“I’m an architect with a capital A. Being a woman has nothing to do with it.”
Old Oregon Alumni Publication, 1979
Chloethiel Woodard Smith, FAIA, was the sixth woman inaugurated into the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows and one of the first women to have a nationally recognized reputation in American architecture. At the peak of her practice in Washington DC, she led the country’s largest woman-owned architecture firm.
Smith made a point of never casting herself as a “Woman Architect” and was adamantly against being defined by her gender. “She would walk into a room full of male developers and put them in their place,” chuckled Arthur Cotton Moore, a distinguished Washington DC architect who worked for her in the 1960s. “She was a strong, unique figure. There really was not anyone else like her.”
Smith played a large role in shaping the urban fabric of post-war Washington DC. The redevelopment of its southwest quadrant was among her most notable large-scale, urban planning commissions. Less known are her contributions to architecture in Maryland, most in the suburbs surrounding Washington DC, but some as far as Annapolis and St. Michaels.
In Rockville, Smith was the architect of choice for the Chestnut Lodge Research and Therapy Center for Children (now demolished). She designed its recreational and occupational therapy complex to be expandable with standardized wall panels, steel frame structure, and exposed web beams that created open, flexible interiors. Large areas of glazing alleviated a sense of confinement among the patients and encouraged participation in the outdoor activities. As described in Architectural Forum in 1955, the recreation center was an “outstanding” example of a health facility created through close collaboration of architects and hospital administrators.
In the early 1950’s, the firm where she partnered developed simple, quick-to-construct tract homes in rapidly expanding Silver Spring and Bethesda. But it is her custom home designs that truly showcased her modern sensibilities. Elizabeth A. Creveling writes of one early custom home: “There is no attempt to recall a past style; rather a new domestic vision through clean lines and simple materials.” It’s that vision as an architect that stood her apart with a capital A.