Newsletter | Jan/Feb 2011

Mui + 2011 Steering Committee

Book Circle #1: Early Women Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area

by Wendy S Bertrand

OWA Book Circles were formed to learn from the literature that specifically links women and architecture

Book Circle #1: Early Women Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area: The Lives and Work of Fifty Professionals, 1890-1951 by Inge Schaefer Horton

We started out the discussion with what surprised us about the book, continuing naturally into a lively conversation for about an hour and a half. Some of the specific ideas are summarized in the order we were sitting.

Leon Setti: Regionalism interesting for Easterner. Incredible research needed to find the details of these not so famous women architects, while books are usually about famous men and there is so much information. Oral transfer of culture has more influence than the written story, but he liked how some of the information was linked in the book, like who probably knew about who, and who helped who, and the context of these women architects lives. I didn’t have a mentor for architecture, but in dance and car design I do have wonderful mentors and they have become important life friends.

Hourig Ayanyan: These early architects had support groups and extended family to help them, I found that useful but I noticed a correlations between the number of buildings a woman designed usually indicated she had fewer children and family obligations. It was pointed out that Julia Morgan lived at home until she was sixty years old. Many, but not all, were from well to do families who probably had servants or paid domestic help. The question of modern marriage, where both members of a couple work and where in-laws do not live near by, was discussed—benefits and disadvantages. OWA’s role in supporting others was also brought up.

Shannon Devine: Was interested to know that a woman architect was involved in the Golden Gate bridge design. The variety and range of paths these pioneers took was very inspiring and showed that there is not one smooth path but lots of different ones. You don’t need to be perfect to enjoy practicing architecture, life can shift and change along the way. And there are lots of strategies to use to find your own path. One action can lead to another.

Karlene Gullone: The drawings in the book made me think about how the profession has changed. Knowing the history adds many layers of richness to understanding architecture for me. I have seen Inge speak and it certainly made me aware of many women architects about whom I had formally known nothing. Yet, you cannot summarize this list in just an hour lecture. There are so many more important details that make this book an essential read for every woman architect.

Tammy Lin: The drawings made me want to do more sketching. I would like to add my thought about the need to publish even more projects completed by women architects to influence the public perception of the success and participation of women architects in the industry. This book brings the historical perspective that credits the extensive contribution of women architects and anchors our role. The level of detail and information is both an interesting read and provides a good reference.

Inge Horton: I want to get my books to high schools. Do you think that is a
good plan? Yes, came from Karlene who wrote a paper about architects in high school and interviewed 3 men. This book would have expanded my worldview. Role model question seems like an important one.

Wendy Bertrand: This book is a great contribution to the history of women architects. I don’t really know how it would have influenced me if I had had this book to read as a student or before going into architecture. The talent and abilities of these amazing women might have overwhelmed me. Knowing about the history is an important fact I underestimated as a young person. Being able to tell others about the history helps validate women’s desire and attempts to practice architecture. It adds a foundation to ones perception of women in architecture that each one of us can pass on.

Jamie Brown (2/1/11): The chapter on dress was interesting and still is an issue for me. Office dress and job site attire may need to be different and one always has to be prepared to have the right pair of shoes. At least we don’t have to wear the little hats and long skirts of the past. It was interesting to read that Julie Morgan dressed very plainly. When I came from a small town in up state New York I knew about Julie Morgan and wondered who the other women of her time were, but I had no idea there were so many women in architecture so long ago. In reading Inge’s book, I enjoyed learning more about the University of California architecture school history and the history of the licensure in the state. I agree with Karlene, knowing the history of women architects adds many
layers of richness to my perspective on the field.

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