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Norma's Book Review of Every Woman Her Own Architect by Kelly Hayes McAlonie

By Norma Williams

Illustration by Norma Williams

As a female architect, I recently discovered an inspiring figure in the history of our profession that I had never heard of before: Louise Blanchard Bethune. Thank you, Kelly McAlonie for introducing me to her and for bringing her out of the shadows. Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first female professional architect. She began her journey by walking into an Architectural studio business and asking for an apprenticeship, which at the time was never heard of for a woman. It is important to note that during that era, apprenticeship was the primary path to becoming a professional architect, predating the prevalence of educational degrees in the field.

Louise was born at the right time for her to make the move, though it was not ever easy, she persisted. She opened her own Architectural Office after finishing her internship. She married Robert Bethune. Robert was also an architect, they partnered to become Bethune and Bethune. At the time the perception was that women could not handle the complexity of architecture, documentation, coordination with the trades, and supervising the construction site, but she didn’t let that slow her down. Louise had a keen understanding of the business of architecture, from accounting to the actual construction. Additionally, she specialized in the mechanics of building and might have even undertaken engineering work, even if not always given proper credit. Her designs were renowned for their "light and airy" qualities, leaving a lasting mark on the architectural landscape.

Not only was she a trailblazer in architecture, but she also broke the barrier on bicycling as women were thought too delicate to master the standard bicycle. Louise started the first women’s bicycling club in Buffalo N.Y. — one of the first in the nation. Some say that bicycling did more for the emancipation of women’s rights than anything else. Today, as a female architect, I am grateful for the doors she opened and the path she paved. Louise Blanchard Bethune will forever be remembered as a true pioneer in architecture, breaking barriers, and inspiring generations to come.


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