Throughout the month of May, Special Collections is displaying an exhibit on five decades of student activism at Virginia Tech. The exhibit highlights several campaigns and demonstrations from 1968 through today, including impromptu vigils for Martin Luther King Jr. and Trayvon Martin, the student occupation of Williams Hall in the wake of the Kent State shootings, anti-war marches and pro-military responses, demonstrations against racism and sexual violence, calls for the protection of natural resources in Appalachia, protests against exploitative labor conditions, LGBTQ pride rallies, and campaigns to highlight ADA violations across campus. These materials come from the University Archives and manuscript collections of Virginia Tech alumni.
Alongside these materials, we’ve chosen to highlight the work of a single student organization at Virginia Tech. The Appalachian Student Organizing Committee (or Appalachian Student Committee) operated as an official student organization of Virginia Tech in the early 1970s. The Committee aimed to raise awareness of Appalachian issues and provide support for other grassroots groups in the region. Under the leadership of student organizers David Tice and Allan Cox, the group worked throughout the region to address issues such as land use, energy policy, poverty, access to health care, labor rights, systemic racism in Appalachia, and the Vietnam War.
In May 1971, several chapter members traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in a national civil disobedience campaign which resulted in the arrest of more than 12,000 people. The Special Collections exhibit includes memos and training materials distributed on campus to student affiliates. Additionally, visitors to Special Collections can review information about the Community Free Clinic of Blacksburg (1971-1972). This initiative was part of a national movement to establish locally responsive and accessible health care throughout the country.
To see these materials in person, visit Special Collections in Newman Library anytime during the month of May.
The International Archive of Women in Architecture includes over 2000 cubic feet of unpublished primary sources (manuscripts, photographs, drawings, correspondence, business records and more). Researchers visiting Special Collections at Virginia Tech also have access to hundreds of published books, catalogs, documentaries, and encyclopedias about women in architecture and design. Many of these publications are scholarly or autobiographical in nature, but our growing collection of supporting materials also includes published ephemera (follow this link to learn more about the research value of ephemera) which shed light on the hidden contributions of women to design.
Publications like trade cards and catalogs, advertisements, and event posters represent fragments of evidence for the work of pioneering women architects and designers. The bulk of our resources in this realm reflect the contributions of women in the United States of America, working in an era where women had limited access to formal architectural education and licensure. These materials rarely divulge biographical details about their subjects, but suggest future possibilities for intrepid scholars.
Here are three examples that hint towards hidden contributions of women:
Vintage catalogs of house plans
Early 20th century designers in the US advertised their house plans by distributing colorful, eye catching catalogs to homebuilders, lending agents, and manufacturers. The Garlinghouse Company was founded around 1910 by homebuilder Lewis F. Garlinghouse of Topeka, Kansas. Advertising for decades under the tagline “America’s Pioneer Home Planning Service,” Garlinghouse Company was among the first and most prolific seller of home plans in the US. Iva G. Lieurance was the company’s principal house designer, and her plans appear in several catalogs through the 1950s. We know little about her work beyond what we can glean from the catalogs. She may have worked for the company as early as 1907, traveling around the country to document attractive homes and adapt their floor plans for customers in the midwest. An application with the Maryland Historical Trust calls Lieurance “the only known woman credited for design work associated with the mail-order house movement.”
Lieurance’s credentials and her relationship to L.F. Garlinghouse may be lost to history. According to the 1940 census, 53 year old Iva G. Lieurance lived with her elder sister in Topeka, Kansas as head of the household. Her occupation is recorded as “Designer of Home Plans” and she reported working 50 hours per week. The census worker recorded 8th grade as the highest level of education she had completed. The 1954 Topeka, Kansas City Directory lists her as a designer for L.F. Garlinghouse, indicating a long and prolific partnership with the company.
Other collections in the IAWA suggest that residential design was more accessible to American women in the early 20th century than industrial or large-scale commercial work. Like Iva G. Lieurance, many pioneering women represented in the IAWA managed to apply their trade through creative partnerships that worked around credential barriers.
