The first woman who graduated MIT’s four-year program in architecture.
Sophia Gregoria Hayden was born in Santiago, Chile to a New England father, and South American mother. As a young girl, she moved to live with her grandparents in Boston’s Jamaica Plain. In 1890 she became the first woman to receive her Architecture Degree with honors from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Her thesis was designing fine arts museum. As one of the first woman-architects, it was difficult for her to find work in the profession and so she settled for a position as a technical drawing teacher at a school.
A year after her graduation she was one of 13 female architects to participate in a competition for the Pavilion of Women in the 1893 World Exhibition (World’s Columbian Exposition) in Chicago. Hayden was only 21 when she won the competition and was commissioned to design the three-story building.
The fame came along with a challenging task. As a fresh graduate with no practical experience, she was forced to navigate the pressure and demands of changes from the Expo committee. Her fee for the project was tenth of what male architects received for equivalent work. Despite the challenges, Women’s Building was the first one finished in the Expo, in 1892.
The building was temporary, and after it she never practiced architecture again. In 1900 she married painter William Blackstone Bennett and lived the rest of her life in Winthrop, Massachusetts.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- Behind the scenes of the Women’s Building commission was Susan B. Anthony who lobbied for women to be represented at the Expo. Her vision was for women to be part of the fair’s board, but instead, there was established a segregated “Board of Ladies Managers”, managed by Bertha Palmer.
- In addition to displays of fine art and crafts, Women’s Building hosted a large conference, attended by over 200,000 women.
- The 4-karat gold medal awarded to Sophia Hayden for her design of the Woman’s Building was auctioned for $16,000 in 2019 in Amesbury, MA.