Landscape Pioneer Put Her Mark on Tenleytown

By Farleigh Earhart

Rose Greely

Rose Greely

In 1925 at the age of 38, Rose Greely became the first licensed female architect in Washington, D.C. Greely is known as a pioneering landscape architect, who ran her own thriving firm for 40 years, working primarily (though not exclusively) on residential commissions. Among her clients were ambassadors, senators, businessmen, military figures, and socialites – including a few who called Tenleytown home.

Greely designed gardens at Under Oak, a private residence on Nebraska Avenue owned by Wiley T. Buchanan, Jr., who served as chief of protocol and Ambassador to Luxembourg under President Eisenhower and later Ambassador to Austria. She also worked the grounds of 4000 Nebraska Avenue. Now the site of the residence of the Ambassador of Japan, it formerly was the home of Mrs. Andrew Parker, whose husband had been the president of the department store Woodward & Lothrop. Greely also designed pathways, plantings, and a playground for the Hillcrest Children’s Home, now the site of the National Presbyterian School.

Greely was a D.C. native, one of six children of Adolphus M. Greely, a General in the U.S. Army and an Arctic explorer. She attended the National Cathedral School and a year of finishing school in New York. After making her debut in 1905, Greely traveled abroad extensively with her family and studied interior design in Chicago and metal working in Washington, D.C. and Florence, Italy.

As Greely was reaching adulthood, the discipline of landscape architecture was in its infancy. The American Society of Landscape Architects was founded in 1899 and Harvard’s landscape architecture program was established in 1900. Harvard, however, did not accept women students at that time.

In 1916, Greely joined a handful of young women to train under Harvard architecture professor Henry Atherton Frost at the Cambridge School of Domestic and Landscape Architecture for Women, a school Frost helped found that later became a part of Smith College. Greely completed her coursework in 1920 and thereafter worked in Boston for several landscape architects and for House Beautiful as a writer. Greely returned to Washington, D.C. in 1923 and worked for architect Horace Peaslee for a couple of years until she opened her own business.

Though Greely was the first woman licensed as an architect in Washington, she was not the only woman architect practicing in the area at the time. Greely collaborated on projects with Gertrude Sawyer, another Cambridge School graduate and Peaslee protégée, including Point Farm, the country retreat of Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson Patterson in Calvert County, MD. Point Farm, now the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, offers an opportunity for the public to see the works of these two together.

Additional information about Greely, Sawyer, and 10 other women architects who practiced in Maryland from the 1920s to the 1960s, can be found in a traveling exhibit organized by the Women in Architecture Committee of the AIA Baltimore Chapter.

Want to learn more about the people and places that form Tenleytown’s history? Register for Cultural Tourism DC’s walking tour of the neighborhood, and join tour guide Farleigh Earhart for “Tenleytown: The Country Village that Grew” on September 26.