Mary Colter was an architect, who built amazing buildings. She achieved success during her life, but is not given her due, in my opinion, in today’s architectural history.
This is also true of other pioneering women in the field of architecture.
One was Julia Morgan, who lived from 1872 to 1957, comparable to Colter’s life. She was one of the first women to earn a degree in civil engineering. Bernard Maybeck, who had encouraged Colter, also encouraged Morgan to go to Paris to study architecture.
She opened her own architectural business in 1904 in San Francisco. Her most famous building was commissioned by William Hearst, who hired her to design the main buildings on his ranch in San Simeon, which is now known as Hearst Castle. She continued work there until 1947. A few years later she retired and lived quietly, dying in 1957.
Louise Blanchard Bethune was born in Waterloo, New York in 1856. Waterloo was in the heart of the women’s movement. She took a job as a draftsman in a Buffalo, New York, firm. It was more common to apprentice to become an architect than going to college.
While there she met and married Robert Bethune. Together they opened an architectural firm.
Bethune is best known for her design for Hotel Lafayette in Buffalo. It is considered her masterpiece.
She was the first woman to become an associate of the American Institute of Architects in 1888, and a fellow of the AIA the following year.
These are a few of the women pioneers in architecture in the United States.
An excellent book on the subject is The First American Women Architects by Sarah Allabeck, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2008.
I recommend it.


Do you have a favorite spot you don’t share?

When I was a child my favorite spot “just to be” was beside the silo in our dairy barn.

Our barn was actually two barns joined together with a large double barn door. One was the three-story dairy barn connected to the older two-story barn which we used for a team of horses, my pony, and baby calves.

The silo was just inside the horse barn. The sliding door nearest the cow barn was the one Dad used to access the corn silage (think salad) he fed the cows in the winter.

I loved to slip behind the second silo door, usually left partially open. It was always cool there even on hot days. When our team, Mage and Flo, wasn’t working a pair of leather harnesses hung from the hooks. A salty dried sweat from the leather infused the still air. The box of Dad’s tools for shoeing the horses smelled of the earth they tromped day after day. Mixed with these was the sweetness of the fresh chopped corn or the sourness of the leftover silage in the summer.

There was no artificial light, but only the natural light from the barn. It was quiet with only an occasional stomp of a hoof if the horses were in their stalls.

It was a wonderful spot to let my mind wander, to dream the possible and the impossible.

I hope you have a special space not for sharing. Everyone needs a place “just to be.”

BICYCLING TO DEPOSIT: a memory from 1944


The air was still and hot in the lazy summer afternoon in the late 1940s. Dad was out in the hayfield for one last load of hay.

My cousin, Norma, who spent much of the summer with us on the farm, and I knew he’d be working late. He’d have neither desire nor time to take us nine miles to the movie in Deposit. But it was the last night for the film with our favorite stars. We worked our way around the croquet court in the front yard wondering how to get to Deposit.

We’d already exhausted the possibility that Norma’s father would come get us. A plumber, he was out on a call fixing someone’s broken pipes.

Our only independent means of transportation were our bicycles–gear free. The wheels on our bikes went around at the same rate as we pedaled. After some pleading and arranging, Mom and Aunt Seb agreed we might ride over Loomis Hill into town. This dirt road cut the distance to seven miles–two miles uphill and then clear sailing down hill into town.

Mom insisted we wear long sleeves and long pants in case of an accident. We started off gleefully riding the first quarter mile to the bottom of Loomis Hill. We walked, pushing our bikes up the steep grades and occasionally riding up on the less steep slopes.

By the time we neared the crest of the hill and the only house on that part of the road, we were tired and sweating profusely. All we knew about the people who lived there was that they came from “the city.” As we came in sight of the house, we saw a lot of people around it. Apparently we were a novelty and an unusual sight. Several kids, and I think some of the adults or older teens, ran toward the bank at the edge of their lawn. This commotion alone startled us. It was then we saw the guns–probably BB guns. We weren’t sure. We were scared.

As we neared the edge of their yard, we got on our bikes and rode as fast as we could, which was not very fast, uphill. I think we were both praying hard as we rode by and finally out of range and out of sight of that house. We’d heard the guns popping and some shots fly by us but they never hit us or our bikes. I guess they weren’t good shots.

Finally, when we no longer see or be seen by those dreadful people, we stopped to let our hearts quiet their pounding, wipe the perspiration from our purple faces, and wait until we could breathe normally. It had taken us nearly two hours to reach the crest of the hill.

Rested, we saddled our bikes again and with the wind in our faces blowing our hair, we flew down the remaining miles into town in time to see our favorite stars.

We made that bicycle trip to Deposit many more times after that, but we never had to ride up the hill again. It took Dad only fifteen minutes to toss our bikes in the back of the truck and drop us off at the top for the ride down. Dad always seemed to have business in town the next day to bring us back to the farm.

Dad’s willingness to always give us time out of his very busy day is just one of the reasons he has always been my hero.