Pioneering Female Architects

I'm interested in putting together a list pioneering female architects in the United States that is specifically broken down by state that might serve as a resource for students and professionals who are interested in learning more about the work of these architects. I have searched for this information online, but have yet to come across a centralized list that ties together geographic and chronological information in this format. Please add information and sources below if possible.

Based on my research, Mary Louisa Page was the first woman to gradate with a degree in architecture in North America (from School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) in 1878, though Louise Blanchard Bethune was technically the first woman to work as a professional architect when she became a draftsperson in Buffalo in 1876. Julia Morgan, of course, was the first woman to earn an architecture degree from the École des Beaux-Arts in 1902, and also became the first licensed female architect in California. Emily Helen Butterfield, who attended Syracuse University, became the first licensed female architect in Michigan in 1907.  Norma Merrick Sklarek, who graduated from Barnard College and the Columbia University School of Architecture, was the first African American woman to earn licensure in both New York and California in the 1950s. 

Curious to see what information is out there about other female architects and the states they practiced in. Below is a state-by-state breakdown that will be updated as information becomes available. 

* These names list notable women architects, though they may not necessarily have been the first licensed woman architect in the state.

Sep 24, 19 8:47 pm

2 Featured Comments

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atelier nobody

I believe Julia Morgan was the first licensed female architect in California.

Sep 24, 19 10:02 pm

Elizabeth "Lisl" Close - Minnesota

Sep 25, 19 11:13 pm

Interesting project.  What about definitions?  Is the threshold an architecture degree?  License?  Practice type?

Would Denise Scott Brown qualify for Pennsylvania?

Sep 26, 19 12:15 am

I think the definitions can be as open-ended as necessary. I expect the list to be relatively nuanced and specific in certain instances, more direct in others. Some people might have been able to earn a professional degree in architecture, others perhaps not. Same for being licensed. There is also the phenomenon of women capitalizing on working male partners to be able to practice (Emily Helen Butterfield, for example, was partnered with her father, who was also an architect). I suspect the richness of this history will come out of these particularities.

According to Wikpedia, Anna Keichline, who graduated from Cornell in 1911, was the first licensed female architect in Pennsylvania.


Agreed on the richness of historical detail and personal stories, especially here on this subject.

Featured Comment

This might be useful:

Sep 26, 19 9:39 am

Margaret Goodin Fritsch (November 3, 1899 – June 27, 1993) was an American architect. In 1923 she became the first female graduate of the University of Oregon School of Architecture and in 1926 she became the first licensed female architect in the state of Oregon.

Says the trusty Wikipedia?

Sep 26, 19 2:51 pm

You only start research on Wikipedia, at best.


Hence the question mark and slight snark with 'trusty Wikipedia'


Ah, but some consider
big W as their last stop... God help us.


Oh... they do exist... Sorry for the false alarm!


Lois Howe graduated from MIT in 1890 and set up her own practice in Boston in 1900, eventuallly hiring three other female architects as well as a female landscape architect becoming perhaps the first all-female architecture firm - certainly the first in Boston.  

Sep 26, 19 4:12 pm

Depends how you define "architect" and "firm" I guess. Esther Pariseau (Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart) designed an orphanage in Vancouver, and various other buildings, around 1870.

Sep 26, 19 5:09 pm

Lutah Riggs is a bit of a local legend.  She was an architect who worked for decades in Southern California region. She was the first licensed female architect in Santa Barbara, and the first woman in California to be named a Fellow of the AIA.  She practiced architecture from 1920 into the 70's.

For many years, she was the head draftsperson for the legendary Spanish Colonial Revival architect George Washington Smith. 

She was a superb delineator, and her evocative pencil drawings are closely associated with G. W. Smith's famous buildings:

I love this photo of her:

Sep 26, 19 5:22 pm

Arizona - Judith Chafee, Anne Rysdale, and Annie Rockfellow

Sep 27, 19 9:25 am

Rhode Island - Frances Henley. Went to RISD (for architecture) in the late 1800s. Worked in RI for her entire career and was the first to operate under her own name (per wiki). 

Sep 27, 19 11:59 am

NC Modernist has done your work for North Carolina:

Oct 12, 19 3:25 pm

If Puerto Rico and D.C. are on the list, shouldn't Guam be?

Oct 21, 19 11:23 pm
atelier nobody

Sure, as well as the Virgin Islands, Palau, Kwajalein Atoll, and any other US possessions. I know almost nothing about architectural history in those places (except Kwaj), and would be genuinely curious to hear whether anything interesting has happened there.

Definitely, will add all US territories to the list!

Nov 7, 19 6:39 pm
Featured Comment

I highly recommend you look at Sarah Allabacks' well-researched "The First American Women Architects" published by the University of Illinois Press. It has appendices in the back that are chronological and I believe also by state.

You may also want to reference the online database created and edited by architectural historians Mary McLeod and Victoria Rosner, Pioneering Women of American Architecture, through the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation.

Dec 26, 19 10:02 pm
atelier nobody


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