Masters Thesis

A New Kind of Woman: Gender and Civic Imagination in Los Angeles

The first half of the 20th century marked a period of rapid growth in Los Angeles. Across the United States professional city planners attempted to transform major cities. Los Angeles experimented with several plans but many women came to the city armed with their own plans and civic imaginations. By examining the gendered nature of city planning and the way that it collided with the new woman of the 20th century, we are able to understand the various ways that women pursued power through civic participation. Aline Barnsdall, oil heiress and patron of the arts, commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Southern California design for her home, Hollyhock House. Barnsdall’s tumultuous relationship with Wright and her conflict with city leaders like Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, reveal the limits of women’s power in a conservative environment. Christine Sterling utilized traditional methods of female power as she worked as a historical housekeeper in her preservation of Olvera Street. By courting powerful leaders and utilizing booster images of Los Angeles’s mythic, Spanish Fantasy past, Sterling gained power and transformed the landscape of downtown. Alice Constance Austin worked as an architect for the socialist community of Llano del Rio. The independent, experimental nature of the communal project allowed Austin the freedom to design a city from scratch and to express her feminist beliefs.


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