Mary Nevan Gannon
August, 1867 – February 22, 1932
Portraits of Alice J. Hands and Mary N. Gannon, newspaper sketch of the pair. Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Honolulu, February 12, 1895

Portraits of Alice J. Hands and Mary N. Gannon, newspaper sketch of the pair. Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Honolulu, February 12, 1895

Birthplace

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Education

New York School of Applied Design for Women, 1892–95

Major Projects

  • Florence Sanitarium, San Francisco, ca. 1894–96
  • Misses McWilliams cottage, Twilight Park, Catskills, N.Y., 1895
  • J. H. Lange, residence (alterations and additions), Twilight Park, Catskills, 1895
  • Clubhouse, Twilight Park, Catskills, 1895
  • Gretchen Cottage, Asbury Park, N.J., circa 1895
  • Hotel for women, New York City (unbuilt), 1897
  • Student apartment house, New York City (unbuilt), 1897
  • Model tenements, 215 & 217 West 67th Street, New York City, circa 1897–98
  • New Era Building (also called the United Clubs Building), office building and clubhouse, New York City (unbuilt)
  • Women’s hotel, Broadway & 37th Street, New York City (unbuilt)

Awards and Honors

Second prize, Competition for Woman’s Building, Cotton States and International Exposition, Atlanta, Ga., 1894

Firm

Gannon & Hands, Architects, New York City

Location of Last Office

13 West 18th Street, New York City, 1900

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By Sarah Allaback, Library of American Landscape History

Mary Nevan Gannon (1867–1932) founded with Alice J. Hands the first partnership of women architects in the United States.11See also the biography of Alice J. Hands. The New York–based firm, active from 1894 to 1900, designed a variety of public buildings, but was especially known for its innovative tenement housing designs.

Mary Gannon was born in 1867, the year her parents, Bridget Nevan and Peter Gannon, emigrated from Ireland to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, her birthplace. Peter Gannon supported his growing family (eventually numbering three sons and four daughters) as a laborer in the Bethlehem Iron Company and later at the Zinc Works.22A fourth son died in infancy. “Obituary. Peter Gannon,” Daily Globe [South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania], January 19, 1897. Mary Gannon is identified in the obituary as “the New York architect.” Probably owing to financial need, Mary found work as a stenographer and typewriter for a local architect, but according to a profile in a Honolulu newspaper in 1896, her own curiosity and ambition caused her to become “fascinated with the business” and “take up the study of architecture herself.”33“Women Architects, The Career of Two Successful Young Ladies,” Hawaiian Star [Honolulu], August 26, 1896. Her passion led her to enroll in the first class of the New York School of Applied Design for Women, at 200 West Twenty-Third Street, where she met her future partner, Alice J. Hands, in 1892.

Early Life and Education

The new design school offered Mary Gannon exceptional opportunities to achieve her ambition of becoming an architect. Ellen Dunlap Hopkins, the school’s founder, used her wealth and social connections to assemble an influential board of directors to support the school, as well as a cadre of professional artists and architects to serve as teachers. The school offered a remarkable course of study, as The Art Amateur magazine reported in 1892, including instruction in “the work of an architect’s draughtsman—quite a new occupation for women.”44The Art Amateur 27 (July 1892): 74. Hopkins, who had visited the École des Beaux-Arts before beginning her endeavor, understood that her students would require access to a network of practitioners in order to achieve professional success. She chose Austin W. Lord, an architect for McKim, Mead and White, to run the architectural department.55New York School of Design for Women, First Annual Report, June 29, 1893. The jurors in the school’s first architectural competition included Professor William Ware of Columbia College, William M. Kendall of McKim, Mead and White, and Barr Ferree, editor for the architectural department of Engineering Magazine. After Lord accepted a position as the director of the American School of Architecture in Rome in 1894, he was succeeded in his design school position by James Monroe Hewlett, a fellow architect with McKim, Mead and White, who had recently become his partner in the firm of Lord, Hewlett and Hull.66The third member of the firm was Washington Hull. “Lord, Austin Willard,” National Cyclopaedia of American Biography 11 (New York: James T. White & Co., 1901), 330; “Hewlett, James Monroe,” National Cyclopaedia of American Biography 11 (New York: James T. White & Co., 1901), 330. Gannon and Hands were not only taught by these accomplished architects but would also gain entry into a well-established “old boys network,” the passport to architectural commissions.

