The “Herstory” of the Association for Women in Architecture
From Four Women to a National Movement
The Association has a rich history dating back to 1915. The Founders were four female architectural students at Washington University in St. Louis: Mae Steinmesch, Helen Milius, Angela Burdeau and Jane Pelton. After being denied entry into the men’s architectural fraternity, these pioneering women organized their own society, called La Confrerie Alongine. Upon discovering interest from female architectural students at other campuses, in 1922 a national student association was formed that they called, Alpha Alpha Gamma. Mae Steinmesch recounted the forming of the organization, “In 1915 there were four girls in the School of Architecture at Washington University. Apprised of the fact there were other women enrolled at other Universities in the same field, we organized…”.
Between the years of 1924-1948 as female students graduated, they formed professional chapters to provide support for the challenges they faced as women entering the workforce. The professional society flourished and in 1948 at their National Conference in San Francisco, they voted to rename the professional chapters “The Association of Women in Architecture and Allied Arts (AWA).” Even at that time, it was apparent that women in similar fields were experiencing the same professional challenges, thus they expanded the name to additionally represent landscape architects, interior designers, artists and engineers.
By 1950 there were nearly twenty student and professional chapters across the country. The pressures of maintaining a national Association, including funding annual conventions and publishing a newsletter the Keystone, precipitated a re-organization in 1964 and thus the national organization dissolved. Professional and student chapters continued in cities and universities across the nation.
The Los Angeles Area Association
The Association for Women in Architecture – Los Angeles (AWA-LA) was one of the largest and continues to be the only surviving original chapter of AWA. In 1975 we wanted to better reflect the broadening of our membership to include anyone interested in supporting women in the professions, including men, so “for Women” was introduced to replace the original “of Women” in our name. Our organization’s legacy has had a significant national impact as its membership has always included incredibly renowned practitioners and leaders. Among our notable “firsts” is Norma Sklarek, credited with being the first African-American woman to receive her architectural license in New York and the first woman in our country to be elected a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects (FAIA). In 1985 Ms. Sklarek joined the Margot Siegel AIA Architecture firm, established by our member, Margot Siegel, in 1971. Along with fellow AWA-LA member, Kate Diamond, the union of these three members created the largest woman-owned and operated firm of its time in the western United States: Siegel, Sklarek, & Diamond. Each of these women are a great inspiration to young women entering the profession. Sadly, Norma Sklarek passed away February 6, 2012.
Distinct in its equal inclusion of professionals from across the architectural and design fields our professional membership currently includes: Architects, Interior Designers, Graphic & Product Designers, Urban Planners, Environmental Designers, Landscape Architects & Designers, Building Engineers, Contractors and students enrolled in these fields. We recognize the tremendous advances and rapid changes impacting all design disciplines and we embrace the need for and benefit of greater collaboration and exchange. In 2012, to emphasize our commitment to furthering the cross-pollination of a range of design disciplines and to refocus and refresh the organization’s programming goals, AWA-LA formally became known as the Association for Women in Architecture + Design (AWA+D). We offer innovative programming not found elsewhere, as well as the time and space for women to contribute more to the design profession while becoming more successful individuals.