Irwin, Harriet

Harriet Irwin

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Dates of Birth and Death



  • Institute for Female Education (Salem, NC)

Years of practice

1865–1897 (estimated)

Major projects

  • Hexagonal houses (patented in 1869), Charlotte, NC


Early life and education

Harriet Abigail Morrison was born in 1828 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Her education included home schooling by her father, Reverend Robert Hall Morrison, who was the first president of Davidson College, Davidson, NC, and later, more formal education at the Institute for Female Education, Salem, NC. After graduation and some traveling in Europe, she married James P. Irwin in Alabama and moved to Charlotte, NC, and settled. A mother of nine, Irwin never received a formal architecture education, but instead taught herself about architecture and interior design.

Career in Architecture

Irwin is thought to be the first woman to practice architecture, licensed or unlicensed. During the Reconstruction era following the Civil War, Irwin redesigned her hose into a hexagonal shape, so as to avoid difficult dusting and cleaning. In 1869, she became the first US woman to patent an architectural innovation: the hexagonal house.

Major Buildings and Projects

Hexagonal houses (patented in 1869), Charlotte, NC