On December 17, 1982, two dozen black women met to ratify the bylaws for what was almost certainly the first organization of black women in architecture. At that time there were approximately sixteen licensed African American women architects in the United States, with ten living in New York City. The organization, the Association of Black Women Architects and Design Professionals, was often referred to as the Association of Black Women in Architecture (ABWA).
The leaders of the new organization were Garnett Covington and Sandy Moore. Covington was the first black female to graduate from NYC’s Pratt Institute in architecture and a 1953 architecture graduate from Howard University. She had been an active member of the Council for the Advancement of the Negro in Architecture. Moore, a professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, was one of the first women to graduate in architecture from Tuskegee Institute in 1967.
Most of the members saw ABWA as providing a connection to others who understood the complexities of being an architect, black, and female. The organization’s stated goal was to promote advancement and career growth and broaden educational and work opportunities for black women in architecture. Of the thirty-one black women originally listed as members of the association, only five were licensed at the time of the 1982 meeting. Two more became licensed in New York prior to the organization’s ending in 1984.
The ABWA existed only a few months beyond Garnett Covington’s sudden death from breast cancer in 1984. Past members of ABWA continued to get licensed, became leaders in large national and international architecture firms, and started their own firms. They became role models for a future generation of black women architects and example to black women in other cities.