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IDEC Honors Women Leaders in Design

March 11, 2019

In 2006, I sat in front of a lecture hall on the campus of Kingston University. Having just completed my presentation on Dorothy Draper, a well-known interior decorator, I prepared for the Q&A along with the other scholars who offered research on the early decorators. The discussion was stimulating until a gentleman in the audience made the following suggestion: “Don’t you think it is time we stop focusing on individuals and instead focus on larger themes within the profession?”

This stopped me dead in my tracks. Interior design has finally achieved a foothold in its historic narrative, and here comes a male architect suggesting that individuals no longer matter and that we essentially gender-wash the history of the profession leaving its foundations squarely defined (and virtually unchallenged) by male architects. To say that my response was quick, and perhaps barbed, would probably be an understatement.

Pictured (left to right), top row: Anna Brightman (1969-1971, deceased), Kate Ellen Rogers (1971-73, deceased), Dorothy Fowles (1981-1983), Shirlee Singer (1989-1991), Joy Dohr (1991-1993), Jo Ann Thompson (1993-1995), Nancy Blossom (1997-1998); middle row: Jean Freeman (1999-2000), Stephanie Clemons (2000-2001), Delores Ginter (2001), Mitzi Perrit (2003), Anna Marshall Baker (2004), Pamela Evans (2005), Jane Kucko (2007); bottom row: Jill Pable (2009), Denise Guerin (2010), Lisa Waxman (2011), Lisa Tucker (2012), Katherine Ankerson (2014), Cynthia Mohr (2015), Migette Kaup (2016).

Women in IDEC's History

While numerous scholars continue to explore the roles of women (and men) in the development of our profession, it is time to expand that dialogue and turn our eyes to the important role women played in interior design education. Twenty of the 36 presidents of the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) have been women. These leaders, while lesser known, have demonstrated leadership at the highest level and have been instrumental in shaping and advancing interior design, both its education and practice.

They helped design, develop and implement our accrediting body (now known as CIDA), our top-tier Journal of Interior Design and our professional organization for educators – IDEC. They confronted challenging issues and initiatives, like the pursuit of a single professional organization, and championed the autonomy and necessity of our profession when questioned by outside groups. Topics of universal design and sustainability received their full support and thus defined generations of designers, which has led us to be a profession based on the simple idea of improving the lives of our fellow humans while being stewards of our precious planet.

An Homage to the Women of IDEC

Perhaps more importantly, at least from an individual perspective, some of these women have directly affected my own personal journey. Perhaps they were a teacher, a mentor, a colleague, a friend. I have fond stories about many of these amazing women, with little time to share. Lisa Waxman taught me CAD (version 1) at Florida State University. Jo Ann Thompson was my first chair at Washington State and continues to be a cornerstone in my career as an academic. Nancy Blossom pushed me to be a better colleague and scholar, while Pamela Evans filled me with a confidence that helped me realize my true potential.

I would be remiss if I did not extend this homage to all the women of IDEC, as so many have advanced design education and the profession. In closing, during this (and every) national Women’s History Month, remember the people who helped you become who you are today. If they are on this list, and still with us, reach out to them and remind them how they helped define your future and your history.

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About the author
John Turpin