Women of Steel and Stone
22 Inspirational Architects, Engineers, and Landscape Designers
By Anna M. Lewis
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2014 Anna M. Lewis
All rights reserved.
ARCHITECTURE WAS FIRST recognized as a profession in the United States in 1857. At first, students learned through apprenticeship or study in Europe. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture and Planning offered the first formal architectural curriculum in the United States, followed by the University of Pennsylvania in 1868, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1870. In 1871, Cornell University began offering the first four-year program in architecture, and Margaret Hicks became its first woman graduate in 1878. The US census listed only one woman architect in 1870. Twenty years later, in 1890, there were 22 women architects declared. By the 1900 census, there were 100 women listed. The first women architects, such as Louise Bethune, were trained in architectural offices. Many others worked with their husbands, but the women's work was not always recognized because their husbands alone signed the architectural drawings.
In January 1898, 12 architects took the first licensing exam in Chicago's city hall, in response to the world's first licensing law passed by the Illinois General Assembly in June 1897. Marion Mahony was one of those 12 architects, and she passed.
In 1913, Lois Lilley Howe and Eleanor Manning established one of the few architectural firms of its time run solely by women. Howe did not mince words when it came to the prospect of making a living as an architect: "As a means of livelihood for a woman, architecture is precarious and unadvisable, unless she has wonderful natural capacity combined with great tenacity of purpose, to which may be added exceptional opportunities." She went on to describe the prejudice against women as "so great as to make it almost impossible for a woman to learn her trade." Nonetheless, she worked to support younger women entering the profession by offering apprenticeships in her firm.
Today, about 40 percent of architecture students are women. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and a 2009 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Survey state that in 2008, there were 141,200 women architects employed in the United States, and 16 percent growth is expected by 2018. According to studies conducted in 2012 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, more than 21 percent of architects are self-employed, which is three times higher than the self-employment seen in other fields.
In the last decade or so, there has been increasingly more discussion about the role of the woman architect. Created in 2002, the nonprofit Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation has been instrumental in promoting women architects in the industry. When Mattel introduced Architect Barbie in 2011, everyone looked around and asked, "Where are the women architects?" This book furthers the conversation about women in architecture; it brings to light women's contributions to the field and will hopefully enlighten and ignite the aspirations of a new generation of designers, dreamers, and creators who will build our world to never-before-seen heights.
Paving the Way
As a young child, Jennie Louise "Lulu" Blanchard was teased by a male classmate, who jokingly proclaimed, "Lulu, girls can't be architects." The teasing was later recounted in the 1893 book A Woman of the Century: "A caustic remark had previously turned her attention in the direction of architecture, and an investigation, which was begun in a spirit of playful self-defense, soon became an absorbing interest." That interest turned into determination, and Lulu proved that young man wrong by becoming the first woman architect in America.
Jennie Louise Blanchard Bethune was born on July 21, 1856, in Waterloo, New York. Her older brother died when he was young, leaving Louise the only child of Emma Melona Williams and Dalson Wallace Blanchard. Dalson's ancestors were French Huguenot refugees, and Melona's family came to America in 1640, landing in Massachusetts from Wales.
Due to her poor health, young Louise was homeschooled until she was 11. She couldn't have had better teachers than her parents: her father was a mathematician and school principal at Waterloo Union School, and her mother was a schoolteacher. When Louise was 12 years old, the family moved to Buffalo, New York, so she could attend Buffalo High School, where she became known as "Lulu" by teachers and classmates. After high school graduation, Louise taught, traveled, and studied for two years in preparation for enrollment at Cornell University.
In 1876, she began work as a draftsman for architect Richard A. Waite and gave up her plans to study architecture in college. She worked from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM and the pay was low, but she had access to the office library. After five years as a drafter and assistant, she opened her own office in Buffalo. She was only 25 years old, and she was already the first woman architect in America. In December 1881, she married Robert A. Bethune, a former coworker, and he joined her in her architecture practice.
