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Louise Blanchard Bethune: Every Woman Her Own Architect: Overview

Louise Blanchard Bethune (1856–1913) the first woman to practice as a professional architect in the United States
Last Updated: Feb 19, 2024 12:38 PM

Louise Blanchard Bethune: overview

Louise Blanchard Bethune (1856–1913) is widely considered to be the first woman to practice as a professional architect in the United States. In her architectural work, her family life, and her public and private behavior, Louise spoke to a new generation of professional women. She played a key role in the architectural firm that she founded, going beyond simply designing buildings to supervising budgets and overseeing onsite work—a highly unusual role for a woman at that time. A strong advocate of a woman’s right to work outside the home, she firmly believed in equitable compensation for women.

After spending five years working in the architecture office of Richard Waite, Louise opened her own practice in October 1881, becoming the first professional woman architect in the United States. Robert Armour Bethune, a former colleague from the office of Richard Waite, soon joined her firm. Louise and Robert married in December 1881; a decade later, Bethune & Bethune Architects was one of Buffalo’s busiest and most prominent architectural firms.

By the late 1800s, Louise and Robert Bethune had grown their firm beyond residential work and had successfully delivered sophisticated projects in the education and commercial sectors.

The 1890’s was a dramatic decade for the couple. In 1881, the Bethunes made longtime protégé and employee, William Fuchs, the firm’s third partner.

By 1900, the firm was winning multiple significant commissions and expanding its portfolio in scale and building type that fostered innovation.

Inventions and technological advancements such as the elevator and the increase in steel production contributed to the change in building design.

Out of the 180 known projects by Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs, 79 were single-family dwellings or mixed-use buildings with a residential component. Approximately 30 buildings still stand.

Louise Bethune’s most significant structure is the Hotel Lafayette. Located in the heart of downtown Buffalo, the hotel was initially conceived in 1899 in anticipation of the 1901 Pan American Exposition. Restored in 2012, the Hotel Lafayette was the first building in New York State to be saved using state and federal historic tax credits. Its restoration coincided with the most substantial economic expansion the City of Buffalo had witnessed in decades. Today, this restored opus embodies Louise’s finest work during Buffalo’s finest years. The Hotel Lafayette stands as an elegant reminder of the past and a hopeful symbol of the future.

Hayes McAlonie, Kelly. Louise Blanchard Bethune : Every Woman Her Own Architect. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2023.

This research guide corresponds with two posters located in the Architecture & Planning Library and an in depth exhibit in Special Collections, University Libraries, 420 Capen Hall. The exhibit will run through January 2024.

The exhibition celebrates Buffalo-based architect Louise Blanchard Bethune, FAIA, the first professional woman architect in the United States and the first woman elected to the American Institute of Architects. The Zina Bethune Collection served as a major source for the book, Louise Blanchard Bethune: Every Woman Her Own Architect, by Kelly Hayes McAlonie, FAIA, LEED®AP, Director of University at Buffalo Campus Planning

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Nicholas Eichelberger for his help in organizing and creating the neighborhood maps and adding in the appropriate buildings. Also for reworking the FIMo Fire Insurance Maps and adding citations to each image.


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Rose Orcutt
Architecture & Planning Library
303 Abbott Hall
Buffalo, NY 14214