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Strong and creative women make up more than half of our firm—a full 64% if we want to be specific. We are fortunate to celebrate each of their accomplishments every day, but we would not be where we are today without the leaders that paved the path to success. The following featured women are notable architects from North Carolina that made massive impacts on women’s success in the field of architecture.
Well-educated and derived from an elite Charlotte family circa the mid-1800s, Harriet Morrison Irwin held a strong passion in advanced mathematic and engineering despite the lack of curriculum for women.
Influenced by her many years of illness, Irwin wanted to design a home that was both practical and economical. She studied a variety of architectural texts available at the time, such as John Ruskin’s architectural books that promotes easy access to the outdoors for mental and physical health.
With no formal training in architecture, Irwin was the first woman in the United States to receive an architectural patent for the design of a hexagonal on August 24, 1869. The design improved lighting, air flow, and the layout compared to traditional homes of the time. The home itself featured a careful placement of windows and doorways that led outside, hexagonal-shaped rooms, a central fireplace with passageways leading to other rooms.
Following this design, Irwin wrote a book to promote the patent and established the Hill and Irwin Land Agency with her husband, which specialized in building hexagonal homes.
While not a North Carolina native, Georgina Pope Yeatman made her mark on the state by becoming the first licensed female architect. Born into a wealthy family with roots in Pennsylvania and a dairy farm in New Hampshire, Yeatman was educated as a pilot and as an architect.
It was not until flying over the coast of North Carolina that she was drawn to the area due to its flat, open spaces suitable for dairy farming. She later acquired land in Carteret County to open her own farm and became the first licensed female architect in the state. As the only architectural work she constructed in North Carolina was for her farm, Yeatman became well known as farmer, earning the North Carolina Farm Manager of the Year award in 1967.
A 1952 graduate of NC State University’s School of Design, Elizabeth Bobbitt Lee was the second woman to be licensed in the state of North Carolina. Lee spent the early parts of her professional career in New York before heading back to North Carolina to open her own firm, first called Lee Thompson Architects and then Elizabeth B. Lee Architects.
Lee was heavily involved in the North Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and served as president in 1979 as South Atlantic Region Director. Lee is recognized for her work on educational facilities and the Robeson County Courthouse in her hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina.
Stepping into the trade through her family roots, Norma N. Bonniwell was one of few women in the late 19th century to identify as an architect. Raised in Hickory, Bonniwell and her siblings were taught the tricks of the trade by her father. She spent many of her early years working along side her father in his company, Bonniwell and Daughter.
Bonniwell was well-known throughout Western North Carolina and designed notable works such as W.A. Thomas House in Statesville, a building at Lenoir College in Hickory, and the Thomas B. Finley House in Wilkesboro that is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.