In the 23 years that the office was open, the firm designed 15 commercial and 8 industrial buildings, many schools, and several other public buildings, including a police station, a church, and a prison. One of Louise's areas of concentration was public schools, though she refused to have her work pigeonholed. Indeed, an 1893 biography stated that "Mrs. Bethune refuses to confine herself exclusively to that branch, believing that women who are pioneers in any profession should be proficient in every department, and that now at least women architects must be practical superintendents as well as designers and scientific constructors, and that woman's complete emancipation lies in 'equal pay for equal service.'"
Louise opened her architecture firm at an opportune time: Buffalo was expanding its school system, and Louise designed 18 schools in all. Louise and Robert took all commissions that were available to them, and they designed a plant for the Iroquois Door Company, the Erie County Penitentiary women's prison, grandstands for the Queen City Baseball and Amusement Company, and the transformer building that brought electricity from Niagara Falls to the Buffalo trolleys. The late 19th century saw a turn toward new scientific developments in sanitation, ventilation, fireproofing, and function, all of which were elements that Louise incorporated in her designs. The firm implemented innovative techniques and materials in their design for Denton, Cottier & Daniels music store, one of the first structures built of steel-frame construction with fire-resistant concrete slabs. In Louise's school buildings, she designed wide hallways with two fire exits throughout all parts of the school, now a code requirement for all public buildings. Louise also used heavy timbers, layered hardwoods, and brick construction for fireproofing.
Buffalo's Hotel Lafayette in Lafayette Square is Louise's best-known building. It took six years to design and build, and cost a whopping $1 million. When the doors were opened in 1904, the seven-story, 225-room hotel was considered "one of the most perfectly appointed and magnificent hotels in the country." Made of steel frame and concrete, the French Renaissance-style building was designed implementing new fire codes, a very important safety issue as cities and buildings were growing. Each room in the seven-story building had hot and cold running water and a phone, which were considered luxuries at the turn of the century. The landmark is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and a $35 million rehabilitation project in 2012 has restored the building to its original grace and grandeur.
Louise and Robert had one child, Charles W. Bethune, born in 1883. They employed another architect around the time that their son was born, William L. Fuchs, and made Fuchs a partner in 1890. The firm eventually changed its name to Bethune, Bethune, and Fuchs.
Louise became a member of the Western Association of Architects in 1885 and was elected the first female member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1888. When both organizations merged, she became a fellow of the AIA.
Louise's independent spirit extended beyond the realm of architecture. She bought the first women's bicycle sold in Buffalo, and was a charter member of the Wheeling Division of the Women's Wheel and Athletic Club. Miss Emma Villiaume, the captain of the all-woman Wheeling Club, recapped one of the group's weekly runs to Niagara Falls:
It was a quarter to four when my alarm clock rang ... It had been very rainy, and it was hardly light enough to see when I started for the rendezvous, followed by the fears and protests of my family. I found the other five waiting for me, fortified like myself with a cup of coffee and possibly a few crackers, and off we went, making good time out Grant Street and until we reached Military Road. ... It was then about half-past 11, and after a dinner at the International we rode about Prospect Park, all around the islands and through the sightseeing roads. We all felt that we had never before seen Niagara so thoroughly, and that it had certainly been a delightful day.
On March 6, 1891, Louise spoke on the subject of women and architecture to the Women's Educational and Industrial Union in Buffalo. Louise's opening statement noted that she had been invited to speak on "Women in Architecture," but she changed the title to "Women and Architecture." She explained, "In order to have any topic at all, we must talk of women and architecture, assuming a connection which it is hardly safe to assert."
She felt that at the time there was a need for women doctors and women lawyers; but, she said, "There is no need whatever for a women architect. No one wants her, no one yearns for her, and there is no special line in architecture to which she is better adapted than as a man ... [the woman architect] has exactly the same work to do as a man. When a woman enters the profession she will be met kindly and will be welcome, but not as a woman, only as an architect." Louise was trying to say that women are no different than men, and she felt there was no need to differentiate between female and male architects. In entering the field of architecture, she asserted, men and women were on equal playing fields.
