Ellamae Ellis League
Early life and education
One of the earliest women to enter in and establish herself in the profession of architecture in the South during the early years of the twentieth century was Ellamae Ellis League. Born on July 9, 1899 as the youngest child and only daughter to Susan Dilworth Choate and Joseph Oliver Ellis, League spent the majority of her life and career in Georgia, where she would reach out to students in the community and make groundbreaking changes at the chapter, state, and regional levels of the AIA Chapters in which she was involved. At the time of her death in 1991 League was the only woman from Georgia to have received fellowship into the College of the American Institute of Architects, and was one of eight women to receive this honor in the country.
Despite the hardships she faced in the early years of her life, League proved that she was able to overcome adversity and maintain balance in raising her children as a single mother and running her own firm, one of the largest in the city of Macon at the time. Like many of the other woman pioneers in architecture before her. League did not approve of separate classification in her field as a woman. She believed “If you are an architect, you are an architect” and proved herself to be an excellent one at that when she took on a number of prominent commissions in her first year as a licensed architect alone, including a service station, six residences, a reservoir, two church buildings, and a residential restoration.
Career in Architecture
League’s professional career in architecture had a most unconventional start. After attending Wesleyan College for less than a year after her high school graduation, she met and married George Forrest League. Two children were born from this marriage who League herself took full responsibility for after her separation from Forrest League five years later. The inevitable financial struggles and lack of support which followed the divorce necessitated League’s decision to work in a local architectural firm, as she came from a family of architects even though she had no experience in the field prior to establishing an apprenticeship with a local firm in Macon. For six years she expanded her experience base in architecture at the local firm while simultaneously enrolled in correspondence courses from New York’s Beaux-Arts Institute of Design. These years were essential to League as they gave her the confidence and the drive to further her education at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Fontainebleau. Between 1927-28 she studied alone in France, absorbing the architectural philosophy of the Beaux-Arts institution and eventually taking it back to Georgia with her where she continued her work in local firms until 1933, when she set out to conquer the licensing exam.
By 1934, Ellamae Ellis League had her own firm. She belonged to the exclusive minority of female firm principals at this time; before the turn of the century, only 2% of American architects were women, which meant even fewer principals. She never turned down a commission and was equally committed to every one, including for the Public Works Administration. Notable of her career was her dedication to work with younger professionals and students in the field of architecture and her role in the unification of Georgia’s AIA Chapters. League was essentially the key player in the establishment of the Georgia Council of the AIA. She served as both president and director and was responsible for the drafting and updating of by-laws. Being the recipient of AIA fellowship based on service to the profession, League proved herself to be very involved and concerned with the public aspect of the AIA by serving on the South Atlantic Regional Council and establishing the Macon Division of the North Georgia Chapter and the AIA Student Participation Program.
League was particularly dedicated to the students at Georgia Tech University, where she devoted much time working with them on AIA activities at the Student Chapter Level. The National Association Regional Convention was first recommended by League, who was also instrumental in further developing the program and continued to be so involved in the succeeding two programs until 1968. Since the start of the program and on an annual basis, she was the anonymous benefactor of a student to the National Student Forum. At the Chapter level, League was elected first vice-president, second vice-president, and director for 11 years. She also served as Chairman of Student Affairs (2 years) and Chairman of Chapter Affairs (2 years). In addition to organizing the Georgia Council of the AIA and served for a year and a half as its first president and director, League served at the State level by receiving complaints of state work as a member of the special state committee. She continued her service as acting secretary-treasurer of the South Atlantic Regional Council, rewriting and maintaining the regional by-laws; League was similarly active in the community of Macon by representing the architecture profession on the board of Macon Little Theatre for three and a half decades. As a designer of sets and then a superviser of set design, she inspired a generation of young architects to become involved in the theatre. Another way she was active in her community was through service to the State Department of Mental Health’s citizens Council and the country board of mental health as an AIA representative.
League was nominated to the College of Fellows by the North Georgia Chapter of the AIA, and was sponsored by the Executive Committee of the North Georgia Chapter.
Major Buildings and Projects
- Ellamae Ellis League House – Macon, GA (1940): listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as of February 15, 2005
- Residence of Lee Happ – Macon, GA (1942)
- Residence of John Sancken – Macon, GA (1947)
- Residence of Mose Scharfman – Macon, GA (1956)
- Offices of Dr. C.L. Pennington – Macon, GA (1957)
- Macon-Bibb County Health Center – Macon, GA (1957)
- Scottish Rite Temple – Macon, GA (1963)
- Winship Elementary School – Macon, GA (1964)
- Ballard-Hudson Area Vocational Technical School – Macon, GA (1965)
- Restoration of the Grand Opera House – Macon, GA (1968-70)
Press and Awards
- Recipient of the prestigious AIA Bronze Medal
- Elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects for Service to the Profession (1968)
- Ivan Allen Senior Award, from the North Georgia Chapter of the AIA (for her restoration work on the Macon Grand Opera House), 1975
- Recipient of the Bernard B. Rothschild Award, from the Georgia Association of the AIA (for the most distinguished service to the profession of architecture), 1982
- Member and Fellow, American Institute of Architects (1944, 1968)
- (First) President – Macon Division of North Georgia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (1957)
- Vice-President – Macon Division of North Georgia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (1958)