Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Women in Design: Sophia Hayden (1868 - 1953)

Born in Santiago, Chile. Her father was an American from New England and her mother was South American. When Sophia was six, she was sent to Boston, Massachusetts to live with her paternal grandparents. She became interested in architecture in high school. In 1886 she was the first woman to be accepted to the architecture program at MIT; she graduated with honors in 1890.

Front elevation of Hayden’s thesis project: A Fine Arts Museum, 1890. (from MIT)

Floor Plan and Section, 1890. (from MIT)

After graduating, Sophia could not find employment as an architect; she accepted a position teaching drawing at a Boston high school. The following year, she entered a design competition for the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Her design was for the Woman's Building -- a structure given to various social causes such as church groups, temperance societies, a model hospital ward and kindergarten, a sanitary kitchen and a library. It was also to house exhibitions of embroidery, knitting, lace, fans and crockery. Sophia won the competition with her design of a three-story, white building in the Italian Renaissance-Revival style with arches and columned terraces. For this she was paid a modest sum of $1,000 for her design, while men who one competitions for the fair were paid 10 times as much.

Exterior of The Women's Building, period photograph (1894?) Boston College Digital Archive

Sophia traveled to Chicago to produce the final drawings, leaving the execution to Daniel Burnham. Burnham was very pleased with her work describing her as having great adaptability and being a hard worker. She returned six months later to direct the interior and exterior designs of the buildings. At that same time, she discovered another woman was involved in the project. Her name was Bertha Palmer, and she had other ideas.

Bertha Honoré Palmer (1849-1918) Chicago History Museum

A statuesque socialite with well-coiffured wavy hair, Bertha Palmer was a power to be reckoned with. She was not easy to approach. She demanded calling cards be passed scrutinized and screened by several of her servants before any visitor could speak with her. Being of Huguenot descent, no one ever contradicted her. But that was to change once she met the twenty-one year old Sophia.

Officers of Board of Lady Managers, portraits of 10 women. Key: 1. President Mrs. Potter Palmer 2. Mrs. Ralph Trautman 3. Mrs. Edwin C. Burleigh 4. Mrs. Charles Price 5. Mrs. Katherline L. Minor 6. Mrs. Beriah Wilkins 7. Mrs. Flora Beall Ginty 8.Mrs. Russell B. Harrison 9. Mrs. V.C. Merideth. 10.Susan Gale Cooke. 1896. (image via the Field Museum's flicker account.)

Mrs. Palmer was elected President of The Board of Lady Managers for the 1893 Fair. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Mrs. Palmer (née Honoré) met her husband, a wealthy dry goods owner, while she was shopping in Chicago with her mother. Potter Palmer was 23 years her senior. He moved into real estate and became immensely wealthy. Mrs. Palmer enjoyed their North Side mansion with a roof-top ballroom and picture gallery filled with Impressionist paintings she brought back from Paris. She also loved diamond jewelry.

Paul V Galvin Library: The book of the Fair

For Sophia’s building, Mrs. Palmer had invited prominent women to donate architectural elements to adorn the building. Mrs. Palmer believed the building would be better with these donations. Sophia disagreed. A mishmash of elements would dilute her vision, her concept and overall design aesthetic. As the doors, window grilles, columns, wood paneling, balustrades, slabs of onyx and black marble, granite steps, sculpted figures, and tapestries came pouring in, Sophia turned each one down. This hurt the feelings of the high-society donors, which didn’t sit very well with Mrs. Palmer. Sophia explained to Mrs. Palmer her schematic program for the structure -- the exterior and interior -- and why these random donated elements would not work. But Mrs. Palmer wouldn’t hear of it. She fired Sophia from the project and reassigned the final decoration to Candace Wheeler.

Paul V Galvin Library: The book of the Fair

Sophia walked into Burnham’s office, described what happened and from exhaustion began to cry. Burnham quickly called a doctor. Sophia was placed in an ambulance and driven away with the rubber wheels quietly crunching along the gravel road towards the sanitarium. Sophia was said to have a “… violent attack of high nervous excitement of the brain.”

