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Remembering Louise Bethune

Architecture community commemorates 100th anniversary of the death of the nation's first professional female architect

Louise Bethune commemoration

Speakers at the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of Louise Bethune's death included Elizabeth Chu Richter, 2015 president elect of the American Institute of Architects (speaking), and (seated from left) Robert Shibley, dean of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, and Kelly Hayes McAlonie, interim director of UB’s Capital Planning Group. Photo by Douglas Levere

By Charlotte Hsu

Published December 19, 2013

All was quiet the morning of Dec. 18 as men and women in their winter best approached the grave site of Louise Bethune, the first professional female architect in the United States. The visitors parked their cars along the edge of a curved drive at Buffalo's Forest Lawn cemetery and stepped out into a world of white. They wore wool and fur-cuffed coats, leather boots, scarves in many colors and hats of many types. 

The guests were here to pay respects on the 100th anniversary of Bethune’s death.

In a brief ceremony, speakers including Robert Shibley, dean of the University at Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning, and Kelly Hayes McAlonie, interim director of UB’s Capital Planning Group, reflected on the life and legacy of the first woman elected to the American Institute of Architects.

Bethune, a Buffalonian, opened her own firm at the age of 25 and designed many notable projects. Her opus was the Hotel Lafayette, which reopened in 2012 following a restoration.

In a lovely gesture, Rocco Termini, the developer who led the renovation, was among those at the memorial. Elizabeth Chu Richter, 2015 president-elect of the American Institute of Architects, was also present; she flew in from Texas for the occasion.

“We’re not mourning. We’re celebrating,” said Hayes McAlonie, who helped plan the event and is working on a biography of Bethune.

She led the way to Bethune’s burial site, where an evergreen wreath ornamented with shimmering butterflies and roses in two shades of pink awaited. With Richter, Hayes McAlonie unveiled a new grave marker, which the crowd then sprinkled flower petals.

The message on the marker was a simple, a modest remembrance of a great soul. The words were engraved in capital letters:

JENNIE LOUISE
BLANCHARD BETHUNE
JULY 21, 1856
DECEMBER 18, 1913

The event was sponsored by the American Institute of Architects New York State chapter and the Buffalo Architecture Foundation. In an additional tribute to Bethune, the Hotel Lafayette and the historic Electric Tower in downtown Buffalo were lit up in pink lights the evening of Dec. 18.