Theodate Pope Riddle
Early life and education
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1868, Effie Pope was the only child of Alfred and Ada Pope. Her father was a steel magnate and a collector of Impressionist Art. Her mother was a popular Cleveland hostess. Unlike her mother, Effie was very uncomfortable in social situations and gradually grew to be a self-determined girl. She later changed her name to Theodate, her grandmother’s name, which means “gift of God”.
Like many daughters of wealthy families in Cleveland, Theodate went to an all-girl school until the age of 19, when she was sent to Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. The two years of study of Miss Porter’s largely impacted Theodate’s life. She not only enjoyed the study, but also fell in love with the landscape of Farmington, a typical New England village featuring some of Connecticut’s oldest houses. After the graduation tour in Europe, Theodate returned to Cleveland. Her parents threw her a party trying to launch her into society, but they eventually gave up. In 1890, Theodate was permitted to rent a cottage on High Street in Farmington. She restored the 18th century cottage and soon attached a room to it. There she opened a store named “Odds and Ends shop”, where Miss Porter’s students were allowed to go for tea. In 1892, she bought the cottage along with 42 acres and called it “O’Rourkery”. She commissioned the architectural firm Hapgood & Hapgood, to make renovations on the O’Rourkey, which continued through 1893. This was the first project she took on. Therefore, she entered the field of architecture without any formal training.
Career in Architecture
Over the next few years, she worked on Lillian Wald’s Henry Street Settlement House on the Lower East Side of New York City and volunteered at the New York Psychiatric Institute. In Farmington, she also restored rooms in the Old Academy. Although she had gained some experience restoring several buildings, Theodate realized she needed formal training. She started to take private art history courses in Princeton University in 1894.
In 1897, Theodate began to plan the site of Hill-Stead, and persuaded her parents to move east. When they agreed to move in 1898, her fater hired Stanford White to supervise the construction. Theodate was able to work closely with White and create an apprenticeship for herself with McKim, Mead, and White, one of the most prestigious architectural firms at that time. The project was completed in 1901, and received additions in 1906.
From 1906 to 1909, she worked on her close friend Mary Hillard’s Westover School Project in Middlebury, CT. There, she designed the Highfield property for Joseph Cahmberlains, a Columbia law professor.
In 1913, after completing two projects in CT and the Dormer House in Long Island, NY. Theodate opened her architectural firm at 15 East 40th Street in New York City.
In 1915, after she completed the plans of Hop Brook School in Naugatuck, CT, she set sail to London on the Lusitania and survived from the sinking ship. At the end of the same year, she closed her NYC office. In the next year, at the age of 48, she married John Wallace Riddle and changed her name to Theodate Pope Riddle. She became certified as an architect in New York State.
In May, 1918, Theodate became a member of the American Institute of Architects. She was listed as Theodate Pope. Eight years later, she was elected honorary member of Architecture Club of New Haven, CT.
In 1919, she got the commission from Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association to reconstruct Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace at 26 East 20th Street in New York City. Theodate based the reconstruction of TR’s birthplace on photographs taken before it was demolished and on measurements of the adjunct TR’s uncle’s house made before it was torn down. The house was dedicated and opened to public on Oct 27, 1923.
By the time, she had begun plans for her last major work, the Acon Old Farms School in Avon, CT. The school occupied Riddle for the rest of her life. Although the school opened in 1927, construction was not completed until 1930. Her husband died in 1941, and in 1944, the school closed due to the war.
In August, 1964, Theodate Pope Riddle died at the age of 78.
Major Buildings and Projects
- 1890-1896 The O’Rourkery and Gundy, 13 high St., Farmington, CT
- 1898-1907 Hill-Stead, 35 Mountain Road, Farmington, CT
- 1906-1909 Westover School, Middlebury, CT
- 1911-1914 Highfield, Middlebury, CT
- 1913-1914 Dormer House, 357 Lattingtown Road, Lattingtown, Locust Valley, Long Island, NY
- 1914-1915 Hop Brook School, Naugatuck, CT
- 1915 Cottage, 11 Main Street, Farmington, CT
- 1920-1922 Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, 28 East 20th Street, New York, NY
- 1918-1929 Avon old farm school, Avon, CT
Riddle, T. P., United States., & Paine, J. (1979). In Theodate Pope Riddle, her life and work. Washington?: National Park Service.
- 1906 American Institute for Scientific Research (founder)
- 1918 AIA