A new exhibition is set to open at the University of Pennsylvania titled Minerva Parker Nichols: The Search for a Forgotten Architect, showcasing the story of Minerva Parker Nichols (1862–1949). Nichols, who operated an office in Philadelphia, was the first woman in U.S. history to practice architecture independently.
Having opened her office in 1888, Nichols also had numerous clients who were women. She supervised all her own construction, declaring, “I don’t mind walking over scaffolding, but I draw the line on ladders,” while her death in 1949 was covered in a headlined obituary in The New York Times.
Nichols amassed a portfolio that included dozens of large and small private residences, the New Century Clubs of Philadelphia and Wilmington, and the unbuilt Queen Isabella Association Pavilion at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Although only a handful of Nichols’ drawings survived, a selection of her private residences remains in use while her only surviving women’s club is now a children’s theater.
The exhibition was co-curated by architectural historian and preservation planner Molly Lester, curator William Whitaker and archivist Heather Isbell Schumacher of the Architectural Archives, and photographer Elizabeth Felicella. The event is also the result of more than a decade of research by Lester, as well as recent work by Elizabeth Felicella who has photographed Nichols’ surviving buildings.
Minerva Parker Nichols: The Search for a Forgotten Architect will be on view from March 21–June 17, 2023, at the Harvey & Irwin Kroiz Gallery of the Architectural Archives, 220 South 34 Street, Philadelphia.
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