Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Sophia Hayden


Sophia Hayden was the first woman to graduate with a degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. She was born in Santiago, Chile in 1868. Her father was an American from New England and her mother was South American. When Hayden was six years old, she was sent to Boston, Massachusetts to live with her paternal grandparents. She became interested in architecture in high school. In 1886 she was admitted to MIT to study architecture and graduated with honors in 1890. She had shared a drafting room with Lois Lilley Howe, another female architect. After completing her studies, Hayden could not find employment as an architect because she was a woman so, instead, she accepted a position teaching drawing at a Boston high school.

In 1891, she saw an announcement inviting women architects to enter a competition. It was to design the Women's Building for the World's Columbian Exposition, which was to take place in Chicago, Illinois in 1892-1893. Hayden won the competition with a three story, white building in Italian Renaissance style with arches and columned terraces. She was paid a small sum of $1000-$1500 for her design, while men were being paid 3-10 times that much for theirs. Hayden's building received an award "for delicacy of style, artistic taste, and geniality and elegance of the interior hall." Critics, however, insisted it looked too feminine. One said, "graceful timidity or gentleness, combined however with evident technical knowledge, at once differentiates it from its colossal neighbors and reveals the sex of its author." The Women's Building was torn down after the Exposition ended and Hayden, frustrated with the way she had been treated, retired from architecture. There were rumors that she had had a nervous breakdown, which was seen as another objection to having women architects.

Eight years later, Hayden married William Blackstone Bennett, an artist. She lived a quiet life in Massachusetts until her death in 1953.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

1. Herstory. Women Who Changed the World, edited by Ruth Ashby and Deborah Gore Ohrn, Viking, 1995. Adapted from an essay by Elisabeth Keating
2. Susan B. Anthony Slept Here. A Guide to American Women's Landmarks by Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas, Random House, 1994

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