This installation is comprised of a large triangular ceremonial banquet table (with each side of the equilateral triangle measuring 48 feet long), set with 39 place settings (thirteen per side), each of which commemorates a significant woman from history. Each of the three sides (or "wings") of the triangle represent a different period from history. Wing I includes women from Prehistory to the Roman Empire (Primordial Goddess, Fertile Goddess, Ishtar, Kali, Snake Goddess, Sophia, Amazon, Hatshepsut, Judith, Sappho, Aspasia, Boadicea, and Hypatia), Wing II includes women from the beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation (Marcella, Saint Bridget, Theodora, Hrosvitha, Trota of Salerno, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hildegarde of Bingen, Petronilla de Meath, Christine de Pisan, Isabella d'Este, Elizabeth I, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Anna van Schurman), and Wing III includes women from the American Revolution to more contemporary feminist thinkers (Anne Hutchinson, Sacajawea, Caroline Herschel, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Blackwell, Emily Dickinson, Ethel Smyth, Margaret Sanger, Natalie Barney, Virginia Woolf, and Georgia O'Keeffe).
Each place setting features elaborately embroidered runners, featuring a variety of needlework styles and techniques, gold chalices and flatware, napkin with gold edges, and hand-painted china porcelain plates that contain raised vulva and butterfly forms (each of which was created in a style that represents the individual woman the place setting was made for). The table sits on a "heritage floor" made up of 2304 white triangular luster-glazed tiles, upon which the names of another 999 women are inscribed in gold cursive script. The installation is accompanied by rotating "Herstory" exhibitions that describe the roles of the 1038 women commemorated by the work.
Chicago completed this work over the course of five years (1974-1979) with the assistance of over a hundred volunteers and artisans (male and female). It was first exhibited in 1979 and went on to tour sixteen venues in six countries across three continents before being moved to its permanent location at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in 2007. Chicago's goal with the work was to "end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record." She came up with the idea while attending a dinner party in 1974, at which, she recalls, "The men at the table were all professors, and the women all had doctorates but weren't professors. The women had all the talent, and they sat there silent while the men held forth. I started thinking that women have never had a Last Supper, but they have had dinner parties." Women were selected for inclusion based upon the following criteria: making a worthwhile contribution to society, striving to improve the situations of other women, making an impact on women's history, and serving as a role model for a "more egalitarian future".
This work serves as an example of how women/feminist artists attempt to revise the (art) historical canon, calling attention to the historical accomplishments of women as a way to challenge the male-dominated nature of history writing. Another important aspect of the work for Chicago in this regard was the use of media typically associated with women and so relegated to the status of "handicrafts" or "domestic arts", such as weaving, embroidery, sewing, and china painting, as opposed to the 'fine arts' which tend to be dominated by male artists. In this way, she sought to present the former as high, rather than low art.
Dinner Party was a watershed moment for the centralization of female stories within an artworld context, galvanizing feminist artists to reflect further on historical precedents. It also provoked significant discussion around the correct way to represent women and their experiences. Although not universally praised by feminist critics, the piece asserted powerfully the necessity of engaging with female stories and brought into sharp relief the politics behind their previous exclusion. It remains one of the best-known and most institutionally significant feminist visual art works of the twentieth century.