Louise Blanchad Bethune: Architect Extraordinaire and First American Woman Architect, Practiced in Buffalo, New York (1881-1905)
Type of DegreeDissertation
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Jennie Louise Blanchard Bethune (1856-1913) was America’s first professional woman architect at a time when few women chose careers except when faced with economic necessity. The only child of teachers, Bethune’s education was directed toward a career path of her own choosing. She chose to become an architect and built one of the more successful practices in Buffalo. Her schools were among the most innovative in the United States, and her commercial buildings were known for their efficiency and cost effectiveness. Bethune probably did not consider her innovations in functionally oriented structures as anything other than the proper work of an architect. She was not a feminist and did not promote feminist causes; she viewed herself as a businesswoman and responsible member of her profession. This study describes and analyzes her training, her commissions, her clients, and her relationship to the professionalization of architecture in the context of the social, economic, and technological changes that transformed Buffalo, New York, as well as most American cities between 1880 and 1905. Bethune’s success reflected her ability to apply correctly the new scientific developments in sanitation, ventilation, fireproofing, and function that challenged late nineteenth-century society. Her successful solutions through design and responsible construction made her one of Buffalo’s and the nation’s most respected and trusted architects. Through a quarter century of successive economic expansion and depression, Bethune maintained a financially successful practice while promoting professionalization of architecture by participating in the development of licensing standards for the profession. While few women followed Bethune into the profession until a century later, her status in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) opened the profession to women and served as a role model for those who have followed.