- Documenting the Role of Women in Local History -
(1889 - 1943)
Anna Wagner Keichline, born in Bellefonte in 1889, was Pennsylvania's first registered woman architect. Her first architectural project was the design of a schoolhouse in Milesburg. Not only can one find her building projects in central Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Washington D.C., she also patented several inventions and architectural designs that contributed to the evolution of architectural planning.
Keichline was the youngest of four children. Her talent was apparent from an early age, and Keichline's parents nurtured her talent by furnishing her with a home workshop and a collection of fine carpentry tools. She began to receive architectural recognition long before she graduated from the Bellefonte High School. When Keichline was fourteen years old, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter recognized the genius of the young and gifted architect. She had designed and constructed a calling card table out of oak, which won her first prize at the Centre County fair, and the reporter noted that the craftsmanship in making this piece was comparable to that of a highly skilled mechanic. The reporter also noted the environment in which she had the privilege to work: "At her home she has a workshop complete in every detail, and is in possession of the best outfit of carpentry implements to be found in the town."
After finishing high school in 1906, Anna Keichline attended The Pennsylvania State College with the intent of earning a degree in mechanical engineering. A year later she transferred to Cornell University to pursue a degree in architecture.
At college we worked, many times, three and four days and nights without stopping; most always in those stretches I took time to make coffee and sandwiches for the fellows, then they would carry my board to the dormitory, where I could draw all night.
Earning a degree in architecture – a female student pursuing an education in a male dominated field – certainly was not easy, but Keichline was convinced that women had a unique talent for architectural design, specifically kitchens, because it was a domain that a woman knew far more intimately than a man.
Equipment of houses especially has been developed by people who seldom have experience using or operating these materials – there should be scientifically built houses, and this can be done better by women than men. Indeed, it will never be accomplished until women take hold.
Anna Keichline received her first patent the year after she graduated from Cornell for an improved combined sink-washtub design. The goal of this design was to more readily accommodate the space problem in the kitchen and to make the use of it more comfortable for the user. In 1924 she patented a kitchen design that maximized comfort and convenience, efficiency, and conservation of space. Interesting features of the design included sloped countertops to facilitate easier cleaning and glass-doored cabinets to make the contents visible to the user. In 1929 Keichline patented a design for an apartment bed. The bed folded into the wall to maximize the use of space in a small apartment.
Perhaps one of her most impressive inventions was the "K Brick." The K Brick, patented by Keichline in 1927, was a forerunner of the modern concrete block. It was a clay brick for hollow wall construction that proved to be much more versatile than its predecessors were. Fireproof, cheap and light, the K Brick could be filled with insulating or sound-deadening material. In her article entitled A Tile Designed to Effect a Scientifically Built Wall, Keichline pointed out that her K Brick "requires less clay to make than brick and because of its design takes less time to fire – the tile would reduce the weight of the wall by one-half." The American Ceramic Society recognized Keichline for the invention of the K Brick in 1931.
She had seven patents during her lifetime, all reflecting her central goals of enhancing comfort and convenience to those who would make use of her inventions.
Aside from her architectural career, Keichline owned, drove, and repaired her own automobile (a rarity for women during that era), served as a special agent with military intelligence during World War I, was active with President Hoover's Better Housing Conference, and marched for a woman's right to vote. However, her architectural designs remain the centerpiece of her fascinating accomplishments. In Bellefonte her designs include the Plaza Theatre, the Cadillac Garage and Apartments, the Harvey Apartments, and several private homes.
Keichline's great niece, Nancy Perkins, has followed in her great-aunt's footsteps by registering several of her own patents, and receiving a degree in industrial design from the University of Illinois. She began her own company, Perkins Design Ltd. and is marketing a replica of the 1903 prize-winning card table, the piece which first earned Anna Wagner Keichline recognition.
- State College Woman's Club -
- Sylvia Beach - Susanna Carson - Vivian David - Sarah Lucinda Hall - Ann Dunlop Harris -
- Lizzie Ihling - Anna Keichline - Myrtle Magargel - Catherine Wister Miles -
- Mary Harris Morris - Jane Davis Patton - Rebecca Rhoads - Mary Louisa Willard -