Theodate Pope Riddle

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Hill-Stead Museum
Avon Old Farms School

Theodate Pope Riddle (February 2, 1867 – August 30, 1946) was an American architect. She was one of the first American women architects as well as a survivor of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania.


Born Effie Brooks Pope in Salem, Ohio, she was the only child of industrialist and art collector Alfred Atmore Pope and his wife Ada Lunette Brooks, and was a first cousin to the mother of architect Philip Johnson.

When Effie was 19, she changed her name to Theodate in honor of her grandmother Theodate Stackpole. She graduated from Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut and later hired faculty members to tutor her privately in architecture. The first woman to become a licensed architect in both New York and Connecticut, in 1926 she was appointed a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.[1]

She designed Hill-Stead, the family estate (now Hill-Stead Museum) in Farmington, and designed and founded the famous Avon Old Farms School in Avon, as well as Westover School.

Among her best-known architectural commissions was the 1920 reconstruction of the birthplace in New York City of former President Theodore Roosevelt. In the fall of 2014, Pope's work on that site was recognized in a competition, Built by Women New York City, launched by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation to identify outstanding and diverse sites and spaces designed, engineered, and built by women.[2]

Professional associations[edit]

Theodate Pope was a member of the Architectural League of New York, the Archaeological Institute of America, and the Mediaeval Academy of America.[citation needed]

RMS Lusitania[edit]

On May 1, 1915, she boarded the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania as a First Class passenger, together with her maid Miss Emily Robinson and Professor Edwin W. Friend, a fellow Farmington resident. When the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine on May 7, Theodate and Edwin were just going for a walk on the boat deck. They almost got into one of the lifeboats, but before stepping inside the couple watched the boat being thrown up into the air. They decided it was a better idea to jump off the deck. Theodate turned to her maid saying, "Come, Robinson", and then jumped. When she rose to the surface, both Emily and Edwin had disappeared. Instead, she found herself caught in a mob of screaming, struggling people trying to keep themselves alive. She found herself "being washed and whirled up against wood." Something hit her hard on the head, but, although half-stunned, she surfaced at last. "People all around me were fighting, striking and struggling," she later recalled. Then a man "insane with fright" made "a sudden jump and landed clean on my shoulders, believing I could support him." He had no life jacket, and his weight was pushing her back under. Somehow she found the strength to say, "Oh, please don't", before the waters closed over her. Feeling her sink, the man let go. Theodate surfaced again and looked around for Edwin Friend. Instead she saw close by her an elderly man, another man with a bloody gash in his forehead, and a third clasping a small tin tank as a float. Seeing an oar floating nearby, she pushed one end toward the old man and took hold of the other. Moments later she lost consciousness, but was pulled in from the sea with boat hooks and laid among the dead "like a sack of cement". One woman pleaded with the rescuers to give her artificial respiration. They cut off her fashionable clothing and went to work. To their amazement, she came around. Gazing confusedly around her, Theodate gradually realized she was lying on the floor wrapped in a blanket and staring into a small open-grate fire. Neither her maid nor Professor Friend had survived.[3]

Personal life[edit]

On May 6, 1916 Theodate married 52-year-old John Wallace Riddle, a former American diplomat. [4]


She died on August 30, 1946 at her home in Farmington. [5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Women in Architecture". ARVHA. Retrieved March 6, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation Hosts Leadership Awards Gala, Kicks off Built By Women Exhibition". Architectural Record. Retrieved March 8, 2015. 
  3. ^ Preston, Diana (2002). Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy. 
  4. ^ "Mrs. Riddle's House". 
  5. ^ "The Pope Riddle Family - Hill-Stead Museum". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Brandegee, Arthur L. and Eddy H. Smith. Farmington, Connecticut, The Village of Beautiful Homes. Farmington, CT, 1906. Reprinted by the Farmington Historical Society, 1997.
  • Cunningham, Phyllis Fenn. My Godmother, Theodate Pope Riddle. Canaan, NH: published privately, 1983.
  • Emeny, Brooks. Theodate Pope Riddle and the Founding of Avon Old Farms School. Avon, CT: published privately, 1973 and 1977.
  • Hewitt, Mark A. The Architect and the American Country House 1890-1940. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.
  • Hill-Stead: An Illustrated Museum Guide. Farmington, CT: Hill-Stead Museum, 2003.
  • Katz, Sandra L. Dearest of Geniuses, A Life of Theodate Pope Riddle. Windsor, CT: Tide-Mark Press, 2003.
  • Larson, Erik (2015). Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. 
  • Mercer, William W., ed. Avon Old Farms School. Arlington, MA: Royalston Press, 2001.
  • Paine, Judith. Theodate Pope Riddle: Her Life and Work. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1979.
  • Preston, Diana. Lusitania, An Epic Tragedy. New York, NY: Walker & Company, 2002.
  • Ramsey, Gordon, ed. Aspiration and Perseverance, The History of Avon Old Farms School, 1984.
  • Smith, Sharon. Theodate Pope Riddle, Her Life and Architecture. Internet publication:, 2002.
  • Stern, Robert A. M. Pride of Place, Building the American Dream. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988.
  • Torre, Susanna, ed. Women in American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective, A Publication and Exhibition Organized by the Architectural League of New York. New York, NY: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1977.

External links[edit]