Women did not “happen into” landscape architecture practices in the early 1900s; there were too many obstacles for them to easily pursue professional careers. Unlike texts focused on male practitioners, these essays disclose the women’s personal stories as they relate to the pursuit of their careers. And rather than using an encyclopedic approach of biographical sketches as in Charles Birnbaum and Robin Karson’s Pioneers of American Landscape Design (2000), Women, Modernity, and Landscape Architecture uses the women’s stories to illustrate their experiences in the modernization of landscape architectural practices. The stories relate the challenges middle-income women faced in obtaining professional educations commensurate with their male counterparts and in finding or creating their roles in landscape planning and design for a modernizing world. The authors relate how women’s personal and professional partnerships negotiated and challenged societal expectations of middle- and upper-income women as women were fighting for political and professional recognition. This was long before the second wave of feminism—characterized by Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique ), Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex ) and Carol Hanisch (“The Personal is Political” )—broadly challenged preconceived gender roles and biases. The essays reveal the social and cultural expectations that stymied many middle-class women from actively participating in the professions, and they testify to the necessary sense of desire and perseverance required for women to join the professional ranks before the 1960s.
Chronologically ordered, the essays provide a timeline documenting a transitional process from traditional practices to a modernist professional agenda. The collection of essays can be read as a guide to what constituted a necessary modern education: studies of planting, plant sciences, and design theory; practical experience; and intentional travel to see and analyze historic and developing spatial practices in landscape design as well as to build broad practical exposure and professional connections. The essays demonstrate the roles women filled as landscape architects shaped new housing estates, urban neighborhoods, industrial towns, and campuses. The authors reveal how women successfully incorporated modern jobs, industrial processes, transportation, and recreational needs into designed places in rapidly changing regions across the globe. Women addressed challenges to scenic landscape preservation and large-scale land planning, and they helped shape urban and regional parks, industrial and civic landscapes, and the urban schemes of expanding cities and new towns.