1: Early Life and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts

Julia Morgan was born in San Francisco in 1872.  While she would ultimately work throughout California, as well as in other states, her journey to fame begins in 1890 when she enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley. She matriculated in Engineering as there was no architecture program in the Western United States at that time. A gifted student, she was fortunate that her talent was recognized and encouraged. Following graduation she worked for Bernard Maybeck who gave her primary responsibility for designing the Lawson house, a residence for a professor of geology at the University.[1]

With Maybeck’s encouragement she moved to Paris in 1896 to attempt to gain entry into the École des Beaux-Arts, the most respected architecture school in the world. At the time of her arrival, the École did not admit female students, but they unexpectedly allowed female students to enter examinations for the fields of painting and sculpture just as Morgan was ready to give up and leave Paris. Because they had not specified whether Architecture would be open to female students, Morgan took the entrance exams for architecture. The first time in 1897, she placed 42nd of 376 applicants—an excellent score, but the school took only the top 30. She tried and failed again in April of 1898. Finally, in October 1898, she placed 13th of all applicants, and became the first woman ever to enter the department of Architecture at the École. She worked in the atelier of Benjamin Chaussemiche.[2] Normally, the successful applicant had an unlimited amount of time (up until their 30th birthday) to accumulate points towards graduation. After 16 points, lower classmen became upperclassmen, and upon the achievement of a further 10 or more points, finished their course of study. Morgan had only 4 years to complete this, as her 30th birthday loomed in 1902. Points were only awarded through competitions, never coursework.  While her school work was grueling, she nevertheless found time to travel and sketch.

This panel shows some of her schoolwork and travel sketches.

[1] Boutelle, Sara Holmes, Julia Morgan Architect, (New York: Abbeville Press, 1995)  24.

[2] Boutelle, 31.

1: Early Life and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts