Listener Story: Another Forgotten Woman Architect


In our Women in Architecture episode, we highlighted a few trailblazers who were making their way in the industry during an era when women were still by and large expected to be at home -- not out designing important structures around the world! Many of you chimed in with your own stories. One listener, Anna, told us about getting a surprising history lesson from her own house.

I've always been fascinated with architecture, though I have no skills in that area, but I didn't really understand the challenges women faced in the field until I learned the history of my own house. I'd lived in my 1913 Arts & Crafts farmhouse for five years before I thought to look carefully at the blueprints that previous owners had thoughtfully preserved, and I was surprised to see that it featured the name of a husband-and-wife architect team. A little poking revealed a fascinating story: The primary architect was Helen Binkerd Young, who, despite graduating with an architecture degree in 1900 from Cornell, was unable to practice in her field. She spent several teaching (FOR FREE!) in the Home Ec department at Cornell because, of course, women weren't allowed to teach architecture (fear of hysterical tendencies), and apparently they weren't worth paying when they did teach. She specialized in concrete construction and ultimately designed several houses, but she had to include her husband's name on all of her work. In the course of my research, I found that she actually published the blueprints for my house in a manual of home design for "an ideal farmhouse" (below). Digging up scarce information has also helped me meet several other women who have become interested in researching the many almost-lost-to-history early female architects. If you're interested or would like to share with your audience, you can find more about H.B. Young here: http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/homeEc/bios/helenbinkerdyoung.html.

And for more ideas from Helen Binkerd Young about making a house into a home, check out her article "Planning the Home Kitchen."