor of Aquitaine: she ruled Aquitaine in her own right, married the King of France, divorced him, then married the powerful Henry II, King of England. Three of her sons were Kings of England, and her other children and her grandchildren headed some of the most powerful families of Europe.

20. Hildegarde of Bingen: an abbess, mystic, musical composer, medical writer, nature writer, she was a “Renaissance woman” long before the Renaissance.

21. Petronilla de Meath: executed (burned at the stake) for heresy, accused of witchcraft.

22. Christine de Pisan: a 14th century woman, she is the first woman known to have made her living by her writing.

23. Isabella d'Este: Renaissance ruler, art collector, and art patron, she was called the First Lady of the Renaissance. We know much about her because of her correspondence that survives.

24. Elizabeth I: England’s “virgin queen” who never married – and thus never had to share power – reigned from 1558 to 1603. She is known for her patronage of the art and for her strategic defeat of the Spanish Armada.

25. Artemisia Gentileschi: Italian Baroque painter, she may not have been the first woman painter but she was among the first to be recognized for major works.

26. Anna van Schurman: a Dutch painter and poet who promoted the idea of education for women.

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Wing 3: American Revolution to Women's Revolution

Mary Wollstonecraft - detail from a painting by John Odie, about 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft - detail from a painting by John Odie, about 1797. Dea Picture Library / Getty Images

27. Anne Hutchinson: she led a religious dissent movement in early American history, and is considered a major figure in the history of religious freedom.  She stood up to the religious hierarchy of her day, challenging authority.

28. Sacajawea: she was a guide on the Lewis and Clark expedition where Euro-Americans explored the west of the continent, 1804 – 1806. The Shoshone Indian woman helped the voyage proceed peacefully.

29. Caroline Herschel: sister of more famous astronomer William Herschel, she was the first woman to discover a comet and she helped her brother discover Uranus.

30. Mary Wollstonecraft: from her own lifetime she has symbolized an early stance in favor of women’s rights.

31. Sojourner Truth: an emancipated slave, minister, and lecturer, Sojourner Truth supported herself with lecturing, especially on abolition and sometimes on women's rights. Her setting has been controversial in that this is the only place setting which does not have a vulva represented, and it's the only setting of an African American woman.

32. Susan B. Anthony: a key spokesperson for the 19th century women's suffrage movement. She is the most familiar name among those suffragists.

33. Elizabeth Blackwell: she was the first woman to graduate from medical school, and she was a pioneer in educating other women in the field of medicine. She started a hospital that her sister and other women physicians sustained.

34. Emily Dickinson: a recluse during her lifetime, her poetry only became widely known after her death. Her unusual styling revolutionized the field.

35. Ethel Smyth: an English composer and woman suffrage activist.

36. Margaret Sanger: a nurse influenced by seeing the consequences of women being unable to control the size of their families, she was a promoter of contraceptives and birth control to give women more power over their health and lives.

37. Natalie Barney: an American expatriate living in Paris; her salon promoted a "Women's Academy." She was open about being a lesbian, and wrote The Well of Loneliness.

38. Virginia Woolf: British writer who was one of the most prominent figures in early 20th literary circles.

39. Georgia O'Keeffe: an artist who was known for her individualistic, sensual style. She lived in, and painted, both New England (especially New York) and the Southwest USA.

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999 Women of the Heritage Floor

Alice Paul
Alice Paul. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Modifications © 2006 Jone Johnson Lewis.

A few of the women listed on that floor: