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Feature on Ida Boyer. Topic: WOMEN & PEOPLE
Written by Rich Wallace in June, 1997

SHELBY COUNTY WOMAN IS FIRST FEMALE ARCHITECT IN OHIO

Many Ohioans, especially the residents of Cincinnati, were recently reminded of the power of Mother Nature by the surging Ohio River and the swath of destruction that was created in its wake. Newspapers in the Queen City carried stories about the great floods of the past, including the devastating flood of 1937. Disasters invariably create opportunities for some. Such was the case for a young college graduate from Shelby County. As a result of her work with the Army Corps of Engineers, principally in the area of flood control, she gained an opportunity to become the first licensed and practicing woman architect in Ohio. This is her story.

Ninety years ago this summer, a little girl was born to Calvin and Ethel Boyer. They gave her the beautiful name of India - after India Schoaff, a good friend of the family. The Boyers raised their family in Perry Township. Ethel Boyer was destined to be a pioneer of sorts herself. She served as the first woman on the Perry Township Board of Education for over a decade, beginning in 1930.

India's two brothers, Ralph and Howard, both chose traditional male professions and were successful. Ralph graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in electrical and mechanical engineering. He subsequently became vice-president of The Cooper Bessemer Corporation. Howard chose metallurgy as his major at Ohio State. During the summer following his first year in college, he lost his leg in a farming accident. Howard did not return to college, but studied on his own, and ultimately became chief metallurgist for American Bosch Corporation in Springfield, Massachusetts.

With encouragement from her parents, and wonderful role models in her brothers, India set her sights on a career in architecture. After graduating as class valedictorian from Pemberton High School in 1925, she also selected Ohio State. India recalls that "I felt I was not quite ready for college at 18, so I chose to work in the office at the Sidney Machine Tool Company. I made $10 a week." She began classes a year later in the fall of 1926.

The university had just opened the Department of Architecture to women, and six enrolled. To her surprise, India found that military training was required. She refused to participate. "I saw no point in spending my time marching on the field with the male students. In my senior year, the requirement was eliminated! " The rigorous academic workload also eliminated the other female students. By the beginning of her second year, only she remained.

India found the work difficult, and the reception from the male students cool at first. The university was also adjusting to the reality of its first female architecture student. On one occasion, she learned that a competitive examination was scheduled among the students. The winner would be invited to study architecture in France during the summer. India later recalled: "When I learned that I would not be eligible to take the exam, I became very upset and protested my exclusion. I was told that I could not be included in the competition because I might win and there were no facilities for women there."

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India Boyer

The longer she stuck it out, the more respect she earned. Toward the end of her tenure at Ohio State, the students had to compete in an all-day design project. She struggled alone to understand what the professor was expecting. Suddenly, two senior male students appeared by her side. To her relief, they helped her conclude the project.

Between her junior and senior years, she worked in the summer for Joseph Bradford, the architect for the university. India's dream was to continue to work for the university and him after graduation.

The spring of 1930 finally arrived. 1,450 students qualified for graduation. Only 11 received degrees in architecture. India was the only woman. It was with a great amount of pride that she accepted her diploma. Her plans of working for Joseph Bradford never materialized. TheGreat Depression was upon the country and there was no opportunity at Ohio State. Business conditions also ruled out her plan to pursue a graduate degree at Columbia University in New York City. It was back to the family home in Perry Township for India Boyer.

Her task was a daunting one. Not only was there little or no work during the depression, but she was trying to gain a foothold in a profession where there were no other women. India searched for work with Shelby County builders and found little. She struggled here for four years, and finally gave up. After taking an examination for a position with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, she was given a six month temporary appointment there. India was cautiously optimistic.

It turned out to be the chance she needed. She was offered and accepted a permanent job working on navigation and flood control projects. It was with the latter that she made her mark. "I found it much more challenging," she remembered. "After the great flood of 1937, everyone wanted protection from the ravages of Mother Nature. I traveled throughout the tri-state area inspecting not only flood control projects, but other engineering projects as well."

