In the earlier years, Washington DC was the commercial hub of the region, attracting well off people willing to hire an architect to design their homes. 7 of the 12 women either worked or lived in Washington DC at one point in their careers. Rose Greely was the first to receive architectural registration in the District in 1926. Katherine Cutler Ficken was the first to both reside in Maryland and be licenced in the state in 1936. Professionally, she was a member of the Washington Metropolitan AIA Chapter. It was not until 1955 that Maryland had its first female AIA member: Helen Staley, who joined the Baltimore Chapter. Founded in 1871, the Chapter is one of AIA’s oldest and had the feel of a gentleman’s club. After WWII, and led by initiatives at the National AIA level, the chapter lifted membership restrictions and became opened to all that qualified. Two of the women featured in the exhibit have the distinct honor of being elevated to AIA College of Fellows: Chloethiel Woodard Smith, FAIA, in 1960, and Victorine Du Pont Homsey, FAIA, in 1967.
After WWII ended in 1945, there was a period of economic prosperity that lasted until the early 1970s. With it came the development of a highway system throughout the state, enabling people to move from the city to the suburbs. The design work of the exhibit’s featured women was no longer centered on the residences of wealthy clients, but included more modest structures and a diversity of project types.
Note: map of women's work at base of page
Ida Webster, AIA, and Shirley Kennard, AIA, graduated from MIT and Cornell University, respectively, two of the first architecture programs in the country to accept women. 3 of the women in our exhibit, Rose Greely, Gertrude Sawyer and Victorine Du Pont Homsey, graduated from the Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture in 1920, 1922, and 1925, respectively. The school started in 1915 in the office of Harvard professor Henry Atherton Frost to provide instruction to female students, as Harvard only allowed male students at the time. In 1934, the school became affiliated with Smith College, but by 1942, Smith College abruptly closed the school following the invasion of Pearl Harbor. Harvard’s enrollment dropped noticeably as their male students rushed to enlist in the war effort, and the administration agreed to admit women to the Graduate School of Design for the duration of WWII. During its brief existence, the Cambridge School taught nearly 500 women at both the undergraduate and graduate level and was known for its excellent education and quality of its graduates.
It is interesting to note that 3 of the women featured in the exhibit worked for the same architect at one point in their careers: Horace Peaslee of Washington DC, who appeared to be another mentor, much like Henry Atherton Frost. Horace majored in architecture and minored in landscape architecture at Cornell University and likely found Rose Greely’s and Gertrude Sawyer’s training at the Cambridge school refreshing. Shirley Kennard, who he employed right after her graduation from Cornell, shared that he just appreciated working with women.
All the women in this exhibit worked to establish their own practice, solo or with partners, with the exception of Mary Jack Craigo, who worked in the National Institute of Health’s Architectural Engineering Design Branch. The fact that these women had their own firms was key to uncovering their works. Many women who worked at design firms do not have their names associated with their projects and their legacy is lost. Women still face many obstacles in the architecture profession. According to the National Architectural Accrediting Board, 42% of architecture graduates are female, but the number of licensed female practitioners and senior leaders in the profession hovers between 15-18% - a disparity that has driven The Missing 32% Project to find answers: http://themissing32percent.com
What is clear from the lives of these 12 women is that they persevered and excelled and for that we are forever grateful and proud to share their stories.
First AIA Woman
Jennie Louise Blanchard (1856-1913) opened her architectural office in 1881, an unprecedented achievement for a woman during that time. In 1888 Jennie was the first woman to be accepted into the American Institute of Architects. A year later, she was the first woman to be made a Fellow of the AIA.
The Smith School of Architecture and
Landscape Architecture, Cambridge
The school started in 1915 when an alumna of Radcliffe College wanted to study landscape architecture and found her options very limited. She sought guidance from Professor Pray of Harvard's Graduate School of Landscape Architecture. He in turn called upon Henry Atherton Frost to tutor the lady in architectural design. Word got out that Professors Frost's office was becoming a school, which led to the creation of a formal curriculum.
The Smith School operated for 26 years and built quite a reputation. Professor Frost was respected by his students; he pushed them to excel, took them seriously, and spent the time needed to prepare them for the obstacles ahead. The school closed with the advent of WWII.
Ellen Perry Berkeley, Architecture: A Place for Women
Among the more than 400 students who attended the school were Rose Greely, Gertrude Sawyer, and Victorine Du Pont Homsey - all are featured on this site.
[The Library of Congress]