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Diversity in the American Institute of Architects

 

The American Institute of Architects admitted its first female member in 1888, and its first African American member in 1923. The AIA has been concerned about increasing diversity within the AIA and in the profession of architecture since the late 1960s.

·        Women in the AIA  

·        African Americans in the AIA

·        Other ethnic groups in the AIA

·        AIA Diversity Initiatives

 

 

Women in the AIA

   

The first woman to become a member of the AIA was Louise Bethune, of Buffalo, NY, in 1888. She apprenticed in the architectural firm of Richard A. Waite in Buffalo, and opened her own office in 1881. She had been the first woman admitted to the Western Association of Architects in 1885, and became a key local organizer for the WAA. She played a major role in organizing into the Architects Association of Buffalo in 1886, which finally became the Buffalo Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

 

The WAA merged with the AIA in 1889. The WAA had a single class of members, called Fellows. The AIA had a two-class system in which Fellowship was an honor. As part of the conditions of the merger, the AIA changed to a single membership class and all AIA members became Fellows. Louise Bethune thus became the first woman to be a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1889.

 

Lois Lilley Howe of Boston was the second woman to join the AIA, in 1901, and the second woman to become a Fellow, in 1931. She was, however, the first woman to be elected to Fellowship. The AIA had returned to a two-class system in which Fellowship was an honor bestowed in recognition of a distinguished career at the turn of the century.

 

Norma Sklarek was the first African-American woman to become a member of the AIA in 1959, and the first to become a Fellow in 1980.

 

Susan Maxman, FAIA, became the first woman to be president of the AIA in 1992-93.

 

Thanks to support from the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, researcher Linda Ingram determined the gender of over a thousand ambiguous names of past AIA members during the compilation of the AIA Historical Directory. Because of this effort, we now have for the first time a complete list of all women members of the AIA from the 19th century through 1978. You may download an Excel spreadsheet with a chronological list of women who joined the AIA 1857-1978 and women who became Fellows of the AIA 1889-1990.

 

Further resources on women in architecture:

 

Dynamic National Archive of 20th Century American Women Architects, Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation

The International Archive of Women in Architecture, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

 

Sarah Allaback, The First American Women Architects (University of Illinois Press, 2008). Entries from this book are noted by name in the AIA Historical Directory of American Architects.

 

Kathryn Anthony, Designing for Diversity: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Architectural Profession (University of Illinois Press, 2001)

 

That Exceptional One, catalog of the AIA’s 1986 exhibit on women in architecture

 

A number of AIA state and local chapters have active committees on Women in Architecture. For more about programs at the national level, such as the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit in 2009, see the AIA Diversity and Inclusion Home Page.

 

 

African Americans in the AIA

 

The first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects was Los Angeles architect Paul R. Williams, who joined in 1923. He also became the first African-American Fellow of the AIA in 1957.

 

Norma Sklarek was the first African-American woman to become a member of the AIA in 1959, and the first to become a Fellow in 1980.

 

Marshall Purnell, FAIA, became the AIA’s first African-American president in 2007-2008.

 

Unlike gender, names of AIA members provide no clues as to their race. Race, ethnicity, and gender were not noted in the AIA’s membership records until recent years. For this reason, there is not a complete list of early African-American AIA members. However, a partial list has been created by checking the membership status of architects with entries in Dreck Wilson’s African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945 (Routledge, 2004). Several of the AIA’s early African-American members were in practice earlier than Paul R. Williams, but did not join the AIA until after the Great Depression. A chronological list of African-American Fellows of the AIA through 2007 is also available.

 

Further resources on African-American architects:

 

Wilson, Dreck Spurlock, ed. African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945 (New York: Routledge, 2004). Entries from this book are noted by name in the AIA Historical Directory of American Architects.

Travis, Jack, ed. African American Architects in Current Practice (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1991)

 

The Directory of African American Architects, online since 1991, lists currently registered architects

 

National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA)

 

Kathryn Anthony, Designing for Diversity: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Architectural Profession (University of Illinois Press, 2001)

 

 

Other ethnic groups in the AIA

 

"Firsts" for other groups, such as Hispanic or Asian-American members, are not known. This would be a fruitful topic for future research.

 

The earliest Hispanic-American member who is identifiable by surname is Albert Toledano, who became a member in 1889. His great-grandfather came to Louisiana from Spain. There are likely other early Hispanic-American members of the AIA who are not readily identifiable by surname alone. The earliest member from Cuba was T. Ernest Videto of Havana (1903). The earliest members from Puerto Rico are Frederick William Revels (1908), Antonin Nechodoma (1910), Francisco Roland (1923), and Rafael Carmoega (1927).

 

Some known early Asian American members include Thomas S. Rockrise (born Iwahiko Tsumanuma in Japan, graduated from Syracuse University) who joined in 1921 near the end of his career, and Yasuo Matsui who joined in 1927. Asian American women identifiable by name include Edith Leong Yang who joined in 1955, Po Hu Shao who joined in 1958, and Theresa Hsu Yuen who joined in 1964. There may be earlier Asian American members who do not have identifiably Asian names, either because they changed their name (like Thomas Rockrise) or because they have a name like Lee which could be either Asian or European in origin. In 1889, the AIA added an architect from Japan to the group of Corresponding Members (those outside the US or outside the practice of architecture within the US), and noted this step toward diversity in the Board's report to the Convention.

 

There is no information on the earliest Native American members of the AIA. Looking for AIA members within organizations such as the American Indian Council of Architects and Engineers (founded 1976) might be a place to start research.

 

Further resources:

 

National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA)

 

Kathryn Anthony, Designing for Diversity: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Architectural Profession (University of Illinois Press, 2001)

 

Many groups are listed on the AIA Diversity and Inclusion Related Links page.

 

AIA diversity initiatives

 

A speech by Whitney Young, head of the Urban League, to the 1968 AIA Convention galvanized the AIA into action on a range of issues relating to diversity within the profession and social responsibility of the profession. The AIA’s Whitney M. Young, Jr., Award is given to an architect or architecturally oriented organization exemplifying the profession’s responsibility toward current social issues. List of recipients

 

From the 1970s onward, a succession of AIA task forces, committees, conferences, and other programs have encouraged wider diversity within the profession. For more on the AIA’s current diversity initiatives, see the AIA Diversity and Inclusion Home Page.

 

 

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