Established by Congress in legislation from 1981-1994, Women’s History Month is observed every March to celebrate and recognize the contributions women have made to the U.S. in specific achievements over the course of American history in a vast diversity of backgrounds, talents, and fields, including architecture.
It is not surprising that American women architects have created a body of important and deeply influential work. From residential practice to leadership in government, women architects have been educated and have practiced architecture in the U.S. since the19th Century. The history of women architects in the U.S. is a story of firsts, with inspiring stories too numerous to recount them all, so I’ve shared just a few biographies of note.
Among many outstanding and influential American women architects, Louise Blanchard Bethune (1856-1913) is widely considered to have been the first woman to practice as a professional architect in the United States, opening her practice in Buffalo, New York with her husband in 1881 and at age 25 in 1888, becoming the first female associate of the AIA!
We are proud that California women have been leaders in architecture for over a century, starting with Julia Morgan (1872-1957), the first woman licensed to practice architecture in California, designed more than 700 notable and buildings in her long and prolific career.
Norma Merrick Sklarek, FAIA (1926-2012), was the first African American woman to become licensed to officially become an architect in both New York and California and the first Black woman to own her own practice, and is the namesake of the AIA California annual Norma Sklarek Award in lasting recognition of her profound influence and contributions.
Other women leaders in California have followed. Five women have now served as AIA California Presidents including Betsey Olenick Dougherty, FAIA (also the first woman and 42nd Chancellor of the AIA College of Fellows), Jana Itzen, AIA, Britt Lindberg, FAIA, Debra Gerod, FAIA and me. Our large Board of Directors is replete with talented women of diverse backgrounds and careers, and we look forward to growing their leadership pipeline across the generations this year and in years to come.
Supporting each other in architecture is important. I have been particularly fortunate to have had deep support, mentorship, inspiration and friendship of countless women and men in my long career. This has included special people whose work with my teams and me as teachers, colleagues, clients, co-workers, staff, consultants, and industry partners, whose contributions motivated me and resulted in many successful profession associations and planning, design and construction of well-designed, lasting, safe, accessible and affordable institutional campuses and buildings to serve the public for generations to come.
We are fortunate that in our profession women have a profound history and legacy of contributions in careers as leaders in practice, construction, government and industry among many professional paths. I am inspired to think about the potential and opportunities for girls to become future architects and builders and the models to which they aspire by virtue of past and present women in architecture, who we recognize and celebrate this year during Women’s History Week.
Photo credits clockwise from top: Rona Rothenberg All Rights Reserved
Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, AIA President 2015 with Rona Rothenberg-AAAE Banquet, San Francisco 2015
Dr. Paula J. Loomis, FAIA, Ph.D, FSAME, Susan K. Oldroyd, FAIA, CASp, Rona G. Rothenberg-AIA Convention, Philadelphia 2016
S. Pearl Freeman, AIA, Kelly Quinn, AICP and Rona Rothenberg at the San Bernardino Justice Center Construction Site 2013