Archive for the ‘Architect Sophia Hayden’ Category

By 1900 Sophia had lived through an unusual childhood (Part 1), a wonderful educational opportunity (Part 2), and an early career success and downfall (Part 3).  At this point she married my gg-uncle William Blackstone Bennett in Winthrop, Massachusetts.

A contemporary newspaper article about the marriage was written by someone who had met her and William, and probably influences my view of them more than the many architecture articles I’ve perused.

The Boston Daily Advertiser of May 3, 1900 reported from Winthrop that “both are highly esteemed and respected”; she “early displayed a talent for art and architectural design.”  Several medals related to Sophia’s work on the Woman’s Building were mentioned.   The writer denied an apparent earlier story that she had ever “gained any income from her needle”, saying that although she was “versatile as well as talented”, “needlework of any sort is not among her accomplishments.”  The couple “studied art together and thus found their first mutual interests.”  The wedding was performed in Providence by “Justice Douglas, brother-in-law to Mr. Bennett.  It was therefore a family affair.”  William is described as a “portrait painter, and spent years in Montevideo and Buenos Ayres.”  Lately he “has given more of his time to interior decoration and design.”  William’s daughter returned from staying with her aunt in Orange to “become a member of the newly formed household” and is “well pleased with her handsome and young new mama.”  He closes with a word about the bride’s “attractive personality,” mentioning “all the charms of a modest, well-bred, highly cultured and talented American girl combined with the dower of her Spanish ancestors in the way of glorious eyes and hair.”

They only had 9 years together

Ad from the 1904 Winthrop Directory

This ad from the 1904 Winthrop Directory shows that William’s business had moved into the interior decor realm.  I would have to assume that this provided a better income than portrait painting, however, I also suspect he never stopped painting.

William died of pneumonia on April 11, 1909.  The couple never had any children of their own.  Sophia and her stepdaughter, Jennie May, continued to live in the home they owned in Winthrop at 369 Shirley Street.  In census records, Sophia usually listed herself as a Designer – Novelty Co.  Jennie May became a nurse and is listed that way (as “Minnie”) in the 1918 “Winthrop Directory”.  A picture of her in uniform was among my grandfather’s WWI photos.

Jennie May Bennett, 1920

Jennie May grew up

Jennie May was married by 1920 and living in Gardner, Mass. with her husband.  They had one son that I know about, Billy.  One last picture shows a family get-together around 1935 with Jennie May, her son Billy, Aunt Hattie’s widower Uncle Gene, Jennie May’s cousins Jim Baldwin and Edna Baldwin (Edna’s husband Miles is undoubtedly taking the picture), Edna’s father  Russell Darling who must have gone along for the ride, and finally the two unruly tots are my mother and her twin sister.  The man behind Jennie May might be her husband; my mother is not sure. The picture was taken at Uncle Gene’s home in Cochituate, Massachusetts.

Sophia died in 1953

Sophia remained in Winthrop until her death in February, 1953 at age 84.  I know very little about her life after 1920 but if I ever reconnect with Jennie May’s descendants I will help them add more details to the archives at MIT.

I suspect, but don’t know, that Sophia was the best thing that ever happened to that “Novelty Co.”  and that her fame may have faded but her talent and hard work never did.


Gullet, Gayle. “Organized Women Advance Women’s Work at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.”  Illinois Historical Journal (Winter 1994). PDF edition. Illinois State Historical Society.

“Hayden, Sophia Gregoria.”  In Notable American Women: The Modern Period, edited by Barbara Sicherman and Carol Hurd Green, 322-24.  Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980.

“Lucky Sophia Hayden – Her Design Selected for the Woman’s Building at the Chicago Exposition,” New York Herald, 06 April 1891, p. 4, col. 2; digital images, GenealogyBank  (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 10 Oct 2011).

Massachusetts. Suffolk County. Boston. 1880 U.S. census, population schedule. Enumeration District 766, p. 493, dwelling 128, family 173, Sophia Hayden; digital images. Ancestry.comhttp://www.ancestry.com : 2010.  From National Archives microfilm.