Mary Nevan Gannon and Alice J. Hands, A Cottage, newspaper sketch. San Francisco Call, May 24, 1986, 27

Mary Nevan Gannon and Alice J. Hands, A Cottage, newspaper sketch. San Francisco Call, May 24, 1986, 27

In only her second year at the school, Gannon received and completed an order for a summer cottage, an unimaginable commission for a novice without such connections.77The Art Amateur [New York and London], 28 (April 1893). Hopkins also arranged for Gannon and Hands to participate in the competition for the women’s building in the Cotton States and International Exhibition in Atlanta (1895). The excellence of the drawings prompted journalist Kate Field to wonder whether Gannon was “destined to be the nineteenth century star of Bethlehem.”88Kate Field, Kate Field’s Washington 10 (1894): 365.

By 1894, after less than three years of instruction, Mary Gannon and Alice Hands won a competition for the design of a new hospital in San Francisco, an accomplishment that brought the young architects national attention. Mention of their achievement appeared in the school’s Second Annual Report in June 1894, as well as in newspapers throughout the country.99New York School of Applied Design, Second Annual Report, June 29, 1894. Homeopathic journals also announced the future hospital, focusing equally on the competition’s unique sponsor.1010North American Journal of Homeopathy 43 (New York: Journal Publishing Club, 1895). The building was commissioned by Dr. Florence Nightingale Saltonstall (1860–1919), the first female physician admitted into the American College of Surgeons, and the architects’ plans were endorsed by Dr. William Tod Helmuth, arguably the most acclaimed homeopathic doctor of the day. According to the Pacific Coast Journal of Homeopathy, the Florence Sanitarium, a three-story building with rooms for forty patients and an elevator designed to accommodate beds, was “to be erected at the corner of Laguna and Broadway streets overlooking the Golden Gate.”1111Pacific Coast Journal of Homeopathy 3 (1895): 35. Although it may not have been constructed at this location, by September 1896 Godey’s Magazine reported that “the hospital, now completed and in running order, is pronounced by physicians a model of sanitation, convenience and architectural beauty.”1212Alice Severence, “Talks by Successful Women IX—Miss Gannon and Miss Hands on Architecture,” Godey’s Magazine 83 (September 1896): 314.

Upon graduation, Gannon and Hands launched their own firm out of rooms at the school. As Hands explained, she and Gannon had entered the field by working on competitive projects for their instructors, J. Monroe Hewlett and Austin Lord, who were employed by McKim, Mead and White during the day. Left with the majority of the work, Gannon and Hands “decided after three of the five plans we had worked out were awarded prizes, that instead of spending our time and energy working for others without receiving outside credit, we would constitute a firm for independent work.”1313Alice Hands, “She Plans New Buildings,” What Women Can Earn: Occupations of Women and Their Compensation, ed. Grace Dodge, et al. (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1899), 96. A letter of recommendation from Lord, dated August 17, 1894, describes the pair as “recently employed at the school,” highly recommended as thoroughly competent, and capable of making rendered drawings and drawings in pen and ink.1414Austin W. Lord to “All Whom it May Concern,” August 17, 1894. Author’s collection. At this point, the two were considered a single entity by their peers; as the Godey’s interviewer remarked, “these friends work together most harmoniously, consult on every important enterprise, and are so inseparable that they are indiscriminately called Gannon or Hands by their fellow students.”1515Severence, “Talks by Successful Women,” 316. That winter, Gannon and Hands took on one of the pressing issues of their day: the need to house New York’s increasing working-class population. As members of the 10th Ward Sanitary Committee, they demonstrated their desire to support housing improvements, but it was their choice to actually experience life in a typical New York tenement that set them apart from their fellow progressives. For over a year, the two lived in a tenement on Forsythe Street in the 10th Ward like “two poor factory girls.”1616“Misses Gannon and Hands Solve Tenement House Problem,” Kansas City Journal, October 17, 1897, 14. In fact, they were collecting information and experience that would lead to a groundbreaking type of tenement design.

