Written by Gayle L. Goudy, PhD
One hundred years ago, women in design fields in Kansas City faced overt and unrepentant discrimination from men in the profession. Many women in this era chose gender-neutral professional names (N.E. Peters, A.E. Evans) to avoid discrimination when only their drawings or ideas were presented. Unfortunately, once her gender was known, professional names provided no protection. The all-male staff at A.E. Evans's first job vowed to walk out if a woman was employed there (the threat was never realized). In 1930, Evans won the American Institute of Architects' Kansas City Chapter's Honor Award in the residential design category for a house under her professional name with her gender unknown to the jury panel. At the awards banquet, Edward Tanner, an architect affiliated with the J.C. Nichols Company and president of the chapter, announced that women should not be in the architectural field and had her gender been previously apparent, she would never have received the award. Furthermore, the AIA denied Mary Rockwell Hook admission based on her gender. In reparation, on her 100th birthday, in 1977, they presented her with a plaque for distinguished service.
Last month I led a trolly tour through Kansas City, Missouri to honor and celebrate the work of these skilled architects. Read along to follow our tour and learn about four women who left their mark in the urban fabric of Kansas City despite considerable discrimination.
N.E. Peters (Nelle Elizabeth Peters) (1884-1974) had her own practice, designed nearly 1,000 buildings in Kansas City, and had her design for The King Cole Hotel featured in the Architectural Record (Vol. 67, March 1930, p. 244). In 1903, with an interest in mathematics and drawing and no formal training, she sought work in an architect's office in Sioux City, Iowa. After all the firms turned her down, she tenaciously went back to the offices that refused her. At Eisentrout, Colby & Pottenger, she recalled, “I talked and talked and at last I talked myself into a job.” Colby believed in her and made a bet with his partners. In 1909, she began her own practice in Kansas City and continued to 1965.
Peters firm specialized in apartment-hotels and was associated with builder and developer Charles Philips of the Philips Building Company from 1913 to 1948. They benefited from Kansas City's expanding housing needs due to a building hiatus imposed during World War I and a balooning population. Nelle E. Peters's signature design features several buildings grouped around a courtyard, which had two benefits. First, it allowed more windows per building and gave residents some green space. Second, since most of these hotels were built on speculation, individual buildings allowed the developer to pace each building with the rate that the new quarters were rented.
Along Broadway and Armour, we saw the Valentine Hotel (1927), Ambassador Hotel (1925) and the Ellison Apartments (1927). We then circled around and passed Roanoke Court (1923), which is a low-to-middle-income residential complex. At the end of the tour we saw the Poet District Buildings located on the Plaza - nine buildings named after poets built between 1928-1929.
Annie J. Scott (1876-unknown) grew up an orphan on a dairy farm. By age 14, she had enough saved to enroll herself in a teaching program at the State Normal School in Warrensburg, Missouri where she graduated in 1894. Three years later, she came to Kansas City to become a Methodist home missionary at the Scarritt Bible and Training School. Unfortunately, that same year she was hospitalized for work-related stress. She then refocused her energies and earned a degree in medicine at the University of Kansas in 1897, graduating third in her class. She then switched her energies again into real-estate.
In 1902, she invested $2000 into an 11-acre plot of land here at 43rd Street and State Line. She divided and sold the land earning $5000 net profit. She continued investing in land and began participating in all aspects of home building from drawing plans to overseeing material purchases and construction management. She even branched out and purchased her own stone quarry. From 1904 to 1909, she built and sold over 200 homes in the Kansas City area. She then married and retired from her professional life to focus on her family and her poor heath due to exhaustion. As we drove down the corridor between 43rd and 45th Street along State Line, the houses with foundations and first floors of stone are Scott's houses.... Read More →
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.