Remembering Sophia Hayden Bennett, Part 2
Back to Sophia’s story
After an unusual childhood (Part 1), a determined Sophia Hayden was among the first women admitted to the Architecture Program at MIT in 1886. She was one of two women in the program. An 1888 photograph of all (about 25) MIT female students – each holding an implement appropriate to her studies – shows her looking taciturn and perhaps bored with the picture taking. She was reportedly a quiet, serious and intelligent student. She completed the four year program with honors and graduated in 1890.
Doing some research
I made my first visit to an academic archive. The MIT Museum holds some pictures, articles, and the thesis drawing submitted by Sophia. I made an appointment and a kind archivist welcomed me there. The folder of papers that I examined held the suggestion of a letter and biographical sketch from Sophia’s stepdaughter Jennie May, whose married name and 1950’s address were noted, however those documents were not among the holdings. A visit to the School of Architecture and Planning’s Archives brought nothing else of significance although I did have the thrill of meeting an archivist who easily recognized Sophia’s name.
In an effort to present all facts, and not ignore those that I can’t fathom, I should add that one 1991 letter in the Museum archive mentioned that Mrs. Elihu Root III (Mary “Molly” Bidwell Root, 1917 – 2004) was the niece of Sophia. Sophia did have three brothers and a sister, however, based on what I can quickly glean of Molly’s parents I see no way that she can be a niece or great-niece. A mystery.
The MIT Museum holds Sophia’s thesis project, a large watercolor rendering of a Fine Arts Museum plan in the Beaux-Arts style. The picture, below, does no justice to the project. The original is one of the loveliest things I’ve ever seen. The proportions, the exquisite detail and the subtle colorings show that Sophia was a natural artist.
After graduation, Sophia accepted a position teaching mechanical drawing. The reasons for not moving into an architectural firm at an apprentice level are not clear, although doubtless she felt she was unable to obtain that position. Her female classmate did, however, obtain such a position.
In 1891 Sophia saw an advertisement for an architectural competition. She entered and won.
Next time (Part 3), the story of Sophia’s amazing architectural achievement and the reason why there are no existing buildings designed by her.