Beverly L. Greene was architectural industry pioneer that made history by becoming the first African American female to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in architectural engineering from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1936. A year later she earned her master’s in city planning and housing. In 1942, she became the first African American woman licensed to practice architecture in Illinois, and likely the country.
Ms. Green was known for her calm yet determined demeanor. She did not allow any challenges based upon her race and gender to interrupt her life’s vision. Chicago Housing Authority was her first professional position in which she broke the proverbial glass ceiling for both gender and diversity. Despite this ground-breaking honor, the mainstream Chicago press ignored her contributions. It became clear to Ms. Greene that Chicago did not align with her long-term career plan, so she set her focus on relocating to New York.
In 1945, the native Chicagoan packed her bags, degrees and vision and headed to New York where her work opportunities were more plentiful. She applied for an unlikely position to design Stuyvesant Town; a housing project funded by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The catch is that the housing community would not allow African Americans to live there. Despite this overt racial discrimination, Ms. Green applied and was the first architect to earn the position. During her tenure on the Stuyvesant Town project, she was awarded a scholarship to earn a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University on June 5, 1945 and left the project to further her educational accomplishments.
Beverly continued her architectural contributions at various firms specializing in healthcare, hospitality and higher education. Her work still exists in New York, Chicago, and even in Paris where UNESCO United Nations headquarters in Paris that Greene helped work on with architect Marcel Breuer before it was completed in 1958.
In an interesting twist to honor the architect’s life, her memorial service was held at Unity Funeral Home, a New York City structure she designed that later became a culturally relevant institution.
As a side note: An advancement in the civil rights movement in 1952 led to the approval of African Americans to live in Stuyvesant. Stuyvesant Town and similar developments in the Bronx and Harlem were created as affordable housing solutions especially for WWII veterans and their families. This nationwide housing crisis followed The Great Depression which seems eerily parallel to contemporary times.
Photo Credits: Ms. Greene – copyright Illinois Distributed Museum; Stuyvesant Town via Stuytown.com; UNESCO Building Paris:The Architect Marketing institute (larger) and Illinois Distributed Museum (up close); Unity Funeral Chapel via google.