Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Louise Blanchard Bethune


Louise Blanchard Bethune was the first American woman known to work as a professional architect. She was born July 21, 1856 in Waterloo, New York, U.S.A. After graduating from high school in 1874, she traveled and taught school for two years. In 1876 she gave up her plans to study at Cornell University and, instead, she accepted a job as a draftsman in an architectural office of Richard A. Waite in Buffalo, New York. In October 1881, she opened her own architectural office in Buffalo with Robert A. Bethune whom she married two months later. Bethune designed many types of buildings: schools, factories, hotels, housing developments, a bank. A music store in Buffalo designed by Bethune was one of the first structures in the country with a steel frame and poured concrete slabs. She also designed the Lockport High School, begun in 1890 and the East Buffalo Live Stock Exchange. The only public building designed by Bethune which is still in existence is the Lafayette Hotel in Buffalo on 391 Washington Street, Lafayette Square. It was designed in Renaissance style and was built in 1904. The commission for this 256-room building was $1 million.

Bethune was elected to the Western Association of Architects in 1885 and later served a term as vice president. In 1888 she was elected member of the American Institute of Architects and in 1889 she was named a fellow of this organization. In 1891 she published an article "Women of Architecture" in Inland Architect and News Record. She also worked hard in support of legislation for licensing of architects. In 1892-93 Bethune was invited to compete in the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to the New World. She declined the offer, because she was not offered a fair honorarium. She died December 18, 1913 in New York City.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

1. The Book of Women's Firsts: Breakthrough Achievements of Almost 1,000 American Women by Phyllis J. Read and Bernard L. Witlieb, Random House, 1992
2. American Women's History by Doris Weatherford, Prentice Hall General Reference, 1994
3. Susan B. Anthony Slept Here. A Guide to American Women's Landmarks by Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas, Random House, 1994
4. Lost Heroines: Little-Known Women Who Changed Their World by Rebecca Bartholomew, Uintah Springs Press, 1996
5. Her Heritage: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Famous American Women, CD ROM from Pilgrim New Media, Inc., 1994 (http://www.PLGRM.com)

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