(top image from Penn Libraries.)


Karena said...

Soodie, That was a fascinating account of the quandry between Mrs Palmer and Sophia Hayden. Wonderful!

The Down East Dilettante said...

Wow. Jaw dropping story. And damn that Bertha Palmer, who, incidentally, lived in the ugliest house in Chicago.

I haven't forgotten your question about my differences in dealing with male and female designers, and will get onto the necessarily long reply this weekend.

home before dark said...

Well, you go girl! This is turning out to be a great series. And, of course, the result of a well-crafted mystery: what happened next?

Michele from Boston said...

What a terrific last two postings! I've really enjoyed reading about these two women lost, apparently, to contemporary history. Whatever happened to Sophia's building?
P.S. I really miss your illustrations!

soodie :: said...

karena, yes fascinating! mrs palmer did a lot for the city of chicago. she thought sophia was too emotional, despite other reports stating that she was quiet and rational. it is interesting to note that more descriptions -- from what i've read -- were on her looks than her thought process. that is a lot of pressure for a 21-22 year old.

down east - not to worry, yet very curious to hear.

home and michele - part II will be posted either very late tonight or sometime tomorrow.

and michele... really? you miss my illustrations! thank you! (i've been working to do something with them on another blog to come...)

hoping magnaverde stops by as i know he will have knowledge about all this...

David said...

I totally understand her reaction, there's nothing worse than design by committee.

I'm missing the illustrations too btw.

Also you'd asked for my email, it's

Thea Beasley, formally known as Talitha Love.... said...

Thank you for your email about my blog issues. You are lovley to take the time. I've read yours for awhile, but just now getting brave enough to join this blog world.
And, have wondered, could we be long lost cousins......
I was an European orphan, adopted by a half English, half American couple, and brought to US. Still, Beasley is unusual enough to wonder there might be some connection......
xoxoxo Thea

soodie :: said...

Oh David... yes! you're are so right. a committee with all sorts of ideas...

soodie :: said...

Thea, thank you for visiting and commenting... perhaps we could be long-lost cousins! Beasley is English, i was always told. however, my Beasley line has been over here for so long... i also have a long Conger line, which is english too.

i haven't met too many people either with that last name. i am not sure of your generation, but did you ever watch Gilligan's Island? there was a Lord Beasley character who came to the island to catch butterflies. not the coolest or suavest of characters -- but it was fun to hear your name on the tv as a kid. not to mention a 'lord' as opposed to a serf or goat keeper or something... (that's snotty of me...)

anyway, let's go ahead and regard ourself as cousins. best to you restarting your blog. i'm glad you are using your last name. xo your cuz, soodie

magnaverde said...

Anyone who knows the history of Chicago architecture knows Sophia Hayden's name, but I never before heard the actual details of the power struggle over the Women's Building's interior, although 'struggle' doesn't really seem the right word for such an uneven match. Poor Sophia.

All I can say is that I'm quiet & rational, too, but if I had been hired to design a building and then, halfway through the process, had Bertha the Bully show up with a bunch of architectural odds & ends that she insisted on using to gussy up my chaste, classic design, I probably would have become emotional too, which of Course, Bertha would have loved, and spun in her own inimitable way, since it would prove that I was 'unfit' for the job.

The Art Institute wouldn't have the core of its Impressionist collection if Bertha hadn't made a sweep of the most vibrant artists' studios in Paris, and in Anders Zorn's wonderful full-length portrait, the glowing aura of her dazzling white hair & dress make her look like an angel come down from heaven, but in truth, she was closer in personality to the Roman goddess Juno--cold, imperious, implacable & with a nasty habit of turning into animals unfortunate mortals who displeased her. I wouldn't want to have crossed Bertha Palmer.

little augury said...

Sophia-how sad she could not play the game. So much politics must go with any project like this. Too bad someone could not advise her on biding her time with BP.