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October 4: The Dragon Lady of Architecture

Lawrence Bush
October 3, 2016

Judith Edelman (Hochberg), a feminist leader and critic within the male-dominated world of architecture, died at 91 on this date in 2014. Edelman completed her architectural studies at Columbia University in 1946 but was widely denied employment simply because she was a woman. In 1960 she and her husband opened their own prize-winning firm, which included a focus on affordable housing. Edelman also became a campaigner against sexism in her profession. In 1971, she was the first woman elected to the executive committee of the American Institute of Architecture’s New York chapter, and the following year she founded the Alliance of Women in Architecture. In 1973, she co-authored an AIA resolution, “Status of Women in the Architectural Profession,” and at the national convention in 1974 she gave a presentation that pointed to the fact that 98.8 percent of America’s 24,000 architects were men. Only coalminers and steelworkers counted fewer women among their ranks, she noted, adding that “grievances are not all in the heads of some paranoid chicks.” According to Douglas Martin in the New York Times, Edelman “came to be called Dragon Lady at A.I.A. headquarters in Washington,” but despite her campaigning, “although women now account for half of all graduates of American architecture schools, they represent only 20 percent of licensed practitioners and an even lower proportion of partners in firms.” To read an interview with Edelman and see photographs of her work, click here.

“I think that interest [in architecture] had a lot to do with the fact that I always had dance in my life. Right through elementary school we had dance three days a week. And I continued to do this until I had an injury, and that’s when I went to architecture school. [It] had been roiling around in the back of my head, and that’s what did it.” --Judith Edelman

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.