Louise's discomfort with women's place in the field of architecture came up again during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Held in Chicago, the exposition introduced 27 million visitors to the newest innovations of the time, such as the Ferris wheel, the zipper, Cracker Jack, and many others. Chicago's architects organized and designed the "White City," made up of more than 600 acres of buildings and settings that fueled imaginations for decades. The floor of one hall alone covered 32 acres. The buildings were designed by many pioneers of 20th-century architecture, all of whom were chosen by appointment: Daniel Burnham, John Root, William Jenny, Louis Sullivan, and others. Two buildings from the 1893 Exposition remain standing today: the Palace of Fine Arts, which now houses Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, and the World's Congress Auxiliary Building, which houses the Art Institute of Chicago.
Additionally, the fair's 117-member Board of Lady Managers decided to construct a Women's Building to showcase the architectural achievements of women, and they held a competition to select a woman architect for the project.
Louise and many other AIA members boycotted juried competitions — including the competition to design the Women's Building — because the judges were generally inexperienced in reading architectural plans. This led many judges to champion buildings that ran over-budget and could not be built. Even worse, on occasion, a political favorite would be awarded the contract over a more suitable architect.
The competition was even more insulting given that the winner would receive an award of just $1,000, one-tenth of what each of the men were paid for their "personal artistic services." Plus, some architects may have reduced their fees in order to get appointments, another opposition of AIA guidelines. Louise was the only architect to protest on this issue. In her refusal to compete, she made a plea for equal pay for women. Her actions were likely influenced by the women's suffrage activities in upstate New York. The site of the first women's suffrage convention in 1846 was a stone's throw from her hometown of Waterloo, in Seneca Falls, New York. Louise was passionate and outspoken on the broader AIA principles of equal pay and ethical treatment of all architects. She did not need the publicity of the World's Fair commission to validate her work.
Louise was encouraging when she spoke to the Women's Educational and Industrial Union in 1891, and she urged women not to settle for lower-level tasks but to be ambitious — to reach higher and do better. She explained:
The total number of women graduates from the various schools of the country can hardly exceed a dozen, and most of these seem to have renounced ambition with the attainment of a degree, but there are among them a few brilliant and energetic women for whom the future holds great possibilities. There are also a few women drafting in various offices through the country, and the only respect in which they fall below their brothers is in disinclination to familiarize themselves with the practical questions of actual construction. They shirk the brick-and-mortar, rubber-boot, and ladder-climbing period of investigative education, and as a consequence remain at the tracing stage of draftsmanship. There are hardly more successful women draftsmen than women graduates, but the next decade will doubtless give us a few thoroughly efficient architects from their number.
Louise's name was still listed in the business section of the Buffalo City Directory until 1910, though she moved into the home of her son in 1907. Louise died on December 18, 1913, at age 57.
ANNA WAGNER KEICHLINE
Brick by Brick
May Devote Life to Industrial Art was the splashy headline for a 1903 Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper profile about then-teenager Anna Wagner Keichline. The article read:
Such a liking has she taken to industrial art that Miss Anna Keichline ... expects to make it her life study. She has just taken the first prize at the Centre county fair for a card table made of oak and a walnut chest she made with her own hands. They, in quality and finish, compare favorably with the work of a skilled mechanic. At her home here she has a workshop complete in every detail, and is in possession of the best outfit of carpenter implements to be found in the town. She goes to school, but every spare moment is put into her shop.
The photo of Anna that accompanied the article did not resemble a dirty shop boy but a pretty young lady with a big white bow in her hair wearing a white sailor dress.
Anna was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, on May 24, 1889, the youngest child of John and Sarah Wagner Keichline. Anna's ancestors immigrated to America from Germany on the ship Francis and Elizabeth, arriving at the Pennsylvania docks in 1742. Her father was a respected attorney in Bellefonte.
