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The Buffalo of Yesteryear: Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first female architect

This post is the second in an occasional series about the men and women who played important roles in Buffalo’s early history.

Buffalo is a city with a proud architectural history, boasting buildings by architectural legends such as Louis Sullivan, H.H. Richardson and Frank Lloyd Wright.

But that history also includes the shattering of a glass ceiling: Louise Blanchard Bethune was the first American woman known to have worked as a professional architect, and she practiced in Buffalo.

She also may have been one of Buffalo’s first public feminists, according to a reprint of a 1986 Buffalo Spree article at the website Buffalo Architecture and History. She was born in Waterloo in Central New York in 1856, near Seneca Falls, the site of the first women’s rights convention held in 1848.

Bethune attended high school in Buffalo and graduated in 1874. Two years later, she won a job as a draftsman in the architectural firm Waite and Caulkins, where she was employed for five years and worked on early plans for the Connecticut Street Armory.

In 1881, Bethune opened her own practice with Robert Armour Bethune, who she married at the end of that year, according to the Buffalo Spree story.

Seven years after that, Bethune became the first female associate of the American Institute of Architects, according to a post at The Atlantic’s CityLab website.

But it was around the turn of the century that Bethune received her big break and designed the building for which she remains most known: the Hotel Lafayette, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

The Hotel Lafayette, at 391 Washington St., was built in the French Renaissance style and had seven stories and 225 rooms. The building eventually fell into disrepair before a recent rehabilitation project brought it back to its former glory.

Bethune’s name also lived on in the building at 2917 Main St., which originally was a Buffalo Meter Company plant but was purchased by the University at Buffalo in 1971 to house its departments of architecture, art and continuing education, according to the university’s website. UB renamed the building Louis Blanchard Bethune Hall.

UB eventually moved the departments elsewhere and sold the building in 2000. It has now been redeveloped into the Bethune Lofts.

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