Craft: Research

Women in Architecture

Lately, I’ve been revisiting old books on my shelves. Intimate Enemies by Christina Vella, I haven’t read since I was doing my undergraduate thesis on the Creole reaction to the Louisiana Purchase. The book describes the life of Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, born to wealth and privilege in New Orleans in 1795. In the United States, she’s probably most remembered for designing and contracting the Pontalba Apartments. Beautiful brick structures on both sides of St. Louis Cathedral. Reading this book brought me back to my historical interpreter days at the museum.

Courtesy of “Some Work, Some Play.” Des Moines Register. 9 May 2005, A1.

When I would inform visitors that the designs for the house at which I worked (below) were actual modified plans published by a New York housewife in Transactions of the New-York State Agricultural Society, Vol. VII, 1847. People were either fascinated or skeptical of the information I was conveying to them (if they still were unconvinced, I told them to google: Matilda Howard). In Victorian times, the home was the woman’s natural sphere, why then couldn’t they design them? Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba did and so did Matilda Howard.

What’s always struck me about Matilda Howard’s design is the flow and organization of rooms. I always felt that Matilda designed her farmhouse with every woman in mind.

Matilda Howard’s Farm Coutage – Courtesy of Hathi Trust Digital Library

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