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The Stuart Weitzman School of Design on Aug. 16, 2022.

Credit: Jesse Zhang

This spring, the Stuart Weitzman School of Design will showcase the legacy of Minerva Parker Nichols, America’s first independent female architect.

The exhibition, titled “Minerva Parker Nichols: The Search for a Forgotten Architect,” will run from March 21 to June 17 at the Harvey & Irwin Kroiz Gallery of the Architectural Archives

The collection stems from decades of research by Molly Lester, who graduated with a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from the Weitzman School in 2012. Her work will be featured alongside photographer Elizabeth Felicella, who visually documented Nichols' architecture, according to the Weitzman Press Releases. 

The exhibition is supported by a $300,000 grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage received in 2020. 

Nichols was active during the early suffrage movement and opened her Philadelphia office in 1888 near an area of what is now Dilworth Park. Although her office closed in 1896, she continued to build private residences, schools, and churches.

Nichols’s commissions included the New Century Club of Philadelphia — one of the first women’s clubs in the United States — and the unbuilt Queen Isabella Association Pavilion at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

The curatorial team is led by William Whitaker, a curator and collections manager at the Weitzman School, and Heather Isbell Schumacher, an archivist at the Architectural Archives. 

“Thinking about the blind spots in design history is a compelling and important topic,” Whitaker told the Weitzman School in 2020. “Collections like the one we have at Penn — despite their great depth and significance — reflect on the practices that have resulted in the erasure of stories like Minerva’s. 'What Minerva Built' provides us with an opportunity to explore new ways of collecting, exhibiting, and thinking about our relationship with the past in the work that we do.”

Lester will publish select materials online through a website, and a podcast series called "What Minerva Built" in conjunction with the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation.