Architectural Contributions of 19th Century Women

Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Henry Hobson Richardson. Frank Lloyd Wright. These are the celebrated architects of the 19th century discussed regularly when talking about influences in American home design. Did all 1800s architects have three names? An even better question to ask is did you know that women also created some of the most useful designs and floor-plans of the time period? Though their contributions were seldom recorded, homes designed by women have impacted the direction of architecture to this day.

In a time when when they were mostly relegated to the kitchen, how did women gain the opportunity to showcase their home design ideas? Well, throughout many parts of the United States, agricultural communities held contests and offered prizes for the best home plans. In the 1800s, most professional architects were from urban areas, used to creating homes for city-dwellers. But the needs of farmers and their families were very different. Additionally, only the wealthy could afford to hire a professional designer. So men and women alike would draw and submit their plans for ideal farmhouses and barns. The winning plans were published in farm journals and displayed at county fairs. Other farmers would see these designs and use them to build their houses

The farmhouses of the 19th century were less fashionable and elaborate than the architect designed homes. They were often built by the farmers themselves with the help of neighbors. However, they were incredibly efficient compared to city homes. Their utility can often be attributed to women designers, for as the homemakers they better understood the needs of their households.

In Minnesota, there are many old farmhouses from the late 1800s still around, even  in the depths of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  That likely means there are also a percentage of them that were originally woman-designed. According to this article at, here are some of the features of 19th century, women- designed homes:
  • A porch that also would serve as a summer kitchen during the hot months
  • First floor bedrooms because they were convenient for child-baring women, the elderly, and the infirm
  • Good ventilation since fresh air was was important for making butter and was considered to be healthy
  • Ground-level kitchens with plenty of room for conducting farm business, preparing food, and preserving fruits and vegetables
With kitchens as the command center of a farm, and with wives ruling them, is it any wonder this room is where feminine influence is felt the most? You can thank pioneering American women for their large kitchen window, abundant cabinets, and expansive counter-space.

Read about influential women in architecture.

See buildings designed by women.

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