Lowthorpe had a rival in nearby Harvard Square, Cambridge.  Lowthorpe was the first school in the USA to offer education solely for women in horticulture and landscape architecture.  Their certificate programs began in 1901.  Harvard’s degree program in landscape architecture began in 1900 but was open only to men.  About 15 years later, in 1915, the Cambridge School of Domestic Architecture and Landscape Architecture came on the scene in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This institution was the first to offer women a degree in landscape architecture.

Beginning with private tutoring sessions for one student, Katherine Brooks, Cambridge School founder and director Henry Frost expanded the school to include 4 other women.  His colleague from Harvard, Bremer Pond, became the second faculty member who also taught briefly at Lowthorpe.  The program was referred to for a time by Harvard men, rather condescendingly, as the “Frost and Pond Day Nursery” since classes met in the Frost-Pond office.  Women students soon proved their mettle with a curriculum every bit as broad and intense as that at other schools of landscape architecture.  The school found a permanent home in 1928 at 53 Church Street, Cambridge, in a 19th-century house still used for educational purposes today.

One key difference with Lowthorpe was the lack of a horticulture curriculum and hands-on gardening work.  The city setting did not allow for a greenhouse or layout of borders designed and tended by students.  Instead, Cambridge offered both landscape architecture and an architectural curriculum emphasizing uniting houses and gardens (“domestic” architecture).  The school later regretted limiting women to residential design only.  Many graduates made their careers in designing buildings of all types and city planning.

Cambridge preferred to enroll college graduates.  Some students tried one school and then transferred to the other.  Polly Binney Wakefield, Lowthorpe ’38, is an example.  The two schools offered several joint programs in the 1920s for a few years.  Cambridge had a higher enrollment in the 30s, with 70 students, compared to Lowthorpe’s 30.

Cambridge graduate Dorothy May Anderson wrote a history of the school in the 1980s called Women, Design and the Cambridge School. It’s a chatty memoir full of anecdotes, quotes from alumnae, and photos. Eventually, the Cambridge program merged with Smith College in 1932 and became an off-site graduate school of Smith. Landscape architecture as a profession for women had been a strong interest at Smith for 20 years before the merger.

However, a change of administration at Smith and the onset of World War II caused the financial underpinning of Cambridge to be pulled away overnight.  The Cambridge School closed its doors in 1942 and encouraged its current students to apply to Harvard.  Women were being admitted to fill empty seats for the duration of the war. 

Key Cambridge graduates include Anne Baker, a landscape architect in the office of Beatrix Jones Farrand, who served as Director of Lowthorpe, 1932-34.  Mary P. Cunningham, Lowthorpe ’15 and Cambridge ’18, wrote a monthly garden to-do list feature for House Beautiful and contributed many articles about plants and design.  She also taught at both Lowthorpe and Cambridge, as did Fletcher Steele and Anderson.  Eleanor Raymond, Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher, and Sarah P. Harkness were several Cambridge graduates who became noted American architects.                                                               

This school provided the option for bright, motivated women to earn a credential that would offer them entree to all facets of design, indoors and out. In its short 27-year history, it produced over 800 graduates. A cordial relationship with Lowthorpe was always maintained.  It’s unfortunate that Lowthorpe did not choose accreditation and degree-granting capability.

To view additional archival images, school history, and a creative reuse vision for 53 Church Street, see the master’s thesis of Harvard graduate Sonya Falkovskaia.

Former home of Cambridge School at 53 Church Street, Cambridge, MA

The building at 53 Church Street, Cambridge, that housed the Cambridge School for the final 14 years of its existence.  Students designed a modernist wing in the rear when additional classroom space was needed.  Wikipedia Commons.

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