Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

The Women Behind Historic House Designs

“Edith Farnsworth, Reconsidered,” an ongoing exhibit at the modernist house, shows the home as Edith Farnsworth inhabited it the 1950s, including furniture she sourced from the women-owned store Baldwin Kingrey. Photo by William Zbaren.

On Nov. 17, the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, took a new name: the Edith Farnsworth House. This five-letter change marks a small but significant gesture in the decades-long effort to tell the story of one of America’s most famous modern homes, designed by Mies van der Rohe, without silencing the woman who lived in it on her own, paid for it with her earnings as a physician, and eventually decided to sell it to someone who would ensure its preservation.

Renaming the Edith Farnsworth House is a high point in the efforts to diversify the sites that we preserve and the stories we tell about them — often by discarding the narrative of the solo male genius.

“The designers, the architects involved — in many instances those were women, or women were part of the team,” says Christina Morris, manager of the year-old “Where Women Made History” initiative for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which owns the Edith Farnsworth House. “They were the patrons, they were the owners. Women were responsible for creating the preservation movement and continue to lead it today.”