Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Louise Blanchard Bethune - feminist and first female architect

Louise Blanchard Bethune (July 21, 1856 – December 18, 1913)

If you haven't heard of Louise Bethune before, don't be too ashamed. While she was a remarkable woman during her time, her story has been all but lost to history. Fortunately, folks like Kelly Hayes McAlonie are working to change that.

Here are a few basics facts about her life and her work that everyone should know:

She was the first female architect in America.
When she was a child, a family friend snarked that she should become an architect. So she did. After graduating from high school in 1874, she had planned on attending the Cornell architecture school, but instead accepted a job working for prominent architects in Buffalo, New York. Five years later, in 1881, she opened her own office as a partner in her soon-to-be-husband's firm, Bethune, Bethune, and Fuchs.

She was a leader in her field.
The design she is remembered for most is the Hotel Lafayette—a seven-story, 225-room "monument to the growth and prosperity of Buffalo" that featured hot and cold water in all bathrooms and a telephone in every room. This was her greatest project. With a budget of $1 million, it was her opportunity to prove that women could do the hard work of architectural design on a large scale.

After her success with the Hotel Lafayette, among other projects, Bethune finally began to receive the recognition she deserved. She was elected a member of the Western Association of Architects in 1885, and later served a term as a vice president of that organization. In 1888, she became the first female associate of the American Institute of Architects.

She was a staunch feminist.
She was born in Waterloo, New York, which is only one town over from Seneca Falls. There is little doubt in my mind her upbringing in western New York in the second half of the 19th century and her proximity to leading feminists of the era had a strong influence on her.

In 1891, plans were being made for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Many prominent male architects were selected for design projects, while women were encouraged to participate in a competition for the right to design the World's Building. Bethune refused outright once she learned that the men were to be paid $10,000 for their designs, while the winning woman would only receive $1,000, and would also have to provide construction documents.

She was an avid cyclist.
She was a member of the Women's Wheel and Athletic Club in Buffalo, and there is a rumor she purchased the first woman's bicycle in town.

(Portrait source: University of Buffalo)

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To read more about Louise Blanchard Bethune:

Louise Bethune: America’s First Woman Architect

Through New Historical Society Exhibit, an Advocate for Women in Architecture Celebrates America's First Professional Female Architect

Louise Blanchard Bethune: Buffalo Feminist and America's First Woman Architect

A Century After Her Death, America's First Female Architect Gets Her Due

100 Years – Remembering Louise Bethune

You may also be interested in:

Eliza Ann Grier - the first black woman to receive a MD in Georgia
Very little is known about her early life. She was born during the Civil War. Her parents were slaves in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, which made her a slave as well. After emancipation, her family moved to Atlanta, where she grew up and attended school. She originally intended to become a teacher, and attended Fisk University.

Happy Birthday - Emily Hahn
You know, as much as I'd like to think I know a lot about women in literature and history, I'm continually surprised by what I don't know. Especially when I learn about a woman in history who lived a truly amazing and adventurous life. For example, Emily "Mickey" Hahn.

Happy Birthday - Amelia Earhart
[N]ow and then women should do for themselves what men have already done - occasionally what men have not done--thereby establishing themselves as persons, and perhaps encouraging other women toward greater independence of thought and action. Some such consideration was a contributing reason for my wanting to do what I so much wanted to do.


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