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CJ Coombs

Celebrated Architect Mary Rockwell Hook Experienced Success Regardless of Gender Discrimination

2022-10-19

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Mary Rockwell Hook.Unknown author, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mary Rockwell Hook was an American architect as well as a trailblazer for women in the field of architecture.

She chiefly worked from Kansas City, Missouri but designed throughout the United States. When Mary was traveling in her 20s and 30s to countries such as Italy and Switzerland, she captured the architecture styles.

Mary Rockwell Hook House

Termed the Mary Rockwell Hook House that’s located at 4940 Summit Street in Kansas City, Missouri, it is privately owned. Not only did Mary and her family live in the house, but she also designed it. 

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Home of Mary Rockwell Hook in Kansas City, Missouri.Architectural Observer via Zillow.com.

The Hook home was constructed between 1925 and 1927. It’s pretty massive. The internal views are extravagant. The kind of views that make you sigh when you look into a room. Mary and her husband and children lived in the home and the house remained in the family until 1972.

In 1983, this house was one of eight residences that were labeled The Mary Rockwell Hook Thematic Group and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Early years

Mary was born in Junction City, Kansas on September 8, 1877, and was one of five daughters. In 1906, her family relocated to Kansas City, Missouri.

In 1900, Mary graduated from Wellesley College. In 1902, her family took a trip abroad and she decided to study architecture when they returned. In 1903, Mary was the only woman enrolled in her architecture department class at the Art Institute of Chicago.

After her studies were complete, she designed houses on lots that her father purchased. (Source.)

In 1921, Mary and Inghram D. Hook (b. 1883, d. 1973) were married. Her husband was an attorney and together, they adopted two boys, Eugene and Edward.

In 1935, Mary purchased 55 acres of shore property on Siesta Key, Florida. There, over a 15-year period, she designed an informal resort hotel, two vacation homes, and a guest house. When she was 70, she completed her career as an architect and lived another 30 years. Amazing.

Mary’s experience with gender discrimination

In 1905, Mary went to study in Paris to study. 

In preparation for taking the entrance exams at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, a family connection smoothed the way for Rockwell’s acceptance as the only female member of the studio of Jean-Marcel Auburtin. Not everything was easy, though; once Rockwell had to take refuge in a taxi to escape a mob of male students armed with water buckets and the intent to drench her. (Source.)

On bike trips with her sister, she explored French architecture. That period of time was when male architects could be negatively open in their attitudes toward women wanting to become architects.

After her training, she still experienced discrimination. She applied for her first job in Kansas City and faced a discriminatory attitude. The next firm she applied to hired her. Interestingly, she couldn’t be paid a salary because her father wouldn’t allow that. 

She was denied admission to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) due to her gender. However, she did obtain recognition for her work, including by the AIA, on her 100th birthday in 1977. 

Mary’s architectural firm

When Mary returned to Kansas City in 1923, she established Hook and Remington. The architectural firm included her partner, Eric Douglas Macwilliam Remington (b. 1893–d. 1975). They worked together until 1932 when Remington relocated to San Francisco. 

Interestingly, even though Mary was having blindness issues later in her life, she still was able to imagine designs and provide ideas to modify the White House or other buildings.

Mary’s style

Mary’s Kansas City designs date from as early as 1908, with her most notable work completed during the 1920s and 1930s in the Sunset Hills area of Kansas City. Her designs in Sunset Hills are a tribute to architectural styles she took in when she went on trips to Europe and Asia. Her own home designed in 1925 includes Italianate architecture.

Nine of Mary’s works in Kansas City were nominated as thematic resources for the National Register of Historic Places. Her early works on houses were commissioned for members of her family but she also later received several commissions from non-family members.

Siesta Key, Florida

During the 1930s when Florida land values collapsed, Kansas City architect Mary Rockwell Hook purchased 55 acres on Siesta Key in Sarasota on the west coast of Florida. Today we know the properties as Whispering Sands, Sandy Cove and Sandy Hook. (Source.)

In 1935, Mary purchased 55 acres of Gulf-front property on Siesta Key, Florida. She was attracted to the white sand beaches. Using her designs, she developed part of this area, and “she set aside some land for architects to experiment with new ideas.” In 1936, known as Whispering Sands, she designed a resort hotel and vacation homes. She’s also credited for having used solar power to heat water for the hotel.

On Siesta Key, she also designed and built homes on Sandy Hook. While it was never realized, it was also there where there were plans to build a small architectural school.

Sandy Cove was another area she developed. In 1952, she designed an octagon-shaped home where the last years of her life were spent.

Mary died on September 8, 1978, which also was her 101st birthday. She died in her home in Siesta Key, Florida, and is buried at Mt. Washington Cemetery in Independence, Missouri.

Thanks for reading!

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