Early life and education
Josephine Wright Chapman was amongst the first generation of women in architecture who significantly shaped the foundations for successive female architects to start and head their own firms and make a name for themselves in the building industry. Born as the only daughter out of four children to James Levi Chapman, President of the Fitchburg Machine Works, and Mary E. Wright, a dedicated member to the Fitchburg Women’s Club, on August 20, 1867, Chapman was raised in a traditional New England household. Despite her conservative upbringing, Chapman expressed a suprising desire to study and pursue a career in architecture. At the age of 24 she pawned jewelry and clothes to support herself as she left home without concern for the family’s blessings, to realize her career aspirations in Boston.
Career in Architecture
Chapman’s career began in 1892 as an apprentice under the tutelage of Clarence H. Blackall, co-founder of the firm Blackall, Clapp, & Whittemore. Blackall was a profound source of inspiration for Chapman, as his impressive career in architecture spanned from the Rotch Travelling Scholarship for the study of European architecture (of which he was the first recipient) to the presidency of the Boston Architectural Club (of which he was the first president). Under his supervision, Chapman spent five years drafting and studying the firm’s most prestigious designs, including that for Boston’s first steel-frame structure, the Carter Building.
Prior to the conclusion of her apprenticeship, Chapman moved into Grundmann Studios on Clarendon Street. The tenants at Grundmann Studios, as a woman’s artist collective, helped support Chapman during a time of intense confrontation with the obstacles of gender bias as she sought to secure independent commissions. In 1897, she received the first of a series of prestigious commissions: the Craigie Arms private dormitory at Harvard. After the success from the design of the dormitory, she was able to open her own firm in which she hired several draftsman in addition to a draftswoman. With the exception of Jennie Louise Blanchard Bethune (who added her husband Robert Bethune as a partner to her firm in 1881, only a few months after she found it), Chapman was the first woman in the history of American architecture to start and head her very own firm. The firm went on to take a number of commercial projects in the area of Leominster, Massachusetts; one of their biggest projects was the Episcopal Church of St. Mark, financed by wealthy patron Minerva C. Crocker of Fitchburg.
Perhaps the highlight of Chapman’s career was the commission she won for the design and construction of the New England States Building in Buffalo, New York for the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. Armed with picture, plans, and passion to win, Chapman appealed to the six governors the evening before the competition was to begin and subsequently earned the commission. This moment marked the start of the mature phase of her career, during which time she took on the responsibility of designing churches, clubs, libraries, and apartments, as well as the Women’s Clubs in Lynn and Worchester, Massachusetts. After 1907, she dedicated herself solely to the design of residential buildings. Chapman believed, echoing the collective sentiment of the public at the dawn of the twentieth century, that female architects had a grace and sensitivity about them which made them perfect designers of home spaces.
Following the favourable reception of her New England Building and other works, Chapman felt confident enough to apply for membership to the American Institute of Architects and the Boston Architectural Club but was denied; in the case of the latter, Chapman was rejected based on the upholding of a male-only policy which was not so unusual of the times. Also during this time, the city of Boston experienced an economic recession which necessitated a move on Chapman’s part to New York City to find work. Her career flourished in New York City, as confirmed by The Ladies’ Home Journal which stated “You can find her [Chapman’s] work everywhere in the environs of New York…” She was also admitted into the New York Society of Architects. The achievements of her New York office culminated in the years between 1907-1921, when Chapman took on the design for artists’ residences in the Queens’ waterfront suburb of Douglas Manor as well as a sixteen storey apartment building on Park Avenue. By 1921, Chapman finally had the financial resources to travel abroad and study European architecture like her early mentor, Blackall.
Chapman’s career in architecture concluded with the design of Hillandale in Washington, D.C. in 1923 for Anne Archbold, heir to the Standard Oil fortune. Both architect and patron were particularly influenced in the design of the estate by the writings of Bostonian architect Guy Lowell, Smaller Italian Villas and Farmhouses (1916) and More Small Italian Villas and Farmhouses (1920). The architectural and historical importance of Hillandale was corroborated in 1995 when it was elected to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. After she completed the design for Hillandale, Chapman retired to Paris. She passed away in Bath, England in 1943.
Major Buildings and Projects
- Craigie Arms (Harvard University dormitory), currently known as Chapman Arms apartments, Cambridge, MA (1897) – “Design arranged five masonry and timber structures containing 36 apartments under a single flat expanse of roof. Turrets punctuate the corners of this building and its red brick cladding is offset by limestone trim… It is a simply detailed Georgian Revival style building which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”[Nancy Byrtus, Candace Jenkins and Paul Levenson, “Josephine Wright Chapman and Tuckerman Hall” Central Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra (2002) … For more, visit https://www.tuckermanhall.org]
- St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Fitchburg, MA (ca. 1897)
- New England States Building, Buffalo, NY (Pan-American Exposition, 1901)
- Tuckerman Hall, Worchester, MA (1901-02) – “… A multi-purpose assembly facility located at 10
Tuckerman Street in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is advantageously situated at the junction of Salisbury and Tuckerman Streets in the heart of Worcester’s historic Institutional District. This district features a high concentration of Revival-styled public buildings, many of which have been listed on the National Historic Register. Tuckerman Hall contributes a graceful Neo-Classical façade to this streetscape and serves as a cultural memorial not only to the history of women in Worcester, but to the advancement of women nationally, as Tuckerman Hall was one of the earliest facilities in this country conceived, financed and designed solely by women. Serving as the headquarters of the Worcester Woman’s Club from the time of its construction through the mid-20th century, it is currently home to the Central Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra, a regional symphony orchestra based in Worcester, Massachusetts.” [Nancy Byrtus, Candace Jenkins and Paul Levenson, “Josephine Wright Chapman and Tuckerman Hall” Central Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra (2002) … For more, visit https://www.tuckermanhall.org]
- Hayes-Saul House, Arlington, MA (1903)
- Alice Foster House [Douglas Manor], Douglaston, Queens, NY (1908)
- Women’s Club, Lynn, MA (1909)
- A.B. Holmes House [Douglas Manor], Douglaston, Queens, NY (1912)
- Daniel Combs House [Douglas Manor], Douglaston, Queens, NY (1917)
- Anne Archbold House “Hillandale,” Washington, DC (1922-25) – “The main residence has an irregular T-shape footprint and includes numerous projections and several porches. The wings of the villa have two stories and several covered and open-to-the-sky balconies. The rambling plan and a-symmetrical elevations were employed to give the impression that the residence had expanded over time. The front entrance is located at the intersection of the two principal wings and faces northeast. The exterior of Hillandale is typical of Italian Renaissance rural villas with its smooth stucco walls and a limited amount of ornament. Hillandale’s exterior ornament includes: the use of the Tuscan Order for a loggia and porch; simple scroll-like ends on the rafter, and; terra cotta hip- and gable-covers for the chimneytops a typical detail of farmhouses in Tuscany. The walls at Hillandale are comprised of hollow terra cotta tiles with a stucco finish. The gable- and hip-roofs are covered with terra cotta tiles and have deep eaves with large wood rafters.” [United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service – National Register of Historic Places Registration Form “Hillandale” (1995) … For more, visit https://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/94001595.pdf]
Sarah Allaback, The First American Women Architects, (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008).
United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service – National Register of Historic Places Registration Form “Hillandale” (1995).
Nancy Byrtus, Candace Jenkins and Paul Levenson, “Josephine Wright Chapman and Tuckerman Hall” Central Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra (2002).
- Member of the New York Society of Architects (1907)