The Town of Tomorrow and Home Building Center Souvenir Folder, a collection of ephemera from the 1939 New York World’s Fair, offers another glimpse into the historic contributions of women to design. Documenting an exhibition of 15 model homes, the collection of brochures features a design by one Verna Cook Salomonsky. Unlike Iva G. Lieurance, Verna’s contributions are somewhat well known. She first practiced architecture with her husband Edgar. Continuing as a solo practitioner after his death, she designed and oversaw construction of hundreds of homes in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and California. She also wrote extensively about Mexican design traditions with her second husband, Warren. Her archives are maintained by the University of California at San Diego. Having partnered with a spouse or family member before branching out on her own, Verna Cook’s career reflects another common path for pioneering women architects.
Reflecting the broad interests and expertise of women architects around the world, these books discuss a range of topics. Texts on the Russian Avantgarde movement and Soviet civil planning are accompanied by analyses of the intersection between gender and architecture; Viennese garden design theory and fireplace innovations accompany contemporary criticism and Caribbean architecture textbooks. Biographies and anthologies complement conference proceedings and exhibition catalogs.
Autobiographies often exist at the intersection of archives and literature. This blog will highlight a selection of autobiographies from the IAWA collections. Spanning three different eras of practice, these texts offer a glimpse into the private experiences and public struggles of early women in architecture. These books are available to view in the public reading room at Newman Library.
Wendy Bertrand Enamored with place: as woman + as architect (2012) [NA1997 .B48 2012]
Wendy Bertrand is a registered architect from California. A student of both the École des Beaux Arts (1964-65) and University of California, Berkeley, her extensive career has included major projects for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Forest Service. Her archival papers are maintained by the IAWA. An excerpt from the author’s page captures the book as follows:
“As a single mother, Wendy Bertrand accepted job security over the potential glamour, prestige, or celebrity of private practice, where architectural stars shine. She tells us how she pursued a career while continuing to value her perspective and insight as a woman, a mother, and someone who cares passionately about social equity. Her love of place infuses every aspect of her personal and professional life. She tells us of her adventures in travel, education, marriage, childbirth, motherhood, and work…. This is also a story about a woman coming into her own as she matures, enjoys the fiber arts, and embraces the elements of her life that have enduring value.” (Excerpted from http://wendybertrand.com/enamored-with-place/)
Karola Bloch (born Piotrowska, 1905) was a Polish-German architect who practiced in Austria, France, Czechoslovakia, the United States, and Germany. Her German-language autobiography is rich with unforgettable stories, including an eyewitness account of the October Revolution in Moscow, her tenure as a Soviet informant in Austria, a Nazi raid on her home in a Berlin artist’s colony, the loss of her immediate family in the Treblinka concentration camp, and anecdotes from her marriage to Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch. Karola Bloch was a founding member of the International Union of Women Architects, accompanied by several other women represented in the IAWA. Archival materials from her life are housed by the Ernst Bloch Archives in Ludwigshafen.
Lois Gottlieb A way of life : an apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright (2001) [NA737.W7 G67 2001]
One of our many roles in Special Collections is to shed light upon hidden histories, uncovering communities that are traditionally marginalized or forgotten by time. The long history of African-Americans in Appalachia, for example, has traditionally been overlooked. Through the communities of New Town, Wake Forest, and Nellie’s Cave (among others), Montgomery County has a particularly rich legacy to explore. We work with historians, genealogists, community members, and other institutions to document and preserve these stories for future generations.
Newman Library currently hosts “New Town: Across the Color Line”, an exhibit documenting a predominantly African-American community that bordered the Virginia Tech campus until the late 20th century. Developed by the Virginia Tech Public History program, the exhibit includes items from the Blacksburg Odd Fellows Records (Ms1988-009) held by Special Collections. The exhibit will be open from October 5 through November 20.
The Odd Fellows Records help document an important African-American civic institution in early 20th century Blacksburg. Researchers interested in the experiences of African-Americans in Montgomery County and greater Appalachia can find many other resources in Special Collections. Manuscript collections, photographs, oral history interviews, and rare books provide insight into the experiences of African-American communities from antebellum times through the present day. The Christiansburg Industrial Institute Historical Documents (Ms1991-033) represent a collaboration between the Christiansburg Industrial Institute Alumni Association and Special Collections to document the prestigious institution that educated generations of Virginia students from the 1860s through school integration.
These collections represent a small fraction of the primary sources and publications that document African-American history in Special Collections. More importantly, these resources point to an abundant history still waiting to be uncovered.
