Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New Orleans Architect, Helena Freret

In the summer of 1895, The Daily Picayune reported on the Crescent City's first female architect:

"New Orleans is going to have a woman architect: Indeed, the young lady has already planned several of the finest residences in this city. She is Miss Helena Freret, daughter of the well-known architect, Mr. James P. Freret, and is undergoing a thorough course of study under the direction of her father. How did Miss Freret come to take up the study of architecture? Well, it 'just growed with her nature' as Topsy would have said. From a little child up Miss Freret has developed a wonderful talent for drawing and draughting, particularly in the fine detail work which is so prominent a feature of architectural drawing. Socially, Miss Freret is a great favorite and is really a very accomplished girl. But society did not satisfy her; she felt that she wanted to take up some study as a life work, even though she would need to have recourse to it as a means of subsistence. So without her father's knowledge she commenced the study of architectural designing all alone, for her talent is a natural one. Some time ago Mr. Freret accidentally came across some of these exhibitions of his daughter's genius. He questioned her about it: she told him how she wanted to take up some congenial pursuit. Just for the purpose of passing her time, and asked him to allow her to go down to his office and study just like the young men. He laughed, and told her that she did better work than the young men and that if she wanted he would engage her services at home. Miss Helena was delighted, and not only proved an apt pupil, but soon became her father's most valued assistant. She has not given up her social pleasures, by any means, but they are only a secondary consideration to the delightful work which is now a part of her very life. Architects who have seen her draughting and designing pronounce it wonderful in a woman. Miss Freret repudiates the idea that it is wonderful 'in a woman.' for she believes that a woman can accomplish anything she sets her mind to, and has proven by the many handsome residences she has designed, and which plans have been accepted over those of men competitors, though they do not know it is a girl, young and beautiful withal, who is proving a dangerous rival. When questioned by 'She' as to her views of the profession of architect for a woman, Miss Freret said that she considered it one admirably adapted to her physically and intellectually, and one which would certainly prove highly remunerative to an able, earnest woman worker. Miss Freret has opened a new line for women wage earners in Louisiana."

That same year, two architects from James Freret's office, Charles A. Favrot and Louis A. Livaudais, resigned in order to form their own eponymous practice.

Helena Freret attended Saturday drawing classes at Tulane University in 1887, for which she received distinction.(1)  She died in New Orleans in April, 1944.

Excerpt above from "She." The Daily Picayune (2 June 1895): p. 29.

(1) The Register: Tulane University of Louisiana. Catalogue of Students 9th Annual Session, 1886-1887. New Orleans, LA.

Image above: James Freret, Architect, Commercial Place, New Orleans. Two Story Frame Residences at Nos. 217 & 219 N. Rampart Street, New Orleans. Client unidentified. Grisaille elevation. Circa early 1880s. James Freret Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

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