5 Women in the A/E/C Industry Who Made History

Mar 06 2024

Each March, the United States celebrates Women’s’ History Month to observe and commemorate the contributions and achievements women have made in contemporary society and over the course of American history.

It is no secret that the architecture, engineering, and construction (A/E/C) industry has a diversity problem. The architecture industry is dominated by white men, particularly those who are of good economic standing.

According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), white men make up 66% of the architecture population. White women are the next most represented group, making up 19% of the population of architects, with every other gender and racial/ethnic group making up less than 4% of the NCARB certified population.  

There are a lot of factors contributing to the lack of diversity in the architecture industry. These barriers of entry include the costs of education and certifications, unwelcoming work environments, and a lack of role models and mentorships.  

This women’s history month, our firm wanted to share the stories of several historic women designers in the A/E/C industry to help inspire the next generation of designers. We hope that we can contribute to a culture in the A/E/C industry where all designers feel welcome regardless of their background.  

Jennie Louise Blanchard Bethune

Jennie Louise Blanchard Bethune is widely considered to be the first woman in America to practice architecture independently. In October of 1881, she opened her own firm, Bethune & Bethune, in Buffalo, New York with her husband, Robert Bethune.

Bethune & Bethune first opened following the opening of the Erie Canal and the architecture business was booming in the towns surrounding the new canal. The firm specialized in many types of buildings including commercial, industrial, residential, and hospitality. Some of Jennie Louise Blanchard Bethune’s most well-known designs include the Hotel Lafayette, the 74th Regiment Armory, Lockport Union High School, and Buffalo Livestock Exchange.  

Headshot of Jennie Louise Blanchard Bethune

Courtney Brett

Headshot of Courtney Brett.

In 2012, Courtney Brett made history as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) youngest licensed female architect at only 24. Brett began college at only 14 and transferred to Auburn’s architecture program at 16. She started her career in architecture when she was 20 at Skidmore, Owing’s, Merril (SOM) in New York City designing athletic training centers, schools, and hospitals.  

Tamara “Tammy” Eagle Bull

Tamara “Tammy” Eagle Bull, a member of the Ogala Lakota Nation, is the first Native American woman to become a licensed architect in 1994. She is one of the co-founders of Encompass Architects, a Native American and Woman-Owned architectural firm located in Lincoln Nebraska that specializes in designing buildings on tribal land. 

Since founding her firm in 2002, Eagle Bull has designed beautiful buildings for over 10 tribes in the United States. Some of her most notable designs include the Pahin Sinte Owayawa School, the first LEED silver-rated school in South Dakota, and the Gila River Indian Community Tribal Governance Center in Sacaton, Arizona. 

Headshot of Tamara "Tammy" Eagle Bull.

Beverly Loraine Greene

Headshot of Beverly Loraine Greene

Beverly Loraine Greene is believed to have been the first Black woman licensed architect in the United States. Greene graduated from The University of Illinois in 1936 with her degree in architectural engineering – she was the first Black woman to do so. She later obtained her master’s in city planning and housing from The University of Illinois.  

Shortly after graduating, Greene returned to her hometown of Chicago and broke another barrier by becoming one of the first few Black folks to work with the Chicago Housing Authority. In 1945, she headed to New York City where she worked on a project for Stuyvesant Town in lower Manhattan and got her master’s in architecture from Columbia. Some of Greene’s well-known projects include the arts complex at Sarah Lawrence College UNESCO United Nations Headquarters in Paris, and the university heights campus at NYU.   

Catherine Jones Richards 

Catherine Jones Richards is known as Hawaii’s first licensed landscape architect. Throughout her career, she worked with Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed woman architect, to design numerous beautiful structures across the islands of Hawaii including the Honolulu Museum of Arts, the National Cemetery of the Pacific, Tripler Army Hospital, and the Pacific Club. One of the most notable projects Richards worked on in partnership with Morgan is the YWCA Laniākea, Hawaii’s first major structure designed by only women.

Photo of Catherine Jones Richards posing in front of an architectural drawing.

Sources and Images

Learn more about these amazing women and their stories from the sources below:

Jennie Louise Blanchard Bethune

Courtney Brett

Tamara “Tammy” Eagle Bull

Beverly Loraine Green

Catherine Jones Richards