Part 5 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month
Ella Briggs (1880 – 20 June 1977) born in Vienna, then part of the German Empire. In spite of its progressive reputation, the art scene in Vienna was strictly traditional when it came to gender roles, as a reflection of broader social trends: women artists were not allowed to take part in the fin-de-siecle “Ver Sacrum,” nor the structure of the Secession, nor the Hagenbund, nor the older Künstlerhaus. In 1897 the Viennese Kunstschule für Frauen und Mädchen was established to provide education for women who were welcome in few other places. Briggs pursued training in painting at the Viennese Women’s Employment Association and the University of Applied Arts, and then looked far afield to actually begin a career. Moving to the United States between 1903-1916, she worked as an interior designer before returning to Europe to study structural engineering in Salzburg and architecture at the Technical University in Munich. By 1921 she was the first woman to join the Austrian Engineers and Architects Association and the first woman to work as an architect in Austria. In the next years she established herself as an architect of vast residential complexes, completing the Pestalozzihof (above) and Ledigenheim in Vienna, and later Berlin, until 1933. As a Jew, she returned to Vienna for three years before emigrating to England, where she again took up projects for housing cooperatives. Having successfully escaped the Nazis, she worked as a naturalised British citizen from her office in London to the end of her life.