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Heroines Yesterday, Heroines Today, and Heroines Tomorrow

Bessica Raiche (1875-1932) Pioneer Pilot, Aviation Inventor, Dentist, Doctor

Bessica or Bessie Raiche was an American woman who distinguished herself shortly after the turn of the 20th century in terms of versatility.

She was not only a dentist and a doctor, but is also accredited by the Aeronautical Society as being the first woman to fly an airplane in a solo flight.  She had no flight instruction or experience before taking to the sky alone. Bessie was  a woman before her time who loved to shoot guns and drive fast cars right alongside the boys.

Her and her husband built their airplane in their living room and assembled it in the yard. She flew the biplane in 1910. Bessie would live another 22 years, most of which she devoted to women’s health care as a distinguished specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology in the US.

Heroines of Architecture

It’s easy to overlook some of the most impressive women in architectural history. But we’re not going to do that. In fact, they are all we want to celebrate right here, right now.

Sophia Hayden, 1868-1953

This half Chilean, half American woman was the first female to ever receive an architectural degree from MIT in 1890.

She didn’t have a lot of luck finding work at first, though, and initially ended up teaching technical drawing at a Boston high school.

Luckily for the world, when she was 21 years old in 1891, she submitted a design for the Woman’s Building, which would be added to Daniel Burnham’s huge World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Her proposal was for a three-story building in the Italian Renaissance style, and it won first prize.

Sadly, Sophia was put under such pressure by the construction committee during the building phase of the project that she suffered from a breakdown and decided to work as an artist and live a quiet life after her negative experience in the world of architecture.

Eileen Gray, 1878-1976

Eileen Gray was a bisexual architect and furniture designer from Ireland. She was a pioneer of the Modern Movement in architecture, which refers to a term applied to a grouop of architectural styles that emerged during the first half of the 20th century. They used new technologies of construction, glass, steel and reinforced concrete, etc.

Eileen was born into a wealthy aristocratic family and studied in Soho, London, where she studied lacquer work. In 1902, Eileen set up a studio in Paris with Japanese craftsman Seizo Sugawara to perfect her skills and gained notoriety through creating domestic lacquer products for interior design projects. Her designs were highly architectural in nature. She used lacquer screens to divide spaces, blurring the lines between furniture and architecture.

Eileen worked with Seizo for four years before developing lacquer disease on her hands, but she carried on working with the material. She designed and installed a number of innovative designs, including the innovative Bibendum Chair, which was one of the 20th century’s most recognizable furniture designs.

Later, she was persuaded by Jean Badovici to return her attention to architecture, and the two began working on the house E-1027 near Monaco. Gray designed the furniture as well as collaborating with Badovici on its structure, which was rectilinear and flat-roofed with floor-to-ceiling and ribbon windows and a spiral staircase.

After WWII, Gray returned to Paris after spending some time in London, and led a reclusive life. She continued to work on new projects, but didn’t receive much recognition for her designs. She worked until she was in her eighties, but later died in her apartment on rue Bonaparte in Parte. She is now celebrated at the National Museum of Ireland, where there is a permanent exhibition of her work.  

Charlotte Perriand

This heroine studied furniture design in Paris, where she was born. She was an architect and a designer, and created functional living spaces. Charlotte believed that better design helps create a better society.

She managed to get a job at Le Corbusier’s studio in 1927. Le Corbusier was a Swiss-French architect, designer, painter, urban planner, writer and one of the pioneers of modern medicine. He initially rejected Charlotte, and insulted her, but when her work appeared in the Salon d’Automne, he offered her a job designing furniture. During the first year at his studio, she produced three of his most iconic chair designs, B301, LC2 Grand Comfort and B306.

Charlotte was known for adding humaneness to Le Corbusier’s work. As her political views moved further to the left during the 1930s, she began using wood and cane over expensive chrome in order to create functional and beautiful furniture for the masses.

In 1940, Charlotte was invited to go to Japan and become an advisor for the Ministry of Trade and Industry there. She went, but was forced to leave due to the war. She actually ended up in Vietnam after being detained by a naval blockage. She studied eastern design while she was stuck in this region of Asia. Her weaving and woodwork studies had a big impact on her later work. The Book of Tea is one book she read during that period, and she referenced it throughout the rest of her career.

Notable projects from Charlotte’s portfolio include the Meribel ski resort in Les Allues, France; the League of Nations building in Geneva and the remodeling of Air France’s offices in London, Paris and Tokyo.