Josephine Wright Chapman

  • American

Information on the careers of women architects is difficult to locate. Typically, women entered the profession as apprentices, although office work was considered unsuitable for a lady. Judith Paine noted in Women in Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective, "Nineteenth and twentieth century women architects are obscure. Seldom mentioned in histories of American architecture or even local guides, their achievements are more nearly unknown than forgotten. Prejudice nourished anonymity." These sentiments are echoed in the acclaimed study of the profession: The Architect. The book includes a chapter by social historian Gwendolyn Wright entitled "On the Fringe of the Profession: Women in American Architecture." Wright contemplates the dilemma of the woman practitioner with an entry on Josephine Wright Chapman's career: "Women did make contributions to domestic architecture and occasionally had successful practices of their own. But their names almost all dropped from the course of architectural history, even those Jrike Josephine Wright Chapman, who received notice in the press of her time."

Little is known about Josephine Wright Chapman's early life. She was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts to James L. Chapman and his wife, the daughter of Isaac C Wright. Josephine's father was a partner in the Fitchburg Machine Works. She gained her architectural training from 1892 to 1897 as a draftswoman for the Boston architect Clarence H Blackall, who had his office at 18 Music Hall. Determined to become a successful architect, she dedicated many hours to gain the experience necessary to establish her own practice. Her family was against her chosen career and refused to lend her moral or financial support. Consequently, she pawned her jewelry to obtain money to remian independent. In 1898, Chapman was listed in the city directory as an architect located in the Grundmann Studios at 194 Clarendon Street. The Grundmann Studios was a "haunt and home of a little colony of women artists in Boston, [Chapman] showed examples of her work at the studio's monthly open-house." She later moved to 9 Park Street. The Ladies' Home Journal discussed her ambition and determination: Before the boys who had entered the office with her were well away from the tracings she was ready to start in business for herself. She will tell you that she had many advantages that helped her make this progress. The boys in the office had much to occupy their evenings theaters, dances and the like. Being a girl Miss Chapman could not run around at night. Her evenings went to perfecting her work. And so it was that before some of her colleagues had really learned to make a working plan her small but independent looking shingle hung out. She was ready for business. Within Boston's inspiring environment, Josephine Wright Chapman established a small but successful architectural practice. Her most important commission resulted from a competition for the New England Building at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo. Having read of the contest in the Boston newspapers and fearing that her modest reputation would not warrant a request to submit a design, she approached the six governors on the evening before the competition was to begin. Chapman made an appointment to meet them the next morning, during which she recognized that they did not have guidelines or expectations other than the general rules of the Exposition which called for the use of a "rainbow" color scheme on all structures. The next morning she presented the committee with her design. According to The Ladies' Home Journal, She told the Governors just what New England needed at Buffalo she had it down in black and white, in pictures and in plans. That made the whole problem no problem at all for the Governors. They decided that the girl architect knew more than all the men architects put together, and so they went to the theatre for the evening. In the morning they sent for Miss Chapman and gave her the job. After winning the Exposition competition, Chapman received commissions for churches, clubs, libraries, and apartments. Her work included the Craigie Arms Apartments (1897), now a dormitory at Harvard University, the Episcopal Church in Leominster, Massachusetts, and the Women's Clubs, in Worcester and Lynn, Massachusetts. "From 1897 to 1905, she designed as an independent practitioner several notable buildings that establish her as one of the earliest successful women architects in New England."

In 1905, Chapman altered her practice by only accepting residential commissions. Chapman announced her new position in The Ladies' Home Journal, arguably the best indicator of the popular domestic opinion in the early twentieth-century: "A woman's work is to design houses... hereafter, I am going to design houses." "A Woman Who Builds Homes." The Ladies' Home Journal, Chapman understood that "Every woman, now and then, sits down and imagines what sort of a place would consider, 'just the thing'." Her ensuing designs are reported as being, "Colonial houses, Spanish houses, houses of the Italian villa style, houses that looked as if each had been stolen from some lovely garden in the suburbs of Paris..."

In 1907, Boston underwent an architectural recession which prompted Chapman to move to New York. She is listed in New York City directories as an architect from 1907 through 1925. Her first office was located at 11 West 8th Street. In 1925, Chapman's residence and studio were listed as 76 Washington Square. According to The Ladies' Home Journal, Chapman's practice was very successful: "You can find her work everywhere in the environs of New York..." Of particular interest to the architectural press was Chapman's design for a 16-story apartment building on Park Avenue. The apartment was to demonstrate "the feminine idea of correct planning... and many innovations were to be introduced."

While in New York, Chapman was awarded the commission to design Hillandale. Although not much more information on the career of Josephine Wright Chapman has surfaced, it is clear that she was a successful, ambitious, and talented architect. Gwendolyn Wright stated, "Neither Chapman's early public success in Boston nor her conversion to professional pursuits more appropriate for a woman qualified her for coverage in the architectural press. But her career was remarkable, for few woman had the financial independence to experiment with their own offices." - NRHP Registration 11 December 1994


Y/M/D Description Association Composition Place Locale Food Event
Y/M/D Description Association Composition Place Locale Food Event
Architect Hillandale-Main Residence and Gatehouse Washington, DC
Architect Craigie Arms Cambridge, MA
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