Newsletter | Jan/Feb 2020

Fateful Meeting

by Lucia Bogatay

My first memory of the beginnings of OWA in 1973 is a lunch with Mui Ho, Wendy Bertrand, and Marie Laleyan in North Beach to discuss the idea forming a women architect organization. As a worker in an otherwise all male office, I was so relieved to meet other women architects. Until that moment I hadn’t realized the oppressiveness of the isolation I felt in my job. Navigating the politics of a mid-sized office with coworkers ambivalent about or perhaps just unaccustomed to having women architects around could be a strain. The firms which couldn’t tolerate women simply didn’t hire us. One firm retracted a job offer made to me by one partner after his other colleagues learned what he had done! The ostensible excuse was that the partners didn’t want to have to moderate their use of profanity in the office. They had clearly never been in a Harvard design studio!

The idea of forming an organization for women architects was liberating. The impulse to avoid a typical hierarchical organization came from the desire to avoid having a single “President.” It would help to mitigate the influence of any one of the strong personalities in our initially small band. It would be more democratic. By dividing up the work we could avoid over-burdening anyone.

In 1973, Wendy Bertrand conducted a survey of OWA members. In an undated OWA Bulletin, likely from the Spring of 1973, her analysis is quoted. It points out one of the main benefits of the organization to its members:

    “… the fact that over 50% of the women are alone in their offices [i.e. the only woman professional] emphasizes one of the clearest and more important needs for women’s organizations in architecture. That need is to help women understand their own problems and potentialities through knowing others of their sex. By this means, they can isolate problems which stem from sex discrimination from those which are related only to them as individuals. This should enable them to deal more effectively with their problems and resources.”

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