The 1974 Women in Architecture Symposium at Washington University in St. Louis captured the transformation of the male-dominated design community in the United States at a time when women were integrating the tenets of the women’s liberation movement into their professional lives. Organized by fourteen female undergraduate and graduate students and implemented with the help of their male peers and the school’s faculty, the three-day event explored the realities faced by women in the architectural field.
The conference featured a body of work undervalued by the nation’s architecture schools and publicized the words of designers underrepresented in educational and professional circles. Gertrude Kerbis, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) who worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in Chicago before opening her own firm in 1962, gave the keynote address. Regi Goldberg, an architect from New York and founder of the Alliance of Women in Architecture (AWA), presented a talk titled “Symbolism in Architecture: A Feminist Approach to Design.” Goldberg, along with AWA cofounders Marjorie Hoog and Phyllis Birkby, also led a workshop on the group’s history and their ongoing project to create an archive of women’s work in architecture. The panel, “Role Problems Facing Professional Women,” with sociologists Whitney Gordon, Kay Standley, Bradley Soule, and professor Leslie Kanes Weisman of Detroit University’s School of Architecture, placed the design field within a larger context. Architect and head of the AIA’s Task Force on Women in Architecture Judith Edelman served as the moderator. Other presenters and panelist included Lois Langhorst, a professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Natalie De Blois, associate partner at SOM; and Ida C. Scott, a St. Louis architect. Audio recordings capture intense audience engagement during lectures, discussion panels, and workshops.
At the symposium, female students created a forum for public dialogue that directly addressed their role within the academy and the field. The event garnered the attention of local media and national publications. This experience was replicated nationally, spreading between disparate cities and institutions throughout the 1970s.
Lindsay Nencheck is an architect with Gresham, Smith and Partners. She received a Master of Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis in 2010. She lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee.