June 19: Why Haven’t We All Already Heard of Elisabeth W. Scott?

2016/06/19 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1972 Elisabeth Whitworth Scott died.

Born in 1898, Scott had architecture in her DNA.  Related to G. F. Bodley and both  G. G. Scotts, she matriculated at the Architectural Association in London soon after they finally stopped tut-tutting about lady architects and finally started admitting women in 1918.  In the postwar period the AA struggled to establish its identity, drawing significant influence from Dutch and Scandinavian Expressionism while employing a Beaux-Arts model of instruction (no wonder they were in such a kerfuffle over the potential of ladies in the drafting room).  Scott graduated before radical German modernism was admitted into the curriculum.  Fittingly, her first position was with a British firm that practiced in the “Scandinavian Style” (which looks very Voyseyesque to the Muse).  She established her professional independence through one of the few venues that made such pioneer behavior possible–by winning an open competition to replace the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (which had been destroyed by fire)  in 1927.  Generally well-received, the theatre was her breakthrough.  Although it’s a comforting sight to eyes weary of its famous contemporaries (like the white-wafer boxes in Poissy and Stuttgart), detractors still refered to it as “the jam factory” (they just didn’t know how bad it could–and would–be).

Although most of Scott’s buildings have been forgotten, her actual practice is highly memorable.  In a field that prides itself on putting forth a single name as the creator of large and complex artifacts that actually require hundreds of minds (and twice as many hands) to realize, Scott was quick to share credit and transparent about office collaboration.  She strove to open doors to women and hired them whenever she could, and was especially sought out by a certain kind of patron, like the women who ran the Marie Curie Cancer Hospital in Hampstead.

Scott retired in 1968, never having eclipsed the early success of the theatre, at least in architectural terms.  What she achieved for women in architecture remains monumental.  Institutes that allegedly care about the profession might learn more about what has gone wrong with it by studying the ups and downs of her life rather than distracting themselves with glamour dolls.

Image: Shakespeare Memorial Theatre

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You are currently reading June 19: Why Haven’t We All Already Heard of Elisabeth W. Scott? at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.

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