Did you know…The first woman in the history of American architecture to start and head her own firm single-handed was Josephine Wright Chapman of Fitchburg, Massachusetts? Although Jennie Louise Blanchard Bethunewas the first woman to work as a professional architect, her firm was a partnership shared with her husband. In 1897, Chapman established her office in Boston where she would later employ up to six drafters, which included at least one other woman.
Almost instantly after setting up her office, Chapman received an array of prestigious commissions, which included Harvard University’s Craigie Arms dormitory. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and the New England States Building for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. Chapman’s bold initiative of heading and running her own architectural firm at the turn of the century paved the way for other women pioneers in the field, such as Elise Mercur (Pittsburgh, 1898), Emily Williams (Pacific Grove, 1902) and Julia Morgan (San Francisco, 1904).
The first professional partnership of women in architecture actually preceded Chapman as a firm principle. In 1894, Mary Nevan Gannon and Alice J. Hands joined forces in New York City to correct the issue of urban poverty through innovative design of cost-efficient apartments. Some of their most notable projects include the Florence Hospital in San Francisco, a women’s hotel and club building, and cottages at the shore in New Jersey and the Catskills.
Following the model of success achieved by Gannon and Hands’ productive and ingenious collaboration was Lois Lilley Howe and Eleanor Manning (Boston, 1913; they added Mary Almy in 1926), Ida Annah Ryan and Florence Luscomb (Isabel Roberts replaced Luscomb when the firm relocated from Waltham to Orlando, 1909) and Marcia Mead and Anna Pendleton Schenck (New York, 1914). Look at how long women have been making a name for themselves in the history of architecture! Thanks to these pioneers, the legacy goes on.
By: Megan Little, BWAF Spring 2012 Research Intern