India also vividly recalls some of the political controversies that arose over the flood control measures that were instituted. "People were opposed to levies along the river. They also did not like my idea of removing the bridges across the Little Miami River." She was determined to do what Cincinnatians needed. She supervised, among other projects, the construction of the Beachmont levy in Cincinnati. India Boyer was appointed head of the architecture department of the Corps in 1939, and held the position for seven years.

She never lost sight of her original goal to work as an architect in private practice. India Boyer made history in 1941 when she became the first female in Ohio to sit for and pass the state architecture examination. After four more years with the Corps of Engineers, she was ready for private practice. She resigned her position, and along with several co-workers, founded the firm of Vogt, Ivers and Associates in the Queen City.

India became director of the firm's architectural division, and assumed responsibility for the contract drawings and specifications for commercial, industrial, educational and religious facilities. This work brought her into contact and competition with an all-male profession in the private arena. She relished the challenge. "It was dominated by men. I had to get used to that. Men didn't hire women." The only female employees with whom India worked during her career were drafters.

India Boyer can look back on a long list of successful ventures in the Cincinnati area. In the 1950's, Ryerson Steel Company was a large employer in the city. Boyer designed the entire architectural layout for the buildings and rail systems of the Ryerson complex and all its branch offices. She remembers working on the original WCPO -TV studios in Cincinnati as well as portions of the King's Island complex.

Other buildings on which India Boyer worked, well known to Cincinnatians today, include the Provident Bank and the Federal Building. India Boyer's interests in design spanned from commercial to industrial to recreational and educational as well. She designed the Elmwood Place School and the Shawnee Park. A heart attack in 1975 forced her into retirement. However, she continued to serve as a consultant for the Hamilton County Park District, Place School and the Shawnee Park. A heart attack in 1975 forced her into retirement. However, she continued to serve as a consultant for the Hamilton County Park District.

After her retirement, she took up watercolors as a hobby. Her sense of artistry and the habit she had developed as an architect concerning attention to detail served her well. Her paintings soon were the subject of local exhibitions.

Her pioneering efforts have been recognized throughout the state since she left the active practice of architecture. Several local leadership awards were presented to her. India Boyer was designated as one of the YWCA Women of Achievement in 1982. The next year, she received the Outstanding Alumnus Award from The Ohio State University.

Perhaps the highlight for her occurred in 1994. A group of women architects established the India Boyer Guild of Women in Architecture. As the founders of the group gathered to pay tribute to the Shelby County native, there was much talk about what a significant role India had played in creating opportunities for women in her profession. "She is a pioneer," Betsy Moore, one of the founders stated. "Even today in the large firms that may have 30 or 40 architects, there are only one or two women. It's a field that is still dominated by men. You can imagine what it was like 50 years ago."

India Boyer was modest in her response. "I just thought of myself as an individual doing what I had to do, " she recalled. As she approaches her 90th birthday, India Boyer recently reflected on her life. "Looking back, I am reminded that my career presented many challenges and often took precedence over my personal life.deliaamos.gif (77168 bytes) However, along with the challenges, came many rewards and much fulfillment." She resides in the Mt. Washington suburb of Cincinnati.

POSTSCRIPT: Ida Boyer passed away at the age of 90 on Monday, February 9, 1998, at the Hospice of Cincinnati in Blue Ash. (As reported in The Sidney Daily News, 2/12/1998, Pg. 2A.)

Another successful woman, from the turn-of-the century, was Mrs. Delia Amos (at right) who worked at Sidney’s local newspaper, The Daily Newspaper, from its opening in 1905. She traveled extensively in this country, Mexico, Europe, Egypt and the Holy Land. Mrs. Amos also served as President of the Ohio Women’s Press Association.

 

 

 

 

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