Ellen Perry Berkeley

Andrea J. Merrett

In 1972, architectural journalist Ellen Perry Berkeley identified a nascent feminist movement in architecture. Her article, “Women in Architecture,” was published in the September issue of Architectural Forum, where she was a senior editor. Relying on anecdotal evidence and the few statistics available, Berkeley described a profession that resisted the entry of women and was not supportive of those who fought their way into the field. She argued that this was endemic across schools, practices, and the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Berkeley’s article was not the first on women and architecture in that period. The subject of women in architecture had already received some attention in the press.1 Architectural Forum published an article in 1969 with the same title as Berkeley’s.2 The author, Beatrice Dinerman, was a research associate in the School of Public Administration at the University of Southern California. Her approach to the subject was occupational sex-typing: stereotypes about the requirements of the profession and women’s characteristics kept women from entering traditionally male fields like architecture and were used against the few who succeeded in gaining admission. In her work on women in architecture and law, she countered some of the myths around the professions and demonstrated the barriers and discrimination women faced. She put forward a number of concrete suggestions as to how to encourage more women but stated that these were only effective if the profession was willing to remove barriers to success, including interpersonal discrimination, the practice of channeling women into limited subfields, the problem of the double standard—that women had to work harder to received the same recognition as male colleagues—and the belief that a successful woman posed “a threat to the very masculinity and ego strength of her male colleagues.”3

Compared to Berkeley’s, Dinerman’s article—published only three years earlier—received very little attention. What changed in those three years? Between 1968 and 1970, feminists gained mainstream attention with a series protests and theatrical stunts, culminating in the Women’s March for Equality on August 26th, 1970 (fifty years after the passage of the Nineteenth amendment).4 By 1972, women in architecture were enthusiastic about fighting for changes and were already starting to organize in a way that they had not in 1969. While writing her article, Berkeley was able to draw on a network of women architects. She was a member of the the Alliance of Women in Architecture (AWA) in New York (in fact, she was one of the founding members), and she was connected to women in Boston who had formed Women Architects, Landscape Architects and Planning (WALAP). Not only was she able to report that these groups were helping women overcome their isolation to work together against discrimination, but she was able to go further in her analysis of the problems than Dinerman had. At the time of writing, there was no extensive research on the status of women in the profession. Berkeley reached out to practitioners, students, educators, and the AIA for information. Although much of her evidence was anecdotal, she convincingly grouped individual accounts of discrimination to show the extent of it while also providing stories that women facing similar situations could identify with. Berkeley ended the article on an optimistic note: women were angry but engaged; they “want[ed] ‘in’ to this world.” Not only did she leave the reader with a clear picture of the problems, she provided the means to do something about it, with contact information for the various individuals and organizations already active.

The feedback Berkeley received was immediate, and the article helped to inspire women in other parts of the country to organize. In a letter to Dolores Hayden, dated October 29, 1972, Berkeley wrote, “As a result of the Forum article, there seems to be a great deal more contact in general. Our NY group has a number of letters from around the country, and WALAP may have the same.”5 Hayden wrote back, “The Forum article was a really fine piece of work—I cheered as I read.”6 Doris Cole wrote to Berkeley that she thought the article “was most interesting and informative.” For Wendy Bertrand, a founding member of OWA, the article was a “landmark,”7 and Inge Horton—who wrote a history of the OWA—credited the examples of women’s organization, presented by Berkeley, as inspiration for creating their own group.

1 For example: Rita Reif, “Fighting the System in the Male-Dominated Field of Architecture,” The New York Times, April 11, 1971, 60.

2 Beatrice Dinerman, “Women in Architecture,” Architectural Forum 131 (December 1969): 50–51.

3 Dinerman, “Women in Architecture,” 51.

4 Laura Tanenbaum and Mark Engler, “Feminist Organizing After the Women’s March: Lessons from the Second Wave,” Dissent Maganize, January 25, 2017, https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/lessons-second-wave-radical-feminism-womens-liberation-movement.

5 Ellen Perry Berkeley, Letter to Dolores Hayden, October 29, 1972, Ellen Perry Berkeley personal files (now donated to Smith College). Regi Weile also reported that the AWA received more than 100 letters in response to the article, AWA Steering Committee, Agenda January 10, 1973, Berkeley personal papers.

6 Dolores Hayden, note to Ellen Perry Berkeley, November 2, 1972, Berkeley personal files.

7 Wendy Bertrand, Enamored with Place (San Francisco: eyeonplace, 2012), 158. She expressed this again when I interviewed her. Wendy Bertrand, interview with author, February 13, 2013.

Andrea J. Merrett is a PhD candidate in architecture at Columbia University writing her dissertation on the history of feminism in American architecture. Her research has received support through a Buell Center Oral History Prize, a Schlesinger Library Oral History Grant, and the Milka Bliznakov Prize from the International Archive of Women in Architecture. Recently she has coedited an issue on women and architecture for the journal de-arq: Journal of Architecture (2017), Universidad de Los Andes, and presented her dissertation research nationally and internationally in New York, Stockholm, and London.