On July 30, 2015, the Lyric Theatre presejted LiLiA!, a one-woman show performed by actress/playwright Libby Skala from the Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles and the Arclight Theatre Off-Broadway to festivals in Seattle, London, Toronto, Vancouver, Edinburgh, Berlin, Dresden, and beyond. Reviewers have called it “absolutely dazzling… magical and alchemical,” a “unique and spellbinding production… at once appealing and a privilege to view,” and “a thoughtful piece of history – political, theatrical and personal.” Although the Lyric is no stranger to great performances, you might find yourself wondering how such a prestigious production came to tread the Blacksburg boards.
In 2003, Special Collections added a portfolio of architectural drawings by a woman named Lilia Skala to the International Archives of Women in Architecture. The collection (Ms2003-015) primarily comprises her work as a student of architecture at the University of Dresden from 1915 to 1920. Her student work includes architectural drawings, ink and charcoal sketches, and watercolor paintings. The collection also includes copies of her academic records, printed material about the architectural program at the University of Dresden at the turn of the century, articles by and about Lilia, and press material for LiLiA!
Special Collections joined the cast in 2003, but the real story – Lilia’s story – begins much earlier.
In 1896, Lilia Sofer Skala was born in Vienna, Austria. Although she had an early passion for the performing arts, Lilia’s family wanted her to have a more “respectable” career. Having graduated Summa cum Laude with a degree in architecture from the University of Dresden, Lilia became the first woman member of the Austrian Association of Engineers and Architects. She practiced professionally in Vienna for a time and, with the encouragement of her husband, began performing with the Max Reinhardt Repertory Theatre. Lilia gained wide acclaim in Europe for her stage and screen roles, but continued to claim her title, Frau-Diplom Ingenieur.
When her Jewish husband was arrested in the wake of the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany – Lilia secured his release from a Viennese prison and fled with her family to the United States. Her portfolio of student work was among the personal belongings with which she escaped. As a political refugee in New York, Lilia attended night school to learn English and worked in a Queens zipper factory for her first two years in America.
Lilia returned to the stage as a housekeeper in the 1941 Broadway production Letters to Lucerne. She continued to work steadily on and off Broadway, with occasional television roles. In 1963, Lilia earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress as Mother Maria opposite Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field. She later received a Golden Globe nomination for her role in 1977’s Roseland.An industrious performer, Lilia continued to work in film, television, and theatre throughout the 1980s. Among her many accolades was the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, which she received in 1981 for her role in Heartlands. Lilia’s final stage appearance was in Lorraine Hansberry’s Broadway show Les Blancs (1989), at the age of 94.
In December 1994, Lilia passed away from natural causes in her New York home. Her granddaughter, Elizabeth “Libby” Skala, is also an accomplished actress and playwright. She began developingLiLiA!, a one-woman show based on her grandmother’s phenomenal life, in 1995. Libby Skala was invited to perform this show during the 18th Congress of the International Union of Women Architects (UIFA), which was jointly hosted by the IAWA in July 2015. Her audience included Blacksburg locals and women architects from Argentina, Eastern Europe, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mongolia, Spain, and beyond. Many of the architects recounted that the performance was a highlight of the conference.
Special Collections currently has an exhibit on display featuring selections from Lilia’s portfolio and materials advertising the LiLiA! play.
More selections from the Skala Portfolio, Special Collections:
To commemorate this anniversary, the IAWA has partnered with the International Union of Women Architects ( UIFA) to host the 18th International Congress in Washington, D.C. and Blacksburg, Virginia. This event will bring professional architects from around the world to the Virginia Tech campus for a week of research presentations, collaboration, and networking. In the months leading up to the congress, we’ve been working with members of the IAWA advisory board to research and prepare exhibit materials that capture the depth, breadth, and uniqueness of the IAWA holdings. It has been an amazing opportunity to connect with the real-world community represented in the collections.
Formally established in the summer of 1985, the IAWA began with the work of one tireless educator and architectural historian. In 1983, Dr. Milka Bliznakov wrote over 1,000 letters to women architects around the world, hoping to learn how they planned to preserve their legacies. Dr. Bliznakov was inspired in part by conversations with her students, who asked why they never studied or read about the work of women architects. Dr. Bliznakov saw the consequences of leaving preservation to chance when the accomplishments of her own colleagues were marginalized or lost to history. She was determined to “correct the omission of women from architectural history,” ensuring that “future generations, simply because of a lack of information [cannot] say women architects never did anything.” 
