Against all Odds

MIT’s Pioneering Women of Landscape Architecture


Eran Ben-Joseph, Holly D. Ben-Joseph, Anne C. Dodge


*Recipient of the 6th Milka Bliznakov Prize Commendation: International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA)




This research is aimed at exposing the influential, yet little known and short-lived landscape architecture program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) between 1900 and 1909.  Not only was it one of only two professional landscape architecture education programs in the United States at the time (the other one at Harvard also started at 1900), but the first and only one to admit both women and men.  Women students were attracted to the MIT option because it provided excellent opportunities, which they were denied elsewhere. Harvard, for example did not admit women until 1942 and all-women institutions such as the Cambridge School or the Cornell program were established after the MIT program was terminated. 


Unlike the other schools of that time, the MIT program did not keep women from the well-known academic leaders and male designers of the time nor from their male counterparts.  At MIT, women had the opportunity to study directly with Beaux-Art design pioneers such as Charles S. Sargent, Guy Lowell, Désiré Despradelle, and the revered department head Francis Ward Chandler. Historical accounts acknowledged that a woman could “put herself through a stiff course” at MIT including advance science and structural engineering instruction.


Several of MIT’s female students went on to be well known landscape architects, authors and teachers.  Rose Standish Nichols (1872-1960), was best known as a landscape gardener and author. She wrote several books including English Pleasure Gardens (1902), Italian Pleasure Gardens (1928) and Spanish and Portuguese Gardens (1924). Nichols was also an accomplished wood carver.  Marion C. Coffin (1877-1957), an active practitioner, received her degree from MIT in 1904. Some of Coffin’s best known projects include her designs for the grounds of Winterthur, the Henry F. du Pont estate and the campus layout for the University of Delaware. She won the Gold Medal of the Architectural League of New York for her work in 1930. Coffin was highly regarded in the field and perhaps the best known female landscape architect to graduate from MIT.  Mabel K. Babcock (1862-1931), received her degree from MIT in 1908. She had not only an active practice but also taught landscape architecture courses at Wellesley College from 1910-1914. Among her best known designs are the MIT President’s garden and Great Court, and the campuses at Wellesley and Bates College in Maine. 


For the full paper see: LandArch@MIT

For a visual presentation see: LA@MIT

For media coverage see: PLAN