With diploma, grand tour, and awards in hand, Howe set to establishing a name for herself in Boston’s architectural scene. Notably, after two years as a draftsman working in an architectural firm in the early 1890s she decided to boldly strike out on her own, going into business for herself and eventually founding her own firm of Lois L. Howe in Boston in 1900. Her first few original designs in the late 1890s were all for West Cambridge homes; in these first years of designing, her family and social connections were of great help in establishing her practice.
Howe’s practice is believed to have been the first American architecture firm founded by a woman.* Howe would expand her firm in 1913 with the hiring of Eleanor Manning, a Lynn, Massachusetts native and the daughter of an Irish-American immigrant family. Manning was another MIT graduate, and was the President of the same women’s student club, Cleofan, that Howe had founded while at “the Tech.” Manning brought a passion for communal and working-class women’s housing and living that would inspire several of the firm’s projects. In 1926, “The Firm,” as it came to be known, was rounded out with the addition of Mary Almy, another Cambridge native who had come to architecture as a career in her mid-30s.
For nearly forty years, Howe and later her associates operated one of the nation’s only woman-owned architectural firms. In their opportunities to design and re-design (links?) homes that had women’s needs taken into consideration—both as households for families and for the rapidly-expanding female professional class of the early 20th century—Howe and company’s skill and sensitivity was celebrated.
* Lois Lilley Howe founded her architectural practice in 1893 with two male partners; they left the firm in 1900. Other landmark women in American architecture include Louise Blanchard Bethune, who joined her husband Robert’s firm in 1881. Louise Bethune is America’s first recorded practicing professional architect. In 1894, the year after Howe began her practice, Mary Gannon and Alice Hands founded their firm in New York City, where they would go on to revolutionize urban tenement housing.