Olive Tjaden (Van Sickle) — Women’s History Month


MARCH 1-31, 2016

Portrait of Olive Tjaden, architect, as a young woman. Courtesy, Cornell University.
Portrait of Olive Tjaden, architect, as a young woman. Courtesy, Cornell University.

Of the 24 architects practicing in Fort Lauderdale more than 50 years ago, the only female architect practicing was Olive Tjaden (pronounced Jay’-Den) who arrived from New York, where she had already practiced architecture for twenty-five years.  She lived at 30 Hendricks Isle, designing duplex apartments for herself and several clients.  Tjaden practiced from an office on Hendricks Isle in one of the duplex apartments she designed, beginning in 1946 when she obtained her Florida license to practice architecture.  She was perhaps the first woman to practice architecture in Fort Lauderdale.

City of Fort Lauderdale building department records document Tjaden as architect of record for at least two dozen single family residences, duplexes, and a church.  An active member of the Business and Professional Women of Broward County, Tjaden designed the clubhouse in the Croissant Park neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, according to club minutes and Elizabeth Athanosakos, a Fort Lauderdale attorney.

Olive Tjaden was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on November 24, 1904.  Considered one of the most prominent women in architecture in the Northeast for more than two decades, Tjaden was for many years the only woman member of the American Institute of Architects.  She matriculated in the study of architecture at Cornell University at the age of 15.  She completed her course of study in four years, one year ahead of the normal five-year course of study.

She began practice with some of the most prominent architects of that time, including Gustav Erda and Thomas Lamb (distinguished in the design of theaters and cinemas). Some years later, Tjaden earned a certificate in industrial design at New York University and a certificate in city planning at M.I.T. Tjaden designed more than 400 homes, churches, and ecumenical structures in Garden City, Long Island.  So many houses, in fact, the town’s mayor once quipped that the city’s name ought to be changed to Tjaden City.

Tjaden left the New York City area in 1945, relocating to Hendricks Isle off East Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she once again took up the  practice of architecture for another 30 years after securing a Florida license to practice architecture. In 1981, Cornell named the building housing part of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning in Olive Tjaden’s honor.  In the photograph (right) Tjaden, as architect, supervises the work on her Long Island residence to house her and her parents.

Tjaden was active in the attempt to develop a world archive celebrating women in all areas of life.  Tjaden died on March 15, 1997, at the age of 92.  Tjaden left most of an estimated $12 million estate to her alma mater, Cornell University.  Women’s History Month is March, 2016 by Presidential Proclamation to celebrate the countless contributions of women to our  Nation.  Remember Olive, especially.  Olive died leaving no surviving spouse, nor surviving children or grandchildren to remember her  distinguished  life and work. A life and work worthy of celebration this Women’s History Month, March 1-31, 2016.

Residence designed by Olive Tjaden for herself a her parents.
Residence designed by Olive Tjaden for herself and her parents on Long Island.



Women’s Center for World Archives —  “No documents.  No history”

Olive Tjaden actively engaged in the movement to create a world center for women’s archives.   The eminent  historian Mary Ritter Beard led the movement from 1935 until 1940.  Joan Wallach Scott wrote: “Without visibility…women would not be included in the record of the past and so would have no sense of historical memory or identity.  Mary Beard put it very succinctly when she set out to organize a world center for women’s archives: “No documents.  No history”.  Michel Foucalt wrote: “Archives provide the stuff of memory, the raw material out of which collective identity and a place in history are fashioned. In those five years, archivists brought together various collections throughout the world. At the end of the war, the collections were returned to the various institutions from which they came.  But the principle of such an archive remain vitally important and the objectives Beard and others pursued should guide the formation of any collection of archives.









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