Alabama Architect Helen Davis: Alabama’s First Licensed Female Architect

Posted April 18, 2018 | Tags: residential architect

In a time and industry where women’s rights were not even considered as being equal to men’s, Helen Sellers Davis managed to breakthrough and create a pioneering career in architecture.

​Born in 1912, Davis had an interest in constructions sites and buildings at an early age. She was amazed by the process and never had a doubt that architecture was her calling. Fortunately, she had open-minded professors at the University of Auburn. She recalled in a news release years later that those professors did not oppose her rights of studying architecture.

I never encountered any kind of hostility when I went to Auburn to study architecture. As far as they were concerned, I had just as much right as anyone else to be there.” – Helen Sellers Davis

She graduated in 1935 from Auburn and started practicing the next year. According to the Alabama Board of Architects, here career tenure established her as the third longest-practicing architect in the U.S.

She and her husband started working for Miller, Martin, and Lewis, Architects after she graduated in 1935. Three years later, they partnered with Van Keuren, creating the firm as Van Keuren and Davis, Architects & Engineers. The latter is still open today, and it is known as Davis Architects.

Helen Davis was an active Presbyterian and had taught the Sunday School class for ten years at South Highland Presbyterian Church. In 1954, she had the opportunity to redesign the space that was dedicated to the church’s library. It is still visited today.

She leaned more towards residential architecture, adding a feminine spice and taste to the house plans of her brother-in- law, the dentist John Dupree Davis.

In 1960, she opened her own practice. She had a sincere belief that modern architecture should be based on the classic style’s rules of thumb – "I like to design in a contemporary manner, but I draw heavily on classical styles. Lasting modern design must incorporate the principles of classic architecture."

A Life-Long Career in Architecture

In 2003, Auburn’s College of Architecture, Design, and Construction awarded her with a Lifetime Achievement Award, for more than 65 years in her career. At the same time, they recognized her merits as the first licensed female architect in Alabama. Additionally, on the 6th of November the same year, the then-governor Bob Riley declared the Hellen Sellers Davis Day. She passed away in 2008, leaving behind two sons and a daughter, all of them pursuing the same career as their mother.

Helen Davis contributed to bursting the stereotype that architecture is a male only profession. She was a pioneer and a memorable Alabama Architect.


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