Does anyone know how women-only Kabbalat Shabbat prayer came about? I have only come across it in newspapers from about the late 2000s in some United Synagogues. Have there been cases way before this? What is the Halachic approach to this?
myjewishlearning.com has an article titled "Women’s Tefillah Movement" which paints a comprehensive picture re: the origin of "Women's Minyan"
The first women’s tefillah group began in the late 1960s on the holiday of Simhat Torah at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan.
By the late 1970s, a number of groups began to meet monthly. Some of these prayer services were tied to rosh chodesh (the beginning of the month) and the new moon cycle and met on weekdays, while others met once a month on Shabbat.
While there doesn't appear to be an exact date for the first Women's Kabbalat Shabbat, one can make an educated assumption that as these women-only Shabbat minyanim sprang up, Women-only Kabbalat Shabbat minyanim likely followed.
The article continues
Opposition and Responses to Women’s Tefillah
Mainstream modern Orthodox rabbis and community leaders rejected women’s tefillah groups for reasons that ranged from the halakhic to the sociological. This issue came to a head in 1985 with publication of the “Teshuva: Responsum” by five highly regarded Yeshiva University rabbis. The position paper viewed the movement as stemming from, and copying, the feminist movement in America with no serious spiritual or religious basis. It prohibited all organized women’s prayer groups in any form.
(worth checking out the article in its entirety)