Over the past century and a half, women have made significant contributions to American architecture, but even today, the field is still populated mostly by men.

According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), in 2008 only two percent of architects at Fortune 500 firms are female and today, the field is approximately 80 percent male.

Early Impact of Women in Architecture
– Despite the imbalance in the male-female ratio in this field, there have been a number of significant contributions from women over the years.
– One early American contribution was an 1869 book by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catherine Beecher titled, The American Woman’s Home.
– In 1873, Mary L. Page became the first woman to earn a college degree in architecture.
– In 1888 that Louise Blanchard Bethune became the first woman to work as a professional architect. (Blanchard Bethune once turned down an opportunity to participate in a design competition because the contest offered men awards that were far superior than what was offered to the women designers. She later went on to become the first female associate of the AIA.)

Efforts to Promote Women in Architecture
As of 1910, half of the architecture programs in US schools still rejected women based on gender alone. Women were making significant contributions, but faced serious discrimination in the field. Architectural clubs and organizations organized in an effort to change this. One such club was the Chicago Drafting Club, formed in 1921, which later became the Woman’s Architectural Club – and it continues to the present day.

Notable Mid-Century Accomplishments by Female Architects
One of the most significant contributions from female architect Anna Keichline occurred in 1927 when she developed the K-brick. This hollow fireproof clay brick was cheaper and lighter weight than other bricks and could be filled with insulation or sound proofing material.

Twenty years later, another significant design event occurred when Eleanor Raymond graduated from the Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and designed one of the world’s first solar-powered homes.

Mary Colter, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed buildings in the early 20th century that are still prominent features of the American Southwest. Colter utilized Native American and Mexican themes in the exterior and interior designs. Considered her masterpiece, La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, is a Spanish-style hotel with accommodations for 70 and three restaurants. In addition to La Posada, Colter’s designs include the Fred Harvey Hotels, and train station exteriors in Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.

Women continued to advance in the field throughout the 20th century.
– In 1963, Ada Louise Huxtable became the first female architecture critic with the New York Times and later received a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts.
– Sharon E. Sutton graduated from Columbia University and became the first African-American woman to work as a full-time professor in an architecture degree program in 1973.
– In 1981, Maya Lin was recognized as an undergraduate when she won the honor of designing the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC.
– In 1993, Susan Maxman became the first female president of the AIA.

By 1999, women made up 13.5 percent of US registered architects. That number would nearly double in the next decade before slipping to 21 percent in 2011. Efforts continue today to find ways to increase the number of female architects and help them advance in the field. In 2010, the Women in Architecture Fund was created to support women in their efforts to make progress, become professionals, and act as leaders in today’s field of architecture.

Check out other milestones achievements of female architects: Women in Architecture.

About PDI

PDI is an Indianapolis-based wholesale brokerage firm with a network that includes thousands of insurance agents, brokers, architects, engineers and contractors in all 50 states. Since PDI’s beginning in 1980, we’ve handled a single line of coverage: errors & omissions (E&O) for design professionals.

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