Emily Williams (architect)

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Emily Williams (1869–1942) was a pioneering female architect who was active in San Jose and San Francisco in the early 20th century at a time when there were very few women who were able to enter the profession.[1] She mainly designed houses, with conveniently planned interiors, two of which are listed buildings in San Francisco.


The daughter of Edward Williams, president of the San Jose Water Works, Williams was initially a teacher. However, when she met Lillian Palmer around 1898, she was encouraged to fulfill her dream of becoming an architect. In 1901, the two moved to San Francisco where Williams studied drafting at the California High School of Mechanical Arts. As a result of the difficulty for a woman to find employment in the construction industry, she used the inheritance from her father to build a small cottage with Palmer's help. The two women, who completed all the work themselves, received attention from the press and soon became a tourist attraction. Williams' elder sister, Edith, who believed in Emily's abilities, commissioned three more cottages on adjacent lots. Soon afterwards, Anna Lukens from New York, an early woman physician, engaged Williams to build a house for her in Pacific Grove while Jessie Jordan, wife of David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University, had her build a summer house in Carmel. As a result of these successes, she went on to design at least eight more houses in the San Jose area.[2]

In 1908, Williams and Palmer traveled to Europe and Asia. In Vienna, Emily studied architecture and Lillian metal work. On their return, while Palmer was successful selling metal art work at "The Palmer Shop" in San Francisco, Emily received few commissions but built their own home on 1037 Broadway, now a listed building. In the early 1920s, she did however receive a few commissions but appears to have stopped working as an architect in 1924. Emily Williams died in 1942 at Los Gatos, suffering from asthma, and is buried alongside Lillian Palmer at Los Gatos Memorial Park, San Jose, California.[2]

Arthur M. Free House[edit]

The Arthur M. Free House on 66 South Fourteenth Street in San Francisco was designed by Emily Williams in 1905. A listed building since 2002, it is a brown shingle construction with a recessed entry under a gable.[3]


An article published in the San Jose Mercury and Herald on November 11, 1906, stated: ""Miss Williams' houses have won her an enviable reputation... They are not only beautiful and artistic, but convenient, livable and planned to save steps and with places to put things." The article explained that Williams' interiors were better than those designed by men.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sarah Allaback (23 May 2008). The first American women architects. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03321-6. Retrieved 5 March 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Inge S. Horton, "Emily Williams: San Jose's First Woman Architect", Women Architects in Northern California, first published in Newsletter of PAC San Jose, Vol.17, No.4. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  3. ^ Susan Dinkelspiel Cerny, "An Architectural Guidebook to San Francisco and the Bay Area", Gibbs Smith, 2007. p.208.


  • Diehl, Sarah J.: "Emily E. Williams (1869–1942): early Pacific Grove architect", Heritage Society of Pacific Grove, 2009, 27 p.
  • Horton, Inge Schaefer: Early Women Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area: The Lives and Work of Fifty Professionals, 1890–1951, 2010, McFarland, ISBN 978-0-7864-4656-8.