The Social Glue

The Social Glue

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Jenny Thomason
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Jenny Thomason


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The Social Glue: The Story of the Dallas Architects’ Wives Club

It’s a beautiful, sunny March day, and I pull up to a single-story, dark brown brick mid-century modern in North Dallas. Clerestory windows face the street, and on the front door is a little needlepoint sign that says “Come in Please.” Inside, the warm wood provides the backdrop for an Architects’ Wives Club reunion. Pat Meyer — or Mrs. Jim H. Meyer, using the styling with which the club referred to the women back in the day — is the host.

“Pat, your house is really cool!”

“Oh, Jenny, we all have really cool houses — our husbands are architects!”

For the record, my husband is also an architect, but my house is not like this one.

So the reunion begins. The Architects’ Wives Club members reminisce at the brunch, arranged after I contacted them to find out more about the now-defunct group. The women who’ve gathered today were members long after the club began, but represent the group when it was the social glue of the Dallas architectural community.

Photo credit: Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA

Founded in 1941 to host events for the second convention of the Texas Society of Architects in Dallas, the Architects’ Wives Club was the first of its kind in Texas. Mrs. John B. Danna, wife of one of the TSA’s founders, organized the women to aid the convention and then served as the club’s inaugural president. The first meeting was at the home of Mrs. Herbert M. Tatum. Now, 77 years later, we begin today’s event with a moment of silence for loved ones lost, and it’s clear these women mean a lot to each other.  

Donna Pierce, tall, well-dressed, and not short for words, is one of the first women to arrive. She served as the 1968-69 president. At the time, she was married to John Allen Pierce, whom she met at Rice University while both studied architecture.  

“In those days we all had three or four children. Architects Wives’ was our day to get out without the kids. Have lunch and be with all of our friends. It was the highlight of the whole month. We were such a tightknit group. We had so much in common because we worked so hard to build our own homes,” Donna says.

In 1969, vandals burned down the Pierce home and the family lost everything in the fire.

“We had nothing, and everyone helped,” she says. “Guess what some of these girls did? . . . They knew I’d lost my Waring blender. It’s what you make drinks in, and they brought me a new Waring blender. I still have it.”

Donna pulls out a stack of 8x10 black-and-white photos. Most pictures are from the TSA conventions, with the couples in evening attire, the women’s hair perfectly coiffed. “Those were the days when we had wrapped our hair in toilet paper. You’d get it done once a week and wrap it in toilet paper to make it stay. Everyone did it. It wasn’t just me. I’m not the crazy one!” Donna says.

Photo credit: Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA

It was a different time, and no one misses the days of wrapping her hair in toilet paper. “Thank goodness for the hair dryer!” one member says.

Meetings were held monthly, usually at a member’s house, and they always had a speaker. Susan Fisk joined the group in 1978 or 1979.  “We had just had our first son and (Architects’ Wives Club) was my mother’s day out. I had the old family housekeeper keep my kids when they were itty-bitty. This was my rest and recovery. This was my friendly group that I had on Wednesdays to go to somebody’s house and have lunch, and we always had a cool speaker.”

At the end of each year, they elected officers for the following year to manage the programs and events.

“It was just fun meeting ladies. We were all young, and we were meeting women with knowledge and experience. We loved being able to go into the architect’s house because they are all so creative. We saw such interesting places. We would always go to a fancy country club for the last meeting, and we wore hats. You had to have hats!” says Yvonne Davis, president in 1967-1968.

For some, the group was simply “lunch, program, good-bye,” as one puts it when pressed for stories. Indeed, it is the conventions, the couples’ nights, the vendor-sponsored ski trips, and events around town that produce today’s stories.  

Photo credit: Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA

“We all had the same taste in men,” says Jane Clement, the 1979-80 president and a Texas Christian University alumna dressed in purple.

Carol Corgan, wife of the younger Jack Corgan, served as president in 1980-81. This petite woman with a pixie cut is quiet at today’s brunch until she recalls the belly dancer that came to her house for a couples’ event.

“Oh, it was the ’70s!” she says to explain why there was a belly dancer at her house. No one remembers whose idea it was, but eventually the group settles on Perk Corgan, Carol’s mother in-law. After reading the recipes that Perk contributed to the club’s cookbook Cooking Directions, I can see why they might assume it was Perk. (See recipes for Grape Wine and Sudden Death in the online version.)

The cookbook was published in 1976 for the Texas Society of Architects convention in Dallas, then republished in 1978 for the national convention. Babs Cape served as chairman of ladies’ events for the 1976 event.

“The conventions were back when women came as the spouses. We would host activities for all the women,” she says. “When we had the national convention here, we did a book review.  We didn’t realize it until it came up that this was a unique thing for Dallas. [Dallas] had a group of women who did book reviews. They would belong to a book club, but you didn’t have to read the book. You would be entertained by this person who would tell the story and maybe come in costume. One of our own members, Carolyn Dance, did a beautiful job with this. It was something that wasn’t done in other cities, so we had it as a highlight for that convention.”

Ruth Anderson has brought memorabilia from the 1978 national convention. “Architects’ Wives ran the gift shop and we wore these aprons,”  she says as she shows me an apron with a bold yellow, orange, and red pencil graphic and a matching convention program. “Can you believe it! A pencil theme! Who would even think of doing something like that now!”

