Chloethiel Woodard Smith, 1910-1992

  • Chloethiel-Woodard-Smith-WWP

Woman Category: ArtsWoman Tags: Architect, The Pioneering Women of the Judiciary Square Neighborhood, and WDC Metro Area Women

  • HerStory

    An award-winning architect who made an immense impact on modern Washington, DC, and ran the first large female-owned architectural firm in the US.

    Born Chloethiel Blanche Woodard in Illinois, she defied her mother’s wish and went to study Architecture, a passion inspired at the age of 12 while witnessing the construction of her family’s home. She first graduated with high honors from the University of Oregon, and later with a Masters Degree from the Washington University.
    Her love affair with the capital of the USA started when she came to work for the Federal Housing Administration and later moved to the private sector, growing as managing partner. In 1963, Woodard Smith was the first woman to found and manage her own architectural firm. After five decades of an extensive career, which won her recognition, awards and a seat in influential committees and boards, she retired at the age of 73.
    Most notable are her ideas of community-building and her contribution to the urban planning of the national capital, which included large scale residential projects, highways, office buildings, and schools. She also provoked criticism when her work on the Southwest Urban Renewal project resulted in removals of low-income black communities. Her work can also be found in the urban fabric of Boston, St. Louis, and Asuncion, capital of Paraguay, where she designed the US embassy. Woodard Smith’s access to major governmental contracts was attributed to her professionalism, her experience working with Federal Housing and her diplomat husband’s position in the White House.
    Celebrated as the first woman to enjoy a national reputation in mid-century US architecture field, she strongly objected to a gender-related world view. She rejected the Women’s Liberation Movement, dismissed the importance of marches, despised the term “woman architect” and refused to join women’s architectural society. She believed that people are judged by what they know and do, regardless of social categories. She died from cancer just before her 83 birthday, mother of two and grandmother of three.

    “Architects are the set designers in people’s lives”

    “Architects are the set designers in people’s lives”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She refused to read a 1967 New Yorker magazine profile praising her because she was described there as “lady architect”.
    • In 2018, a women-only co-working space opened in the Georgetown building that housed her company’s offices, a plaque by the entrance quoted her legendary words: “I’m an Architect with a capital A, being a woman has nothing to do with it”.
    • She corresponded with Lewis Mumford, pioneering urban planner and thinker who is famous for highlighting the link between sociology and urbanization.
    • Washington Post honored her when unofficially naming a busy corner of Washington D.C downtown “Chloethiel’s Corner”.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * 1989 Centennial Award from the Washington AIA (American Institute of Architects).
    * 1989 Centennial Award from the Washington AIA (American Institute of Architects).
    * Washington Board of Trade Award for Architecture.
    * YWCA “Woman of the Year” 1985.

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • NCARB Live: Women in Architecture

    Moderated by Architect Magazine Executive Editor Katie Gerfen, the all-star panel explored everything from finding a mentor to handling sexism on construction sites.

  • Photo credit - Library of Congress.