Laura R. White: Teacher, Scholar, Architect

This week’s blog continues the “where are the women in Laurel County’s history?” theme I started a few weeks ago.

My subject this week is Miss Laura Rogers White, who first caught my attention when she was mentioned in the Dec. 2, 1881 issue of The Mountain Echo newspaper: “Laura R. White has opened an office in Washington City for the practice of her profession— architecture.”Laura-White

Hmmm. A woman architect in 1881? A Laurel County woman opening an office in Washington, D.C., as a professional architect in 1881?

I had to know more.

So I began researching Laura Rogers White, and found that she was quite a remarkable woman for her time.

Laura taught school in Laurel County and also did land surveying here for quitclaim deeds. She was a Clay County native, born near Manchester on Dec. 11, 1852, a daughter of Daugherty and Sarah White.

She was one of the first eight women to graduate from the University of Michigan (1874), and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in Boston and the Sorbonne in Paris, France.

Laura worked as draughtsman in the Office of the Supervisory Architect of the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., for two years, and served as a Kentucky delegate at the first session of the first annual meeting of the Women’s Peace Party Convention in Washington, D.C., in January 1916.

Probably her greatest architectural achievement was designing the First Christian Church of Ashland, Kentucky, which was completed in 1890.

According to the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for the First Christian Church of Ashland, “the designer of Ashland’s old First Christian Church provided the community with a tasteful house of worship that represented an affluent and fashionable neighborhood near the heart of the downtown, and that now serves as an 1890 landmark near the center of the central business district.”

Ashland’s pastor, W. H. Hull, said at the church’s dedication in 1891, that “the success which has attended my work here is largely due to the substantial aid of Miss White, our architect.”

To put into perspective just how rare Laura White’s profession was in the late 1800s, there were only 118 architects in Kentucky in 1900. Of those, only two were women (A History of the Profession of Architecture in Kentucky, p. 20).

Although Laura R. White apparently did not design any other buildings—at least none that were built—she did design a circular staircase for the ante-bellum house at 1844 Griffith Avenue in Owensboro, Kentucky.

She traveled widely throughout Europe and the United States, but eventually returned to her native Clay County to manage the White family’s salt-making business. She never married or had any children.

Laura Rogers White died of a heart condition on Jan. 25, 1929 at the home of her sister, Elizabeth White Hager, in Owensboro, Kentucky. She is buried in the White family cemetery at Goose Rock in Clay County, Kentucky.

Danna C. Estridge, Guest Blogger

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