As a young girl Anna showed a keen interest in woodworking, and, as the Inquirer article pointed out, her parents provided her with all the tools she needed. By the time Anna was 14 years old, she was well known as a skilled craftswoman and had already declared it her career path.
Clearly encouraged in her talents, Anna continued to excel. In 1906, after graduating from Bellefonte High School, she followed her older brother to Pennsylvania State College, where, despite being the only woman in the class, she decided to study mechanical engineering.
The next year, Anna transferred to Cornell University to study architecture. She was full of energy, and she was a member of the drama club as well as the women's basketball team. Anna was also tapped to become a member of Raven and Serpent, an honorary society for junior women, in addition to being elected a junior class officer. During her senior year, she was recognized for outstanding achievement in scholarship, leadership, and public service. Despite all of her accomplishments, family members recall that there was some concern that the university would not present Anna with an actual diploma because she was a woman. Many universities and colleges at the time were giving women "certificates" instead of diplomas. Anna was so well liked in college that concerned students threatened to protest at the ceremony. To the relief of all concerned, Anna received her diploma and became the fifth woman to receive an architecture degree.
Years later Anna was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, talking about her college life:
At college we worked, many times, three and four days and nights without stopping; most always in those stretches I took time to make coffee and sandwiches for the fellows, then they carried my board to the dormitory, where I would draw all night. Now after years of practice, I realize that I have never thought of hours, time is divided into jobs, a floor plan, a model, specifications, until the job is done.
Anna's first architectural design was for a school in Milesburg, Pennsylvania. Today her building projects can be found in central Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Washington, DC. In her hometown of Bellefonte, she designed the Plaza Theatre, the Cadillac Garage and Apartments, the Harvey Apartments, and several homes. Other Pennsylvania projects include the Juniata Colony Country Clubhouse in Mount Union and a Presbyterian church in Mill Hall. For many years, she shared an office with her father in the Temple Court Building.
On the Fourth of July in 1913, Anna led a suffragist parade down Bellefonte's main street. Holding the first banner high in the air, she proudly marched wearing her graduation cap and gown, making a personal statement that all women can receive college degrees. Seemingly, Anna ignored the possibility that her actions could cause her to lose clients.
In 1920, when registration became a requirement to practice architecture in the state, Anna passed the exam, making her the first woman registered as an architect in Pennsylvania.
In addition to her gains as an architect, Anna enjoyed considerable success and recognition as an inventor. Her most notable achievement was the invention of an inexpensive, lightweight clay brick to be used for hollow-wall construction. The K-brick, as it became known, could be filled with insulation or soundproofing materials and had predetermined fracture points for custom fitting at the job site. In her article "Modern Wall Construction," which appeared in the 1932 issue of Clay-Worker, Anna wrote about her new technique of building and wall construction, explaining the benefits and history of brick construction and proclaiming that the country was experiencing the biggest transformation in architecture and construction. The American Ceramic Society honored her for her invention of the K-brick in 1931.
Along with the design patent for the K-brick, Anna received six utility patents: a sink for apartments (1912), a toy (1916), components for kitchen construction (1926), a child's portable partition (1927), a folding bed for apartments (1929), and a ventilation air system (1931). During World War I, Anna's career was briefly interrupted by a new adventure. In a letter volunteering to help in the war effort, Anna wrote:
With reference to my history, past experiences, etc. Bellefonte High School four years, graduated 1906, one year in Mechanical Engineering at Penn State 19061907, Cornell four years in Architecture 1907-1911, office experience and six years independent practice in the general run of work in planning and construction. Am twenty-eight and physically somewhat stronger than the average. Might add that I can operate and take care of a car. The above would suggest a drafting or office job, but if should deem it advisable to give me something more difficult or as I wish to say more dangerous, I should much prefer it. (Continues...)
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