Massachusetts. Suffolk County. Winthrop Township. 1900 U.S. census. Enumeration District 1578, sheet 3A, dwelling 49, family 61, William Bennett;  digital images.  Ancestry.com.  http://www.ancestry.com : 2010. From National Archives microfilm.

Massachusetts. Suffolk County. Winthrop Township. 1910 U.S. census. Enumeration District 1689, sheet 12B, dwelling 247, family 271, Sophia G. Bennett;  digital images.  Ancestry.com.  http://www.ancestry.com : 2010. From National Archives microfilm.

Massachusetts. Suffolk County. Winthrop.  Precinct 3. 1920 U.S. census. Enumeration District 676, sheet 23A, dwelling 339, family 583, Sophia Bennett;  digital images.  Ancestry.com.  http://www.ancestry.com : 2010. From National Archives microfilm.

Massachusetts. Suffolk County. Winthrop. 1930 U.S. census. Enumeration District 13-573, sheet 30A, dwelling 408, family 674, Sophia Bennett;  digital images.  Ancestry.com.  http://www.ancestry.com : 2010. From National Archives microfilm.

Millet, F.D. “The Designer of the Fair.”  Harpers New Monthly Magazine, November 1892, 872-83.

“Miss Hayden’s Romance,” Boston Daily Advertiser, 03 May 1900, p. 8, col. 2; digital images, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 10 Oct 2011).

“Sophia G. Hayden.”  In We The Women: Career Firsts of Nineteenth Century America,” by Madeleine B. Stern, 67-76.  New York: Schulte Publ. Co., 1963.

Weimann, Jeanne Madeline. “The Fair Women.”   Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1981.

“The Woman’s Building.” In Rand McNally and Company’s A Week at the Fair, 177-182.  Chicago: Rand McNally, 1893.  http://ia600200.us.archive.org/8/items/randmcnallycoswe00chic/randmcnallycoswe00chic.pdf

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Remembering Sophia Hayden Bennett, Part 3
Sophia’s great moment

Before she married into my family (Part 1), Sophia’s talents and education (Part 2) led her to a career in architecture.

The 1892 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition was planned to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in North America.  More importantly to those who pushed the Chicago site, it was meant to showcase the booming city of Chicago to the world.  Many noted architects from leading firms were offered opportunities to design the impressive buildings and grounds needed for the huge 6-month event.  For the Woman’s Building, the “Board of Lady Managers” insisted on a female architect, and launched a competition for the job.

Woman's Building of the World's Columbian Exposition, from The Book of the Fair by Hubert Howe Bancroft, 1893

Sophia’s entry won the competition.  She was 21 years old.

She was paid $1000 for the job, far less than the male architects working on other buildings.  She had a lot of work to do to prepare the plans and, being inexperienced, was surprised when fairly major changes were demanded in the midst of her work.  As the building progressed, the Board of Lady Managers, led by prominent Chicago socialite Bertha Honore Palmer, wished to highlight the talent and workmanship of many artistic women, and so accepted loans of “women’s work” from many quarters of the world for inclusion in the building.

As the requests to accommodate these works caused more and more friction with Sophia, who was determined to produce a building that followed sound design principles, the crisis apparently came in the form of Sophia’s meltdown in the office of the Fair’s Chief of Construction, Daniel Burnham.

Entrance to the Woman's Building, from The Book of the Fair by Hubert Howe Bancroft, 1893

The meaning of this (a “nervous breakdown”?) and its aftermath are hard to pinpoint in the many accounts that have been written in the 120 years since.  Sophia withdrew from most of the actual construction phase but returned later and was given a medal and various accolades.   However the damage to her career was done since men used the upset to point out that women were incapable of managing construction.

Despite the  almost incalculable pressures brought to bear on an inexperienced 22/23-year old, the fabulous building itself and its early completion were never proof enough of her competence in a world that wanted to doubt women’s strength.  After her return to Boston, she was unable to find architectural work again, even though some of the architectural community had risen to her defense.  This leaves people wondering if dropping out of architecture may have been her own choice.  The Women’s Building was destroyed, along with most of the others, after the fair closed.

