In 1894, Hamilton was in the throes of expanding. A few influential ladies, fearful that cultural pursuits would be overlooked in the surging industrial growth, met at the home of Sara Galbraith Calder and formed the Women's Art Association.
In 1914, a temporary Art Gallery was set up in the old Public Health Building on Main Street West, and a room was given to the Association for their permanent use. This group of women constantly pressed for a new Art Gallery, raising the sum of $2,313.13 for a donation ($50,000. today).
On April 19, 1946 this organization was incorporated. It was the brainchild of President Juanita Le Barre Symington. This was important as it allowed the organization to own property, control its finances and still be affiliated with the mother association in Toronto and associations in Owen Sound, Peterborough and Stratford. The organization also became a registered charity allowing it to provide tax receipts for donations. The charitable purposes of WAAH that have been approved by Revenue Canada and the Charities Directorate enabling WAAH to issue these receipts are:
- To create an interest in art and to encourage women’s work among the members of the Corporation for the purpose of help and co-operation
- To establish and hold art lectures and exhibitions of paintings, designs and sculptures and to develop the art handicrafts of the said city of Hamilton; and
- To do all such things as are incidental or conducive to the statement of the above objects.
In 1953 Wilhelmina 'Mina' Alexander (President 1925 - 1928) turned the sod for a new gallery at Forsythe and Main Street West. It was torn down to build McMaster University Hospital.
In 1968 once again the Women's Art Association established a "Special Project Fund" and raised $12,608 ($126,000. today) to be donated for the present day Art Gallery of Hamilton. located at 123 King Street West in downtown Hamilton.
The first exhibition was held in 1896 and every year since then, WAAH exhibits have been held in various galleries and locations with an annual juried show at the Art Gallery of Hamilton every year since 1947.