Mary Nevan Gannon and Alice J. Hands, Woman’s Hotel for New York, newspaper sketch. Flagstaff Sun-Democrat, April 29, 1897

Mary Nevan Gannon and Alice J. Hands, Woman’s Hotel for New York, newspaper sketch. Flagstaff Sun-Democrat, April 29, 1897

During the spring of 1895, a Montana newspaper reported on the wide assortment of commissions occupying Gannon and Hands, Architects—two dwelling houses in Mount Vernon, New York; two in Staten Island; one in Jamaica, Long Island; and the Rockaway Hunt Club; not to mention tenement designs and a plan for a women’s hotel.1717“Pretty Architects: New York Has Two Prominent Planners,” Philipsburg Mail [Montana], April 18, 1895. Although the private hunting club has been formally attributed to club member J. Monroe Hewlett, Gannon and Hands may have significantly contributed to this project, perhaps serving as draftsmen.1818The building, “considered to be the largest and best appointed clubhouse on Long Island,” is attributed to Hewlett in Millicent D. Vollono’s “Village of Woodsburg, Centennial Anniversary, 1912–2012,” n.d., n.p. The flurry of commissions suggests that they continued to benefit from their instructors’ network, as well as from Ellen Hopkins’s prominent social position, a gateway to potential clients. That summer, Gannon and Hands’s cottage for the Misses McWilliams was built in Twilight Park, where they also designed an addition for a J. H. Lange. Another cottage of their design went up in Bradley Beach, New Jersey.1919“Pretty Architects,” Philipsburg Mail, April 18, 1895. A villa they designed for a Mr. C. F. Johnson of California and reportedly based on “the Czar’s palace at Livadia,” was said to have cost $50,000.2020Joseph Dana Miller, “Women as Architects,” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly 50 (June 1900): 202. Throughout this busy year for the new firm, newspapers across the country reported on the “girl architects” and their extraordinary success.2121See, for example, “Motel Hotel for Women,” New York Times, May 12, 1895, 5; “Successful Women Architects: Sixteen Tenements to be Built on Their Plans—Also a Women’s Hotel,” New York Times, February 25, 1895, 8; Pioneer Express [Pembina, N.D.], June 7, 1895; Lawrence Democrat, June 14, 1895.

