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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

First Female Architect in California

Best known for her work on the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Julia Morgan designed more than 700 buildings after becoming, in 1904, the first female licensed architect in California. The second of five children, Julia was born January 20, 1872, in San Francisco. Two years later the family moved to Oakland, where the Morgans were supported by Julia’s wealthy maternal grandparents. After gaining the support of her parents to pursue a career before considering marriage—a somewhat radical idea in her day—Julia graduated in 1894 from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in civil engineering. She was the only woman in her engineering class. At first denied admission to the prestigious École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, she persevered; in 1902, she was the first woman to receive a certificate in architecture from that institution. Upon returning home from Paris she accepted employment with San Francisco architect John Galen Howard, who reportedly told a colleague that Julia was an excellent draftsman he needed to pay “almost nothing” because she was a woman. Her subsequent work (on her own) included many buildings designed for the YWCA and Mills College, and some of her residential projects express the American Craftsman style of architecture. Following the 1906 earthquake, Julia Morgan redesigned San Francisco’s landmark Fairmont Hotel. She died in 1957, and is buried in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery. On May 28, 2008, Julia Morgan was posthumously inducted into the California Hall of Fame. March is National Women’s History Month.

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