Lois Wilson Langhorst was born on August 31, 1914 in Kiowa, Oklahoma. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1938, where she studied social welfare and English literature in additional to architecture.
Lois married architect Fred Langhorst in 1939. Although she earned an M.Arch from MIT in 1940, she was only eligible for independent contract work, as many architecture firms believed that hiring a woman would hinder a male-dominated office. Lois and Fred opened their own office in the Bay Area in 1942; however, only Fred’s name appeared on architectural designs until 1948, when Lois was finally licensed in California. She often ran the office and supervised construction sites in the absence of her husband, who struggled with alcoholism in his later career. Despite personal issues, the Langhorsts’ designs for custom houses were gaining popularity in the Bay Area. In 1950, an exhibition of their work was presented at the San Francisco Museum of Art.
That same year, Lois moved with her husband and three daughters to Europe, where Fred worked for the Army Corps of Engineers in Madrid and several architecture firms in France and Italy. Lois returned to California with her children in 1955 after divorcing Fred and worked with Gardner Dailey and Roger Lee. She enrolled at Harvard in an architectural history program, completeing all the requirements of a doctorate except for a dissertation in 1965. Lois’s AIA membership file reveals the difficulties of a single mother of three college-aged children going back to school herself, while also juggling professional responsibilities– due to financial and family strains, she resigned from and reapplied to the AIA several times througout her career.
After leaving Harvard, Lois taught at UC Berkeley, the University of Kentucky, and the University of North Carolina. After retiring in the late 1960s, she traveled to numerous institutions across the country and lectured on the exclusion of women, particularly mothers, from the fields of urban planning and architecture. The following is an excerpt of a lecture Lois gave at the 1974 Women in Architecture Symposium at the University of Washington:
“The point is, that most professional women are mothers, and informed mothers, well-aware of current philosophies of child-development, of which their male counterparts are not as a rule or at least not as attentively. Is it then presumptuous to assume that women are in an even better position to create a physical environment for the growth and development of the family than are men? At least we should be allowed the opportunity for genuine collaboration, utilizing our particular insight and inherent qualities, vary though they well may from those of men. Such a collaboration might begin to restore the conditions of the environment…”
Lois died in San Francisco, CA, on January 6, 1989.
Threkheld House, 1948, CA
Elizabeth McClane House, 1948, CA
Four Winds Bar, 1948, CA
Alan Hess, Forgotten Modern: California Houses, 1940-1970 (Gibbs Smith, 2007)
Pierluigi Serraino, NorCalMod: Icons of Northern California Modernist Architecture (Chronicle Books, 2006)