Katherine Cutler Ficken
“You have the distinction of being the only lady architect in the Society and it must be left to your discretion whether you would wish to be the only lady in the entire gathering of men.”
from correspondence of Lucien Gaudreau, President of the Maryland Society of Registered Architects, 1938
Katherine Cutler Ficken was the first female registered architect in Maryland in 1936, the first year the state offered such a license. She had received her architecture degree from George Washington University (GWU) and spent several years working part-time and in the summers in her father’s firm of Howard W. Cutler, Architects in Washington DC. Clients, such as the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the University of Maryland (UMD) kept the firm afloat during the depression.
In 1935, the Washington Post article “Dad Displeased Once, Proud of Girl Now” indicted that her time was almost exclusively devoted to MCPS’s construction program. She helped design both Chevy Chase and Lynbrook Elementary Schools as well as Bethesda-Chevy Chase High. She also assisted her father with the Rock Creek Field House in Meadowbrook Park, a rustic lodge constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940. She continued to produce work jointly with him as an Associate, well after establishing her own firm in 1934.
Her obituary accredited the American Instrument Co. on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring to her. If she was responsible for all the structures on the block, it would be one of her first projects at the age of 24. By 1938, she designed UM’s Edna Amos Nice Hall in Solomons Island, which bears her name on its plaque. Despite these accomplishments, that she was young, single and the only woman member of the Maryland Society of Registered Architects challenged society's norms. When wishing to attend the annual dinner meeting in 1938, she was advised to consult the judgement of her “good father” on being the only woman in an entire gathering of men.
The 1940 commission to design the estate for Clara Hyatt, a wealthy eccentric widow, must have been a breath of fresh air for Katherine. She design everything, included the manor house, dairy barn, farm structures, and even a watering system for the fields. Masterful at integrating functionality into design, she planned the farm as a production line that a sole woman could run during the war. The fairytale residence miraculously survives today in the middle of a large housing development near Germantown. With its fanciful architecture and lack of white on its exterior brick, the owners dubbed it Redwall, after the red-stone abbey of the popular children's book.
Katherine was equally proud of her Ceres Restaurant “reconstruction” in Washington DC, which received Best Planned & Designed Restaurant over a 5-year period by Institutions Magazine in 1950. From its efficiently arranged, stainless steal kitchen, to its stone and brick exterior cladding, it was more modern then anything she had done before. Its success helped her to secure the commission for UMD’s large Dining Hall Addition, part of a Post-War Public Works Program of 1945.
When she was 36, she married Rudolph Ficken and she changed her practice to “Katherine Cutler Ficken, Architect.” A year later, her father died at 65 after “a long illness.” At the age of 45, she and her husband adopted a 4 month old son, but less than 12 years later, cancer ends her life early. We are fortunate she assembled, and passed onto her son, a large photo album of her own projects and publicity coverage so we may know the scale and breath of her design talents.
1911 - born on March 3 to Howard W. Cutler, an architect, mother Marie
Katherine Zahn Cutler in Rochester, NY
1917-20 - During World War I, father serves as a Major for the Surgeon
General’s staff, in charge of designing U.S. military hospitals,
including an addition to Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, DC
(Image courtesy Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing photographer)
1919 - Family moves to Washington, DC
1919-1921 - Father partner in firm of Cutler &Woodbridge in Washington, DC
1921-23 - Father partner in firm of Cutler and Moss in Washington DC;
- partnership dissolves, firm is just Howard W. Cutler, AIA, Architect
1929-34 - Attends George Washington University;
- Graduates with Bachelor of Arts in Architecture;
- Works as draftsman part-time & summers at father’s firm in "The Architects Building" at 18th & E Street NW, Washington DC;
- Projects possibly assists on: University of Maryland Richie Colosseum, College Park;
- several public schools for Montgomery County
1928 - Family moves to Maple St & Rosemere Ave in Silver Spring (Photograph by Google Views, 2012)
1933 - Works as Part-time Draftsman in U.S. Procurement Division;
- AIA unable to process father’s payment as bank closed by "President's Proclamation"
1935 - The Washington Post features her in July 22 article “Dad Displeased Once, Proud of Girl Now”
1935-1939 - Projects: Assists father with Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Bethesda (1935); Chevy Chase Elementary School Addition (1936); 5 UMD projects in College Park; The Evening Star features UMD Bureau of Mines Building illustration in March 6, 1936 article
1936 - Receives license to practice architecture in Maryland;
- Lists Katherine M. Cutler, Architect working atnHoward W. Cutler, 1108 16th St NW, Washington, DC
1938 - Is Maryland Society of Registered Architects’ only woman member;
- Business address changes to 711 Dale Drive, Silver Spring, & father's
1940-48 - Projects with father: Rock Creek Field House (now the Meadowbrook Recreation Building) (1940); Lynbrook Elementary School, Bethesda (1941); UMD Dairy Building Addition & Renovation (1948)
1940-49 - Projects on own: Clara Hyatt Estate (Residence & Farm Buildings),
Germantown (1940-45); American Instrument Co Additions, Silver Spring (1942-43); Solomons Island Yacht Club, Solomons Island (1944); UMD Dining Hall Addition & 3 Greenhouses, College Park (1945-48), Part of Post-War Public Works Program
1944-45 - Serves on Montgomery Co. Advisory Committee on Postwar &
1945 - Project: Ceres Restaurant Reconstruction (Photograph by Theodor
Horydczak) receives 1st Place USA Best Planned & Designed
Restaurant by Institutions Magazine
1947 - Marries Rudolph William Ficken who met while at GWU;
- Firm name becomes Katherine Cutler Ficken, Registered Architect
1948 - Father dies on December 19 at 65 years of age after “a long illness”
1956 - Adopts 4 month old son, Rudolph Ficken, Jr, at age 45 years
(Photograph by Jillian Storms, AIA)
1966 - Project: Proposed Renovation to Lucker Residence, Silver Spring
1966 - Cancer no longer in remission;
- At some point prior to death, puts together portfolio album of her
projects and newspaper clippings (images courtesy her son)
1968 - Passes away on October 14 in Bethesda at age 57