Part 15 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month
Natalie Griffin De Blois (1921-2013) was one of the most successful women in American architectural practice at mid-century, although her contributions to Modernism in America have been eclipsed by the men with whom she collaborated. Born in New Jersey to a family of engineers, De Blois determined from an early age to go into architecture. After education in Oxford, Ohio, she completed her architecture studies at Columbia. The fact that her class of 18 included six women was more about the wartime population than any contemporary increase in gender equity in architectural practice.
De Blois worked primarily at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (first in the New York office and in Chicago after 1961), frequently listed as senior designer or design coordinator for vast headquarters projects including those for Lever (1952), Pepsi (1960, above), and Union Carbide (1960) all New York, the Equitable Life Assurance Company in Chicago (1965), Ford in Dearborn (1956), and the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company in Bloomfield (1957). However, it is the better-known men of SOM, like Gordon Bunshaft, who have historically received all of the credit for their joint work and, in this case, a Pritzker as a result of it (in 1988).
In the same year that De Blois was inducted into the AIA’s College of Fellows–the only woman among the 60 new fellows in 1974–she co-founded Chicago Women in Architecture with Carol Ross Barney, Cynthia Weese, and others. Soon thereafter she removed to Houston, joining Neuhaus & Taylor and six years later starting to teach architecture at the University of Texas. De Blois also led an American Institute of Architects initiative to interview female students in architecture programs around the country to better understand gender disparity in education. In an oral history archived by the Art institute of Chicago, De Blois named being a mentor to other women as one of her greatest contributions to the field.