The following is a guest post by Ryan Brubacher, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division.
Preparation for an upcoming virtual orientation (details below) led me to explore the HABS/HAER/HALS (HHH) Collection with an eye towards finding women in the role of architect or designer. The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), and Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS), form a repository of information on historic American structures and landscapes that are documented through photographs, drawings and written reports. Many women creators’ work is included in HHH and I have highlighted various ways you can find those contributions to this collection below, with the hope that it will inspire you to take the time to find them.
Women designers (by name)
Some famous women designers’ work can be found with simple searches of the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog because their names are listed in the “Creator” field in the catalog records. Examples include Julia Morgan, Lilian Rice, and Ray Eames. Always double check spelling because Julie Morgan and Lillian Rice are not going to get you useful results!
Original drawings by Julia Morgan for the Saratoga Foothill Club were used to create the measured drawings for the survey of the Saratoga Foothill Club in Santa Clara County, California.
Lilian Rice’s designs for Rancho Santa Fe are well documented across fifteen structures, including the Headquarters Building.
One thing I love about the survey for the Charles and Ray Eames house designed by the husband and wife team, along with Eero Saarinen, is that the Data Pages include a list of the materials used inside the house. Ray had input in various parts of the design, just as she did in other projects for their office. Surfaces, colors and fabrics would likely have been Ray’s decisions, so we can see her influence here (right) in the concrete list of materials selected.
Women designers (by building, husband or firm)
Due to changing practices over the years in the way HHH surveys recorded names, you sometimes have to look for the name of a husband, principal architect or firm to find the traces of a woman creator. Marion Mahony Griffin, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, and Theodate Pope Riddle are all examples of women whose names get results, but whose work appears in additional records beyond those retrieved by searching their names. Knowing firm names when searching HABS/HAER/HALS is an important search tip for finding work by any architect or designer.
Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, who designed the Bright Angel Lodge and cabins for Grand Canyon National Park is not mentioned in the record for these structures.
Colter is mentioned in the survey for the Painted Desert Inn as a decorator. You can find more surveys mentioning the company she worked for, the Fred Harvey Company, which may also show examples of her work. You can see the Watch Tower she designed as a photograph in the East Rim Drive HAER survey (HAER ARIZ,3-GRACAN,6–10), but she is not credited in the survey, because it covers such a large area, and only one photo shows her tower.
Marion Mahony Griffin can be found by keyword search, but you can find more examples of her work by also searching for some of the men she collaborated with: Frank Lloyd Wright, Hermann V. van Holst, and Walter Burley Griffin (who was also her husband), for example. Attribution in collaborative works can be hard to pin down so additional research is often required to determine names of male collaborators and to confirm creative responsibility. The catalog record for the David Amberg House helpfully calls out Marion Mahony Griffin’s individual contributions to the structure.
Neither Walter Burley Griffin nor Marion Mahony Griffin are fully spelled out in the catalog records for houses they designed in Mason City, Iowa in the Prairie School style, like the Arthur Rule house.
The Hill-Stead estate, designed by Theodate Pope Riddle is well-photographed inside and out in survey HABS CT-472, which lists both Riddle and the firm of McKim, Mead, and White, who were hired as consultants on the project. However, no creator names are associated with the sub-survey for the Hill-Stead, House Complex (HABS CT-472-A) which has excellent documentation as well. Both in HHH and in other Prints & Photographs Division collections, searching by building name is also important, regardless of who designed the work.
Landscapes and Interiors
The areas of interior design and landscape design provided more opportunities for women than the field of architecture in the earlier part of the 20th century. Searching by building names associated with designed interiors and famous gardens is often the most successful approach. Landscape designer Beatrix Farrand, horticulturist Caroline Dormon and interior designer Frances Elkins, all have work documented in HHH.
Spaces made for and adapted by women are abundant in HHH surveys, and the influence women have over spaces they inhabit is not limited to the intentions of male or female designers of those spaces. Women’s clubs, like the La Jolla Women’s Club in California, are frequently surveyed because they operate out of historic buildings. Spaces historically considered the domain of women — kitchens, mills, and schools, for example — are easy to find with keyword searches and subject browses for those types of structures. Military complexes often include examples of housing and barracks, which would have been designed for male or female members of the military, depending on the period.
Women Creating HABS HAER and HALS Documentation
The majority of credited office staff members at HABS regional offices in the early decades of HABS were men, but you can find examples of women as well. Viewing the scans in the Supplemental PDFs, and reading the Data Page PDFs are ways to uncover names. More recent surveys show a much larger proportion of women on the project teams who were responsible for document creation. The longest running HHH staff photographers were men, but there are examples of women photographers in the collection as well. (I want to give special thanks to the Collection Manager at the National Park Service, which oversees the survey work, for pointing me to the early examples of photographers and delineators.)
Gerda Peterich photographed 27 sites in Maine and New Hampshire in 1962-65.
Mary Ann E. Crawford and Juliet Peddle served as delineators (draftspeople) or field team members for at least 5 Illinois surveys each in the 1930s.
G. B. Drennan, is Georgia Bertha Drennan, who drew many of the fine drawings on the back of the New Orleans index cards, such as in the example below, and also prepared some historical reports and measured drawings.
Enjoy exploring these surveys and many others. As always, if you don’t find a structure or design that you think should be remembered through HHH, consider embarking on a survey documentation journey yourself. Review the National Park Service – Heritage Documentation Programs website for more information on creating and submitting surveys.
- If women in the field of architecture and design interest you, consider tuning in to one of two upcoming virtual orientation sessions – Finding Pictures: Women Architects and Designers, on March 8th at 12 p.m. EST and March 16th at 3 p.m. EST.
- Read more about HABS/HAER/HALS in blog posts highlighting these collections.
- Explore our new Architecture, Design and Engineering Collections Research Guide, which gives you new means of discovering collections within our ADE holdings.