“I remember that I can no longer wear high-heeled shoes because I walked the convention center for so long, I destroyed my feet,” Babs recalls.

Jane helped organize the book review at that convention. “I did tours, manned the gift shop, and organized the book review at Neiman Marcus.

“I remember the public relations lady came and said, ‘Mr. Marcus would like to say a few words to you all.’ It was Lawrence Marcus. He came and talked and talked for an hour. He was so anxious to tell us about all the different architects he had hired to do their stores. That would’ve have been great except I was so concerned about the book review that needed to start. We all ended up being late for the party that evening,” she says.

Beth Beran Duke hosted a dinner for convention guests at her new house, designed by her husband, Ed Beran of Beran & Shelmire. I am curious if she made anything from the convention cookbook but was quickly reminded that this was a different era. There was a cook to help prepare the meal. “I remember the help saying, ‘If you quit openin’ that oven door, that meat might get ready!’”

Beth often hosted events. After one AIA event, Beth recalls, “They came back to our house, and O’Neil Ford looks around and says, ‘Every man in this room started out with me’ at some point.”

The women’s bonds superseded their husbands’ professional relationships, whether friendly or tough rivalries. It was an era when a wife supported her husband by holding dinners, typing specifications or even offering advice on a home design.

The club also provided opportunities for these women to travel and tour architecturally significant buildings. The result? A group of AIA supporters knowledgeable about the architectural profession.

“We got to see places that we normally wouldn’t have access to,” says Pat.

Yvonne and Beth tell me about when they and their husbands traveled to Europe. “The Texas Society of Architects went to Europe in 1962. There were 30 of us. We were gone 2½ weeks, went to seven countries. That was a great trip. There were several from El Paso, Houston, Fort Worth, San Antonio.  I remember seeing all those fabulous buildings in Europe thinking, ‘We’re just babies!’ What about the one in Germany and we didn’t even have time to stop!”

“You farmed your children out to Memaws. It was pre-kid for us. I don’t believe they ever did another trip. We were drivin’ and drivin’ and by the end we were not going to Paris looking like we did!  We had to see a hairdresser before going to Paris!”

Photo credit: Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA 

Every year starting in 1941, the group’s historian collected the program from the year, newspaper clippings about the club, and photos, and put them in a large leather-bound scrapbook. Each scrapbook covers a decade, and all are kept in the archive at the AIA Dallas office. The scrapbooks end in 1995 without much explanation as to why the group dissolved. So what happened?

When the stock market crashed in 1987, the group began to fade.

Photo credit: Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA 

“It didn’t change overnight. You would get word that someone was cutting people,” one member says.  

Then more women pipe in, “Business went that way, and we were forced to go back to work and it never changed back. Women could be architects!”

“No one wanted to be associated with their husband’s profession anymore,” Donna recalls hearing at the final meeting. Once in a while, someone would try to restart the group, but it never gained traction.

“I wish we got together more often, but when we do, it’s special,” Donna says.

Jane, who had cracked a dark joke earlier about how many of them are left, looks through old photo albums as the meeting winds down and sadly says, “Gosh, we do have a lot that are dying.”

Time is precious, and these friendships have proved to be long-lasting and meaningful beyond their husbands’ profession. I’m not sure anything replaced this group.  

Over the course of talking with the women at this brunch, my perspective of the organization shifts. When first hearing about the group, I couldn’t comprehend what a group like this would do.

Born around the time the group started to decline, I grew up with a working mother. My entire life, especially my working life, has been in an era when women are expected to work and support themselves without depending on a husband. In my lifetime, women are marrying much later in life, if ever. To hear firsthand about the Architects’ Wives Club and these women’s perspectives is enlightening.   

Before I met them, I assumed their role must have been networking and a bit like what our marketing department does in house. But none of my preconceived ideas were true.

Each woman was an active participant in her husband’s career and heavily involved in the community in addition to their primary role of caretaking. The purpose of the organization was support for their husbands’ careers, support for the architectural community, and support for each other. 

Photo credit: Craig D. Blackmon, FAIA 

There is a newspaper clipping titled “Architects Need Training in Art of Keeping House,” published shortly after World War II, in one of the scrapbooks. In this article, the women offer suggestions for how to make a better designed house. They suggest thinking of the kitchen as a family gathering space due to “servantless days” ahead and connecting the house more with the landscape. “The architect husbands themselves ... applauded some of the house ideas, lifted a superior masculine eyebrow at others, but by and large admitted the little women might have something.”

Aside from the cringe-worthy language, I really enjoy this moment from history and describe it to Donna.

“That’s why women should be architects!” Donna says. “I’m so proud of you.  I go around Texas to talk to women scientists because I’m an astronomer now, and it means so much to me to see how far we’ve come.”  


Jenny Thomason, AIA, is an associate at Omniplan.

Food is one of those cultural indicators not only of a place, but also a time. Cooking Directions, the cookbook produced by the Dallas Architects’ Wives Club became a staple of home cooks within our architectural community. While Cooking Directions is no longer in print, it is available online here.