This tour focuses on the design-related work of women in Rhode Island from the late 19th century to the present day, exploring how women—as individuals and in collectives—practiced design in ways that were often oriented toward social progress and change. Women fulfilled an array of important roles as activists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and leaders. In confronting expectations of domesticity in a patriarchal society, these women gained recognition within their communities and took on an active role in changing their communities for the better.
Their stories have faded over the years, but archival resources in the region enable us to uncover the details of their activities: early professional women’s organization and networking; their right to vote; the development of feminist pedagogy within architectural practice; the struggle for gaining respect and recognition as professionals in their fields of design; education reform; the employment of World War I veterans; philanthropy; low-income housing; ecological conservation; sustainable development; and the planning of urban public spaces.
The locations visited on this tour—places where these women lived, worked, and organized, as well as aspects of the built and material environments that they designed—represent various spaces carved out by women of disparate social classes, with a shared emphasis on collaboration and gender equity. Given the fact that women’s work and recognition are less likely to survive in the historical record, built or otherwise, we focus on the spaces and ways in which women networked, shared ideas, and held dialogues to foster social and creative growth, in sites defined by collaboration rather than steel beams and concrete. Taking an expansive approach to both the concept of design and the idea of site, the tour brings these women’s diverse stories together to demonstrate the essential ways in which they have shaped Rhode Island.