Bethune, Louise Blanchard (1856–1913)

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Bethune, Louise Blanchard (1856–1913)

American architect and first woman elected to the American Institute of Architects. Born Jennie Louise Blanchard on July 21, 1856, in Waterloo, New York; died on December 18, 1913, in Buffalo, New York; graduated from Buffalo High School, 1874; married Robert Bethune (an architect), in December 1881.

At the time Louise Bethune was apprenticing with a Buffalo architect, it was argued that women were unsuited to the demanding profession of architecture, but Bethune paid little heed. Following her graduation from high school, she traveled and taught school before abandoning her plans to attend Cornell University in favor of a position as a draftsperson in the architectural office of Richard A. Waite. In 1881, at age 25, she opened her own architectural office in partnership with Robert Bethune, whom she later married.

Louise Bethune worked on a broad range of structures, including stores, factories, chapels, banks, schools, houses, and apartment buildings. Notable among the 18 schools she designed in Western New York was the Lockport Union High School, a characteristic Romanesque revival edifice made of brick and sandstone. More unusual in style was Buffalo's 225-room Hotel Lafayette, which she completed in 1904, in the French Renaissance style. The Cottier & Daniels music store, another of Bethune's designs, was one of the country's first buildings with a steel-frame construction and poured concrete slabs to resist fire.

During her 30-year career, Bethune joined a number of architectural societies. In 1885, she became a member of the Western Association of Architects, of which she served a term as vice president. In 1888, she was the first woman elected to the American Institute of Architects, and became their first woman fellow the following year.

By the early 1890s, Bethune was the best-known woman practicing architecture in the country. She was also outspoken in her feminist views, refusing to enter the Woman's Building competition held at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1892, because the winner was not awarded a honorarium equivalent to that awarded to male architects at the fair. As to the popular practice of limiting women architects to the designing of homes, Bethune countered that it was the worst paid work an architect did; therefore, to make it a special branch for women was "quite out of the question." She believed that women had to be willing to get their hands dirty, pointing out that those who overlook the "brick-and-mortar-rubber-boot-and-ladder-climbing period of investigative education remain at the tracing stage of draftsmanship." Bethune's final years were spent in semiretirement. She died in Buffalo, on December 18, 1913.


Torre, Susan, ed. Women in American Architecture. NY: Whitney Library of Design, 1977.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts