Louise Blanchard Bethune
Louise Bethune was the first professional woman architect in America and the first female member of the American Institute of Architects.
Early Life and Education
Born in Waterloo, New York, on July 21, 1856, Jennie Louise Blanchard Bethune was the only child of Dalson Wallace Blanchard and Emma Melona Blanchard, both educators. The Blanchard Family moved to Buffalo in 1866. Bethune went to Buffalo High School, where she showed interest in architectural drawing. Upon graduation, Bethune was about to enter the architecture program at Cornell University, but instead began working as an apprentice draftsman in the Buffalo Office of Richard A. Waiter and F. W. Caulking, where she remained for five years. It is unclear whether Bethune attended Cornell for some architectural training and did not graduate with a degree or whether she received all of her architectural training on the job. In 1881, she opened her own architectural office in Buffalo. Later that year, she married Robert Armour Bethune, a former co-worker from R. A. Waiter. Their only child, Charles W. Bethune, was born in 1883. The business of the firm expanded quickly and in 1890, William L. Fuchs was added to the firm. Eventually the firm was named Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs.
Career in Architecture
Bethune’s firm was commissioned a range of city building projects, which included the expansion of the Buffalo school system (18 buildings), the creation of the Iroquois Door Plant Company warehouse and the large Chandler Street Complex for the Buffalo Weaving Company. The firm took on a number of unusual projects: the Elk Street open market stalls, grandstands for the Queen City Baseball and Amusement Company, and the first electric power plant in Buffalo. The plant was the country’s first alternating current electrical system that brought electricity from Niagara Falls to Buffalo. Although Bethune believed that designing houses was among “the most pottering and worst-paid work an architect ever does,” she also designed many residential projects during her career.
Bethune embraced the advanced building technology of the time. Her firm designed the Denton, Cottier & Daniels music store on Main St. in Buffalo, one of the first structures built of steel frame and fire-resistant concrete slabs.
From 1898 to 1904, Bethune’s firm worked on the Hotel Lafayette in Lafayette Square, Buffalo. The hotel was a 7-story, 225-room building designed in the French Renaissance style. The one million dollar commission was the most expensive as well as the most important project of Bethune’s firm. It was considered the keystone of Bethune’s career. Although the building was planned for the 1901 Pan-American Expo, financial problems and changes in ownership caused it to open a few years later. The building, with its fire-proof technology and block-long presence, was one of the largest and most technologically up-to-date luxury hotels in turn-of-the-century America. Once it was complete, it immediately became a local cultural landmark. The building is on the list of Buffalo Landmarks.
In 1885, Bethune became a member of the Western Association of Architects (WAA). In 1888, under the support of John M. Root, Bethune was elected to the AIA and became the first female member. She was the vice-president of the Buffalo Society of Architects, and second vice-president of the WAA, which later merged with the AIA.
The Lafayette Hotel is currently undergoing renovations and will reopen in October 2011 as a hotel/apartment building and wedding venue.
Bethune retired from her practice in 1905, when the Hotel Lafayette opened to the public. In August of 2010, the Lafayette Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places. On December 18, 1913, Bethune died at age 57.
Buffalo Architecture and History – an index page which links to many useful links of Bethune’s buildings
Lienhard, John H. Three Women Architects. Audio file includes.
Wrenn, Tony. Women and Women Architects in the 1890s: Architects Louise B. Bethune and Sophia G. Hayden, and the likes of Mrs. Potter Palmer. http://aiarchitect.aia.org/aiarch_150_template.cfm?pagename=a150_tw022406
Blank, Carla. Can Buffalo’s Lafayette Hotel be Saved? Neglecting a Grand Old Lady.
[An article on the preservation of Hotel Lafayette]
- 1883-1888 Buffalo Public Schools (18 commissions include)
- 1885 Cosack & Koerner Lithography
- 1890 East Buffalo Livestock Exchange
- 1898 Niagara Power Station
- 1898-1904 Hotel Lafayette in Lafayette Square, Buffalo
- 1902 Buffalo Weaving Company
- 1904 Iroquois Door Plant Company warehouse
- Undated Denton, Cottier & Daniel’s Music Store
Writings by the Architect
Bethune, Louise Blanchard. 1891. Women and architecture. Inland Architect and News Record. 17(2), 20-21.
Bethune, Louise Blanchard. 1983. Women in architecture. Inland Architect. 27 (4):46-47.
Allaback, Sarah. 2008. The first American women architects. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Hays, Johanna A. 2007. Louise Blanchard Bethune Architect Extraordinaire and First American Woman Architect, Practiced in Buffalo, New York (1881-1905). http://repo.lib.auburn.edu/07M%20Dissertations/HAYS_JOHANNA_23.pdf
[A PhD dissertation on Louise Bethune]
Pettengill, George E. 1975. How AIA acquired its first woman member, Mrs. Louise Bethune. Journal. 63:35.