Bennett, Sophia Hayden

Sophia Hayden Bennett

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Dates of Birth and Death

October 17, 1868-February 3, 1953


Santiago, Chile


  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1890




Early life and education

Sophia Hayden Bennett (October 17, 1868 – February 3, 1953) was the first woman to receive an architecture degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bennett was born in SantiagoChile. Her mother was Chilean and her father was an American dentist from Boston. When she was six she was sent to Boston to live with her grandparents. In high school she found an interest for architecture. She graduated from MIT in 1890 with a degree in architecture, with honors. She is best known for designing the Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1892, designing the building when she was just 21. She received $1,000 at the time for the design, when male architects earned $10,000 for similar buildings. Bennett died in 1953 in Winthrop, Massachusetts.

Career in Architecture

After completing her studies Hayden may have had a hard time finding an entry level apprentice position as an architect because she was a woman so she accepted a position as a mechanical drawing teacher at a Boston high school. In 1891 she learned about a design competition. Women were invited to submit architectural drawings for the Woman’s Building planned for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Hayden’s design won the competition. During construction, Hayden’s design principles were compromised by incessant changes demanded by the construction committee. Her frustration eventually was pointed to as typifying women’s unfitness for supervising construction, although many architects sympathized with her position and defended her. In the end the rifts were made up, perhaps, and Hayden’s building received an award for “Delicacy or style, artistic taste, and geniality and elegance of the interior.” Within a year or two, virtually all the Fair buildings were destroyed. Frustrated with the way she had been treated, Hayden may or may not have decided to retire from architecture, but she did not work again as an architect. Eight years later she married an artist, William Blackstone Bennett. She worked as an artist for years and lived a quiet life in Winthrop, Massachusetts until her death in 1953.

Institutional Affiliations

Massachusetts Institute of Technology