Part 2 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month
Described as the first woman female qualified as an architect in Europe, Signe Ida Katarina Hornborg (1862-1916) was born in Turku, Finland, one of Europe’s most forward-thinking countries in terms of gender politics at the time. Even so, she was only allowed to study part-time at the Helsinki Polytechnic Institute under “special permission” as a woman (she was naisoppilas, a “female student” who required a special permit); even this thin opportunity seems to have required the influence of her father, the reform-minded Bishop of Porvoo. After her graduation in 1890, Hornborg joined the office of Lars Sonck, where she contributed to the design of beautifully detailed, Classically-inspired civic buildings with occasional flourishes that show the office’s interest in national Romanticism. Other work included such civic-minded projects as a fire station that she provided pro bono and municipal offices serving poor children.
Hornborg was the first of several female architecture graduates in this decade, including Inez Holming, Signe Lager Borg, Bertha Stollenwald, Stina Östman and Wivi Lönn, the first woman recognized for independent work in Finland.