In an ironic twist, it should be noted that Mrs. Palmer’s goal was to use the Woman’s Building to change, forever, the perceived role of women in the workplace by showcasing their work; Sophia may have been one casualty in a complicated battle that was not, perhaps, actually lost.

Sophia returns to Boston

Once back in Boston Sophia pursued a career but was never offered a position in architecture.  In 1900, she married my g-g-uncle William Blackstone Bennett, an artist. Here is where most architecture articles end the story, suggesting that she vanished into a sad obscurity.  Given her enormous talents that may seem to be the case, but of course life goes on and I would like to know more about her life.

Next time, the few things I have learned.

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Sophia at MIT in 1888 - photo courtesy of MIT Museum

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.

Sophia Hayden looking at the camera, setting unknown, courtesy of the MIT Museum

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.

Thesis project, elevation of a Museum of Fine Arts, photo courtesy of the MIT Museum

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.

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My gg-grandmother Catherine Spaulding had 4 children.  Because I have had very little luck tracing her and her husband(s) further back, I have focused a lot on those four children.  They were Aunt Jennie, my g-grandfather Miles Baldwin Sr, Aunt Hattie, and an artist, William Blackstone Bennett.

Of the four, my mother probably knew the least about William, so everything I’ve learned is from research.  He was the oldest, born to Catherine and a mysterious first husband, William or Thomas Bennett, in western New York around 1853.  He was not with his mother and the subsequent husband in the 1860 census so I can only guess he stayed with his father after a divorce.

William was a painter (sometimes “portrait painter”; later “decorator”) and traveled extensively as a young man, to various parts of the world.  That doesn’t fit well with what I know of Catherine’s life so I can only assume, again, that his father was the catalyst for this style of adventurous living. The first time I find him living with Catherine’s family is in an 1889 city directory in Newton, Mass.

He married for the first time, in 1890, a young woman from Digby, Nova Scotia named Harriet Ella Crosby.  He and “Ella” became the parents of Jennie May Bennett in 1891.  A second daughter born in 1895 lived for about nine months.  In 1896, Ella died from consumption.

After this tragedy it’s unclear how William got through the next few years but I did see, on a GenealogyBank.com local news article, that Jennie May spent some time with her mother’s sister in Orange, Massachusetts.

William marries Sophia Gregoria Hayden

In 1900, William married again, to Sophia Gregoria Hayden.  They were both residents of Winthrop, Mass. (a seaside section of Boston) but were married in Providence with Aunt Jennie’s husband, the judge, presiding.  By that time, Catherine and her third husband were also living in Providence and were in attendance.  I found the newlyweds, and Jennie May, in the 1900 census in Winthrop, living at 218 Shirley Street, and I was startled to see that the bride had been born in Chile.

Sophia’s story

photo from the November, 1892 Harper’s Magazine

Sophia Gregoria Hayden was born in 1868 in Santiago, Chile to a Peruvian mother (Elezena Fernandez Hayden) and a father (George Henry Hayden) who was a dentist from an old Massachusetts family. (Coincidentally, my mother is also descended from the Haydens, so there’s a distant connection).  She was baptised on 25 Jan 1869 in Santa Ana, Santiago, Chile.  When she was old enough to go to school, she was sent to live with her grandparents, George and Sophia Hayden, in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts.  When eventually her father and siblings moved to the U.S. and took up residence in Richmond, Virginia, she stayed with her grandparents.

I suspect that Sophia was remarkable from birth, and that is why she was sent to Boston for her education.  She was smart and immensely talented.  She graduated from Jamaica Plain High School in 1886.

Sophia was determined to pursue her dream of becoming an architect.  Next time, the story of how she did that (article 2 in this series).  This is a series of four articles, so there is also part three about Sophia’s experience at the fair, and part four about her subsequent life.

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