Landmarks Illinois Launches Database of Prairie State Women Pioneers in Architecture, Engineering and Design
Of superlative skyscrapers to transformative public spaces, contemporary women architects – not to mention landscape architects, interior designers, engineers, builders, developers, clients, etc. as is influential.
Taking a respectful look back to celebrate those who helped pave the way for today’s female architectural avant-garde, Landmarks Illinois has launched a one-of-a-kind online database of pioneering women working in AEC industries. and related areas in and around Chicagoland (and further statewide) from 1879 to 1979. The new database, dubbed The women who built Illinois, follows an in-depth investigation launched by Landmarks Illinois in 2020 to coincide with the centenary of the 19th Amendment.
While a handful of probably familiar names appear in the database of over 100 people (Margaret mccurry, Nathalie de Blois, Edith farnsworth, and Marion Mahoney Griffon to name a few), the project makes a point of drawing attention to women architects, designers and builders whose contributions are often unrecognized, overlooked and, in some cases, threatened by neglect. or new developments. As stated in a Press release, many of these places “remain unprotected without local landmark status or lack the designation of the National Register which would provide significant financial incentive opportunities for preservation” despite the admiration of local community members and landowners across the state.
“This new database recognizes those who paved the way for women today and continue to have an impact on the built environment of Illinois and Chicago,” said Lisa DiChiera, Director of Advocacy at Landmarks Illinois, the advocacy director who led the Women Who Built Illinois project. “We hope that students and professionals in architecture, urban planning and public history will be inspired to study these women, their careers and their constructed works.”
In addition to McCurry, de Blois, Farnsworth and Mahoney Griffin, the last of whom was one of the first female certified architects all over and an original member of the Prairie School (a 2017 Bordered profile Dubbed Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Best Enemy”, a few other female trailblazers appearing in the database include:
- Student under Mies van der Rohe at the Armor Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology), born in Kansas Georgia Louise Harris Brown (1918–1999) became the second African-American woman to obtain a bachelor’s degree in architecture in the United States in 1949. Brown worked extensively in Chicago from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s, but eventually left for the Brazil, where she believed there were more opportunities for architects of color than in the United States
- A prominent Modernist and highly decorated fellow of the American Institute of Architects whose completed work includes the iconic Rotunda building at O’Hare International Airport and Skokie Public Library, Gertrude Lempp Kerbis (1926-2016) opened his own eponymous company in Chicago in 1967 after studying with Mies and working at leading companies such as CF Murphy Associates and Skidmore Owings & Merrill.
- Former Miss Detroit who became both an architect and developer, Greta Lederer (1916-1976) was the driving force behind a number of mid-century residential developments in suburban Chicago, most notably Strawberry Hill in Glencoe.
- Margaret Zirkel Young (1941-), a German-born, Chicago-trained, now-retired architect who worked with Chicago firms including Ezra Gordon & Jack M. Levin & Associates (1969–1986; as an associate at from 1974) before going into private practice in 1986. “I never questioned being in a room with all men and no women,” Zirkel Young said in a statement. “From my first drawing class at Senn High School, I knew I wanted to be an architect. A favorite Goethe quote that I would return to throughout my career was: “Boldness has genius”.
Women Who Built Illinois was made possible through the financial support of: Women in Restoration & Engineering (Cable), AIA Illinois, the Kohler Fund for the Midwest of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Kim Kerbis, in honor of her mother, Gertrude Lempp Kerbis.
Erica Ruggiero, director of McGuire Igleski & Associates, Inc., and Cray Kennedy, Intern at Landmarks Illinois. Architectural historian, town planner and curator Julia bachrach and student volunteer Jared Saef provided additional research and peer review.
Those with additional information and / or photographs relevant to the database can submit these documents here.