Through New Historical Society Exhibit, an Advocate for Women in Architecture Celebrates America's First Professional Female Architect

UB's Kelly Hayes McAlonie is co-curator of an exhibit on Buffalo's Louise Bethune at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society

By Brian Peters

Release Date: November 15, 2011

Related Multimedia

An exhibit celebrating the life and accomplishments of architect Louise Bethune will open Nov. 16 in the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

UB's Kelly Hayes McAlonie has co-curated an exhibit that preserves and celebrates the legacy of the first woman in America to open her own architectural office.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In 1881, Buffalo's Louise Blanchard Bethune became the first woman in America to open her own architectural office. Her career was filled with milestones for the architectural profession: She went on to design buildings including Buffalo's landmark Lafayette Hotel, and became, in 1889, the first woman to be admitted to the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Today, another long-time advocate for women in architecture is working to preserve and celebrate Bethune's legacy.

Kelly Hayes McAlonie, interim assistant vice president of the University at Buffalo's Capital Planning Group and president-elect of AIA New York State, has co-curated an exhibit at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society that celebrates Bethune's life and accomplishments. The exhibit is entitled "Buffalo's Bethune: America's First Professional Woman Architect."

An official opening reception for the exhibit will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the Historical Society, 25 Nottingham Ct., in Buffalo.

The Historical Society asked Hayes McAlonie to help set up the exhibit because she has served as a biographer and champion of Bethune's legacy for years.

"Bethune was a pioneer," says Hayes McAlonie. "In practice and in her lectures we know that she felt strongly that women should be treated as equals. She took her place in the profession of architecture as a member in equal standing and proved through her work that she should be considered a peer to her colleagues. She did this while the profession was still in the developing stages."

Documenting Bethune's story is just one way in which Hayes McAlonie has promoted women in architecture.

She and Despina Stratigakos, UB professor of architecture and visual studies, lobbied Mattel to produce the newly released Architect Barbie doll as part of the company's "Barbie I Can Be…" series, which casts Barbie in the role of occupations in which women are underrepresented. At the opening reception for the Bethune exhibit, a raffle will be held to give away several of the dolls.

Hayes McAlonie curated the exhibit together with her husband, Brian McAlonie, who has a master's in museum studies and serves as vice president of account services at the design firm Thinking Outside the Square. The McAlonies, along with museum staff, helped put together panels for the exhibit, which explores Bethune's personal and professional life. Michael Gelen, of Inkwell Studios, created the visual identity and designed the panels.

Each panel addresses a major theme from Bethune's life and career: apprenticeship, design work, professional recognition, masterpiece, hobbies and legacy. Artifacts on display include a newly discovered photo of Bethune, a Blanchard family genealogy ledger in Bethune's own hand, letters, drawings and other items.

In support of the exhibit, Hayes McAlonie will join a panel hosted by the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society on the role of women in modern Buffalo architecture. The panel, which will be held at a date yet to be announced, will be moderated by Stratigakos, who authored the award-winning book, "A Women's Berlin" (2008), which explores the conception of a city built by and for women.

"We will be discussing the status of women in architecture now as opposed to when Bethune practiced," Hayes McAlonie says. "How have women advanced? What obstacles do they still face?

"Bethune believed that there were no impediments for women to practice architecture," Hayes McAlonie adds. "She felt that any woman who was willing to put forth the time and effort to learn the building industry and prove her competence would be welcomed. I think Bethune has been proven right."

Major support for the Bethune exhibit is provided by AIA Buffalo/WNY, Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation and Signature Development. The project has also received widespread support from the architectural community and the UB Gender Institute. The exhibit will remain open until March of 2012.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.