Library of Congress

Louise Blanchard Bethune designed a number of important buildings around Buffalo.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Louise Blanchard Bethune was born on today's date 157 years ago. In fact, she was born on July 21, 1856. We regret the error.

Louise Blanchard Bethune was the first American woman known to have worked as a professional architect.

Bethune started her practice in 1881, opening shop in Buffalo at the age of 25 with her husband. Seven years later, she became the first female associate of the American Institute of Architects. 

Bethune had the chance to compete in a design competition for the 1891 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, but unfair treatment to women led her to decline participation. Male contestants for the Fair's structures were paid $10,000 for their designs while women were offered $1,000.

Designing mostly industrial and public buildings in Buffalo, Bethune received her greatest commission in 1902, for the opulent Hotel Lafayette (top), a building eventually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. 

The fully renovated interior in the Hotel Lafayette. Image courtesy Flickr user BeckyCG72.
The Hotel Lafayette today. Image courtesy Flickr user Reading Tom.

Long after Bethune's death in 1913, the building eventually fell into decades of neglectful ownership and disinvestment, becoming a highly visible symbol of her city's decline. Last year, the building reopened as a boutique hotel with lofts, retail, and restaurants, a more appropriate reflection of Bethune's vision.

The city has given her another posthumous gift of sorts through the renovation of a former industrial building reopening as the "Bethune Lofts" this summer. Although she didn't design it, the Buffalo Meter Building (built in 1915) was renamed "Bethune Hall" in her honor by SUNY Buffalo's department of art when it moved into the building in 1970. It too faced years of disinvestment after the department moved to the suburbs in the early '90s.

The former Bethune Hall being renovated into lofts in 2012. Image courtesy Pubdog/Wikimedia Commons.

America's first professional woman architect didn't get to see the demise of her work (or her city) in the late 20th century, but anyone who admired Bethune and what she represented should be pleased to see the only city in which she practiced architecture bringing her legacy and her name back to life a century after death.

Top image: Hotel Lafayette, 1908. Courtesy Library of Congress.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a tiny house in Oregon
    Design

    How Amazon Could Transform the Tiny House Movement

    Could the e-commerce giant help turn small-home living from a niche fad into a national housing solution?

  2. A portrait of Jay-Z.
    Equity

    The Roots of Jay-Z’s ‘Black Capitalism’

    Now partnering with the NFL, Jay-Z centers wealth-building in his activism, as many African Americans have before him—but without much success.

  3. Environment

    It's Time to Ditch Paper Straws, Too

    They’re a single-use, disposable consumer item—a greener option, but not a green one.

  4. a photo of a school bus in traffic
    Transportation

    Boston Saved $5 Million by Routing School Buses with an Algorithm

    With 25,000 students and the nation’s highest transportation costs, the Boston Public School District needed a better way to get kids to class.

  5. A photo of a Dayton police office's gun holster
    Equity

    State Preemption of Local Legislation Is Getting Worse

    A new report shows that state legislatures have been expanding their reach in preempting cities from localized regulation on issues like gun control.

×