Laying the foundation for women architects

Celebrating Women's History Month

Mary Louisa Page distinguished herself by becoming the first woman in the United States to graduate with an accredited architecture degree. 

Page, born in Metamora, Illinois, in 1849, enrolled in the College of Engineering at University of Illinois (then called Illinois Industrial University) in 1874. She was the first woman at the college to study architecture.

While there were several female students enrolled in other programs at the University of Illinois at the time, Page was the only woman in architecture classes. When she graduated in 1879, she cemented her place in history as the first woman to graduate from the College of Engineering and the first to earn a bachelor’s degree in architecture in North America.

In 1887, Page – in partnership with former classmate Robert Whitman – went on to form Whitman & Page, a drafting, blueprint and abstracting service firm. By early 1901, she was sought out as an expert in architecture.

Unquestionably, Page’s most notable contribution was laying the foundation for the countless women who would come after her in the field of architecture. One of these was Chicago-born Marian Mahony, who in 1894, became the second woman to graduate from MIT in architecture and later became the first woman registered as an architect in Illinois. Mahoney was hired as Frank Lloyd Wright’s first employee in 1895 and was responsible for much of the drawings produced at his Oak Park studio. She completed Wright’s unfinished architectural work when he went to Europe in 1909.

That same year, Mary Louisa Page died – having blazed a trail for aspiring women architects here in Illinois and across the country.

* “Women and Ideas in Engineering – Twelve Stories from Illinois” by Laura D. Hahn and Angela S. Wolters, University of Illinois Press, 2018, pp 2-6.