Since that first summer, the IAWA has grown to document the legacies and experiences of more than 400 women in architecture and design. In Special Collections, we collect, preserve, and provide access to approximately 2000 cubic feet of IAWA materials which include personal correspondence, detailed architectural models, exhibit panels, artifacts, and visual materials capturing every step of the design process.
The women represented in the collections lived, taught, and practiced in more than thirty countries across five continents. Drawing upon their rich and varied experiences, the IAWA collections contribute to a broad understanding of what it means to be a “woman in architecture.” For example, a visitor to Special Collections could learn about:
The AIA Fellow who, when asked by a prospective male employer if she cried on the job, responded, “I don’t, but I’ve made a few contractors cry.”
Many of the women whose records we maintain were trailblazers and pioneers. Their stories also speak to universal experiences, whether the woman worked in partnership with her spouse, managed her own firm, or deferred her career to support her family. Perhaps the most exciting part of working with the IAWA collections is that – much like the global community of women architects – they are always growing. We look forward to sharing some of these stories with UIFA delegates from around the world this summer.
To celebrate women’s history month, we are highlighting a small selection of the pioneering women professionals in our collections. These particular women entered their respective careers in the 1950s and 60s, a time when women had limited access to higher education and professional opportunities. Women in historically marginalized groups (including LGBTQ communities, rural communities, and communities of color) faced additional challenges beyond gender barriers. The four women profiled below overcame several obstacles to work as accomplished professionals in fields traditionally dominated by men.
In 1951, Marjorie Rhodes Townsend became the first woman to earn an engineering degree at George Washington University. One of few women in a traditionally male-dominated field, Townsend experienced significant discrimination from both coworkers and managers. In spite of these challenges, she enjoyed a lengthy and distinguished career at the forefront of aerospace technology. Townsend spent eight years with the Naval Research Laboratory developing sonar signal-processing devices for anti-submarine warfare. Townsend went on to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center from 1959-1980. As a project manager for NASA’s Small Astronomy Satellite (SAS) program, Townsend helped coordinate some of the earliest advances in satellite technology and spacecraft systems design.
As an eighth-grade student, L. Jane Hastings was told that women could not be architects. When she secured a coveted spot in the University of Washington’s architecture program, Hastings recalls being asked to give up her place to make room for returning veterans. Hastings received her Bachelor of Architecture degree with honors in 1952, having worked full-time throughout most of her program. In 1953, she became the eighth licensed woman architect in the State of Washington. Hastings founded her own practice in 1959 and went on to form the Hastings Group, a prestigious firm that completed over 500 residential, commercial, and university projects across the greater Seattle area. In addition to practicing and teaching architectural design, Hastings was active in several professional organizations. In 1992, Hastings was appointed the first woman chancellor in the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows.
Learn more about the L. Jane Hastings Architectural Papers here:
Dr. Laura Jane Harper was the first woman to serve as an academic dean at VPI. She lead the College of Home Economics from 1960-1980, chartering a new program that emerged from the consolidation of the Home Economics programs at VPI and Radford University. Dr. Harper was lauded for mentoring other women and supporting them in leadership positions throughout the university. In her 1999 Master’s thesis “A Fighter To The End: The Remarkable Life and Career Of Laura Jane Harper”, Saranette Miles recounted Dr. Harper’s decision to turn down a marriage proposal for the sake of her career (p. 55) and how she frequently challenged VPI President T. Marshall Hahn to uphold his commitments to create meaningful opportunities for women at the university (p. 70-75) .
Linda Adams Hoyle (class of ‘68) was the first black woman to graduate from Virginia Tech. As a statistics major, Hoyle was frequently the only woman in her classes and one of few black students. Her experiences on campus – friendships, dorms assignments, political activism, and safety concerns – were shaped by the intersection of race and gender. After graduation, Hoyle went on to work as a statistician for the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. In her oral history interview for the Black Women At Virginia Tech History Project, Hoyle discussed the challenges of raising a family while pursuing a career:
….. So when you have this full time career–my job at that time was extremely demanding. It was difficult because I had to attend to my children as well as do the job. My husband, the way he worked, it was difficult. He could not just stop in the middle of a job say to pick up a sick child. His work did not permit him that flexibility. Those were things I had to do.