A Woman Architect in the Mad Men Era: The Story of Natalie De Blois

Former Union Carbide Building Lobby. Image © Ezra Stoller

On January 21, 1958, three women sat down as contestants for an episode of the popular television show “To Tell the Truth”, a quiz game in which a panel tries to guess which of the three contestants is who they say they are by asking them a series of questions. The announcer reveals the true identity of the person is a registered architect, has so far designed a Hilton hotel, and is a married mother of four. Each of the women, dressed formally in pencil skirts and blouses, introduces themselves as Natalie De Blois. As the panelists reveal their lack of knowledge about architecture, only firing off questions about Frank Lloyd Wright, one asks “What is the name of the building that was torn down to build Union Carbide?” The real Natalie De Blois, at the time a senior designer at SOM, firmly answers, “Hotel Margery.”

Architecture is one of the oldest recorded professions, dating back to ancient eras when builders designed historic huts and constructed some of the great wonders of the world. When we think about women who have been known as trailblazers of the industry, it’s astonishing that we often talk about women who we may interact with in the workplace day to day, or who our mentors may have learned from. Natalie De Blois was a modern-day pioneer of women in the design workforce, and although her legacy began only seventy years ago, it has significantly changed the way that women can participate in the profession today.

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