Gannon and Hands were inspired to tackle the city’s housing problem when the New York Tenement House Commission offered a monetary prize for “plans to secure a certain amount of floor space in buildings put up in single lots without resorting to the expedient of dark rooms.”2222“A Model Building: Two Women Architects May Have Solved the Tenement Problem,” Copper Country Evening News [Calumet, Mich.], October 26, 1897. After winning the competition, they were congratulated for solving a problem that had eluded their male peers. Reports of their achievement also touched on the principles behind the firm’s success. Gannon recalled one incident for The Washington Times: “When the contractor who recently accepted our tenement house plans asked Miss Hands and myself what payment was expected, we replied, almost simultaneously; Exactly what you would pay a man for the same design, and we got it, and unlimited praise in the bargain.”2323“Women Experts in Practical Art,” The Washington Times, May 12, 1895, 7. Gannon and Hands’s work on tenement improvement continued for several years, as did newspaper coverage of their success.2424See, for example, “Women as Architects,” Salt Lake Herald, February 9, 1895, 5; “Fair Architects,” Omaha Daily Bee, April 1, 1895, 3, and April 17, 1897, 12; Philipsburg Herald [Kansas], July 2, 1896; “Two Women Architects,” Wichita Daily Eagle [Kansas] December 12, 1897; “Women Study Homes of Poor; Misses Gannon and Hands Solve Tenement House Problem,” Kansas City Journal, October 17, 1897, 14. Copper County Evening News, October 26, 1897. In 1896, Gannon received an invitation from the New York Press Club and the Press Club of Flushing, Long Island, to speak on “the tenement question and the plans which had been designed at the school and attracted so much attention.” The following year, she addressed the Sorosis women’s club on the same topic.2525New York School of Design for Women, Fourth Annual Report, June 15, 1896; “Sorosis Begins Its Work,” New York Times, October 5, 1897. In 1897, the housing pioneer and social reformer Jacob Riis called their solution “an extraordinary and marvelous achievement: marvelous in its simplicity and demonstration. We have all been groping within reach of the solution without finding it. I am content to know that the question I judged incapable of solution has been solved after all.”2626“Misses Gannon and Hands,” Kansas City Journal, October 17, 1897, 14. Plans of the tenements were published in Municipal Affairs in 1899 and, much later, in a book, Slums and Housing (1937).2727E. R. L. Gould, “The Housing Problem,” Municipal Affairs 3 (March 1899): 138–39; James Ford, Slums and Housing (Westport, Conn.: Negro Universities Press, 1937).

Portrait of Mrs. Dunlap Hopkins and Her Office. “One Woman’s Work. What Mrs. Dunlap-Hopkins is Doing in New York,” San Francisco Call, January 20, 1895

Portrait of Mrs. Dunlap Hopkins and Her Office. “One Woman’s Work. What Mrs. Dunlap-Hopkins is Doing in New York,” San Francisco Call, January 20, 1895

In 1897, the firm of Gannon and Hands relocated to 16 East Twenty-Third Street, a move that may have been related to Gannon’s marriage, on November 29 of that year, to John Walp Doutrich. The ceremony took place on Thanksgiving Day at the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue and Twenty-Ninth Street, just a few days before The Sun announced that the firm’s “recently designed tenements” were to be erected at 215 and 217 West Sixty-Seventh Street.2828The Sun [New York], November 25, 1897, 7. Doutrich, a friend since childhood, was employed as a tailor, but the marriage announcement focused on Gannon, “the architect.”2929“Miss Gannon Takes a Husband,” New York Tribune, November 30, 1897, 5. Two years later, the couple’s only child, Stephen Van Culan Doutrich, was born in North Bergen, New Jersey. Although few records have been located for the years after 1898, as of 1900 the firm appears to have been operating at 13 West Eighteenth Street.3030Dennis Steadman Francis for the Committee for the Preservation of Architectural Records, Architects in Practice, New York City, 1840–1900, 33. According to family history, the Doutriches moved to Spokane, Washington, that year, with the intention of establishing a tailoring business.

Bibliography

  • Allaback, Sarah. The First American Women Architects. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008, 83, 92.
  • Gannon, Mary Nevan, and Alice J. Hands. “A Model Tenement House for New York.” Municipal Affairs 3 (1899), 138–39.
  • Hands, Alice. “She Plans New Buildings,” What Women Can Earn: Occupations of Women and Their Compensation, edited by Grace Dodge, et al. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1899, 94–97. https://archive.org/stream/whatwomencanearn00dodgrich/whatwomencanearn00dodgrich_djvu.txt
  • Mathew, Kathleen. “Women Architects: The Career of Two Successful Young Ladies.” Cortland County Sentinel, McGrawville, N.Y., October 1, 1896, 8.
  • Miller, Joseph Dana. “Women as Architects.” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly 50 (June 1900): 202.
  • Severance, Alice. “Talks by Successful Women IX.—Miss Gannon and Miss Hands on Architecture.” Godey’s Magazine 83 (September 1896): 314–16.
  • Willard, Frances E. Occupations for Women. Cooper Union, N.Y: Success Company, 1897, 366–70. https://archive.org/stream/occupationsforwo00will#page/n5/mode/2up