Marion Mahony Griffin, 1871-1961

  • Marion-Mahony-Griffin-WWP

Woman Category: ArtsWoman Tags: Architect and Chicago Metro Area Women

  • HerStory

    Architect and artist, one of the first licensed female architects in the US, and a key contributor to the American Prairie School.

    Marion Mahony was Born in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of five children. At the age of 3, two years after the Great Chicago Fire, the family moved to Winnetka, where she witnessed the quick development of the city when suburban homes replaced the natural landscape. When she was 11 years old, her father had died, and not long after, their house caught fire, and the family returned to Chicago. Back in the city, her mother joined the Chicago Women’s Club and became a school principal.
    Growing up, she inspired by her cousin, who studied architecture, and after graduating high school, she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At 23, she became the second woman to graduate from MIT and the first woman to have an architecture license in the US. For the next couple of years, she worked at her cousin firm, and at the age of 24, she was one of the first employees to be hired by Frank Lloyd Wright at Oak Park studio. Her architectural renderings of buildings, landscapes, furniture, and stained-glass windows became the signature of Wright’s designing style, though she never received any credit. During the 15 years she worked in the firm, she completed various independent projects, including All Souls Unitarian Church in Evanston. She had a significant contribution to the development of the American Prairie School of architecture. When Wright left the country, she declined his offer to take over the firm, but she stayed there under the leadership of Hermann con Holst, only after he assured her that she would fully control the design.
    At the age of 40, she married fellow architect Walter Burley Griffin. Together, they worked on the Rock Crest – Rock Glen district in Mason City, Iowa – the largest collection of Prairie Style houses, which today registered as a national historic site. The couple worked together on hundreds of projects before moving to Australia to manage the construction of their wining plan of Canberra – the new Australian capital city. They lived in Australia for 21 years, designing houses, theaters, restaurants, and colleges, creating new towns and communities. In 1935, her husband was invited to India to design a library for the University of Lucknow, and in the following year, she joined him to take charge of the office and work on other projects. After a few months, her husband died, and she returned to Australia for a short time and then back to the US. She was 67 years old when she retired from architecture and dedicated the next 20 years to work on a biography of her and her husband’s life and work, titled “The Magic of America.” Even though she never published the book, it was later digitized, and today is available online.
    Despite a 60 years career, and a significant impact on the development of cities in three continents, she died in poverty at the age of 90.

    “The necessity of preserving the life of the Earth is a prime duty in every field of life, in every occupation”

    “The necessity of preserving the life of the Earth is a prime duty in every field of life, in every occupation”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • The activist Anna Wilmarth funded her education at MIT.
    • She was a vegetarian.
    • Her favorite drink was carrot juice.
    • She was a member of the Anthroposophy Society.
    • Her senior thesis for M.I.T was titled “The House and Studio of a Painter.”
    • Since she was a child, she was inspired and surrounded by strong women who fought for their rights.
    • The Marion Mahony Griffin Beach in Rogers Park, Chicago, was named in her honor.
    • The Australian Marion Mahony Griffin Prize is named in her honor.
    • Her architectural drawings are considered one of the best ever done in America, and sometimes are mistaken for being drawn by Loyd Wright. Several exhibitions of her drawings were showcased in several museums in the US over the years.
    • Marion Mahony Griffin Track north to Sydney Australia is named after her.
  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Women in Architecture

    Architect Susan van der Meulen discusses the work of Sophia Hayden Bennett and Marion Mahony Griffin, two women architects who were active in Chicago architecture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This program was recorded by Chicago Access Network Television (CAN TV).

  • Photo credit - Wikipedia