The Ames Women's Theatre was formed in the spring of 1976 by a group of five women who wished to cooperatively explore alternatives for women in Ames. The ensemble approach was chosen to allow members to cooperate and help each other develop rather than compete against one another. The group actively sought material from new playwrights and little-known women playwrights, and preferred to perform in small theaters in intimate contact with the audience. Although the group arose out of the national women's movement of the 1970s, AWT was formed mainly to produce plays with casts consisting mostly of women. At the time, few dramas offered multiple women's roles.
Members have included a mix of both university and townspeople. Founding members included: Helen Herrnstadt, Janet Urbanowicz, Teresa Beer, Anita Beal and Susan Franzen. Most of the members had backgrounds in theater but weren't using their talents in their jobs. Men have been part of the company almost from the beginning, and have included, among others, David Martin and Keith Wirtz. The requirement for membership was a serious commitment to producing good plays about women. Each member was expected to contribute to some aspect of each production.
In the early years, plays were performed at a variety of venues such as churches, campus spaces, and ACTORS studio. Eventually the group took up residence at the Octagon Center for the Arts. That auditorium could accommodate either a proscenium stage, thrust stage, or a production in-the-round. Early productions formed part of Iowa State University's Women's Week celebrations. Ideally, three productions per season (fall, winter, spring) were performed. The group has performed collaboratively and has also toured. Funding has periodically been obtained through grants from the city and Iowa Arts Council. The group disbanded in 1999 as a result of lessening time and energy of both older and younger members.