In 1904, Julia Morgan became the first woman licensed to practice architecture in California. A successful and prolific architect during the first half of the twentieth century, Morgan was born in San Francisco in 1872 and educated at the University of California at Berkeley and L'École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Her trailblazing career helped open the field of architecture to women in the United States. Today she is perhaps best known for the design and construction of publisher W.R. Hearst's legendary California coastal estate.
She built a remarkably diverse practice, designing at least 700 buildings that are prized by owners and are now being rediscovered by architectural historians including the Berkeley City Club pictured right. At least one-third of her commissions came from women's colleges and organizations that took a feminist pride in her success. Morgan was also an influential member of the Arts and Crafts movement in the Bay Area, one of the few born in California. Biographer Sara Holmes Boutelle wrote: "Her preoccupation with light, with the relationship of a structure to its site, with flexibility of plan … and with the use of color and decoration make her work relevant to contemporary designers."
Morgan ran her office in the atelier style she had learned at the Beaux-Arts, creating a learning environment for all who worked there. Boutelle wrote: "Her generosity of spirit, as evidenced by the profit-sharing in the office and her support of her staff … make her come alive as a person dedicated to her associates and to the practice of architecture."
In 1951, she retired, closing her office in the Merchant's Exchange Building in San Francisco and preserving documentary evidence of her long and distinguished career. Julia Morgan died in San Francisco at the age of 85.