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  • Writer's pictureFlorida Trust

Florida Women Who Made History: Marion Manley

Updated: Mar 4

Guest blog post by Jim Moore

In commemoration of March as Women’s History Month, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation proudly spotlights the pioneering ladies whose impactful contributions helped shape this state’s built environment. As always, reader suggestions for future profiles are invited.

Marion Manley was the second woman registered to practice architecture in Florida (License Nbr 105, issued Sept 6, 1918), and the first in Miami. So rare were female architects at the time Manley joined the AIA, her acceptance letter was incorrectly addressed to “Mr. Marion Manley”. She graduated from the School of Engineering at the University of Illinois, one of nine land-grant universities which had established schools of architecture prior to the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Shortly after graduation, Manley followed her brother Lester to Miami. Arriving in 1917, the Miami area was experiencing a period of notorious land speculation and vibrant construction.

As a young woman in Miami Manley became part of a group “centered around the houses that belonged to Arthur and Helen Gulliver on St. Gauden’s Road in Coconut Grove. One-time housemate Marjory Stoneman Douglas referred to the place as the center of her social life; recalling that the Gillivers had several little clapboard cottages built for the tropics, cool and comfortable, and they lived in one and rented out to others. Manley, the architect whom we called Archie, lived in one of the Gulliver houses. And we became best friends.”

Manley’s body of work includes numerous residential designs in and around Miami and Coral Gables, a variety of public buildings (as draftsperson or contributing architect), and the master plan for the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus in partnership with Robert Law Weed.

During the post-war period Manley and Douglas became community or social activists. Douglas waged her famous campaign to save the Everglades while Manley served on civic review boards (e.g., Coral Gables Board of Supervisory Architects and City of Miami’s Planning Board) and rose to leadership roles in the local AIA chapter.

Contemporaries of Manley characterized her as being tall, imposing, and competent-- and even prone to wearing big, black round-famed eyeglasses, à la Le Corbusier.

When asked late in life why she chose to pursue architecture as a career, Manley recounted, “I just wanted to work at something in which I could use my brain and my hands.” Manley was inducted into the AIA’s College of Fellows in 1956, only the fourth woman to be so recognized.

Notable works:

Master Plan for University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus, 1945-46, in partnership with Robert Law Weed.

Cloyd Head House, Coconut Grove, 1938, in collaboration with Chester Hart, a Chicago architect.

Numerous “tropical modern” houses.

Fink House, Coral Gables, 1940. Architect Denman Fink, uncle of Coral Gables’ founder George Merrick.

Further reading:

Marion Manley: Miami’s First Woman Architect. Catherine Lynn and Carie Penabad (University of Georgia Press, 2010).

Historical Museum of Southern Florida, Marion Manley collection. Repository for Manley drawings and associated documentation.

Marion Isadore Manley: Pioneer woman architect. Emily Adams Perry. Florida Pathfinders (St. Leo College Press, 1994).

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