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Emily Helen Butterfield

Emily Helen Butterfield
Emily Butterfield as ΑΓΔ sister at SU,[1]
Born (1884-08-04)August 4, 1884
Algonac, Michigan
Died March 22, 1958(1958-03-22)
Occupation Architect

Emily Helen Butterfield (August 4, 1884, Algonac, Michigan – March 22, 1958, Neebish Island) was a pioneer in the Michigan women's movement.

She was Michigan's first licensed female architect, one of the founders of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, active in Greek life, and a founding member of the Detroit Business Women's Club, the first professional women's club in the nation.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Architecture 2.1
    • The Detroit Business Women's Club and the BPW 2.2
    • Greek activities 2.3
    • Publications 2.4
    • Art 2.5
  • Retirement and death 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early life

Butterfield was born in Algonac, Michigan, in St. Clair County, near Port Huron. She attended Detroit Public Schools. Butterfield and her father shared a great love of art. In her teenage years she and her father went on sketch trips to the western United States and Europe.[2]



Butterfield was accepted into the architecture program at Syracuse University in 1903. In 1907 she became the first licensed woman architect in the state of Michigan. With her father, she established the firm of Butterfield and Butterfield in 1917. The firm specialised in church architecture, and led the transformation of churches, especially Methodist, from Sunday meeting halls to centers of daily community and social activity. She practiced architecture in Detroit and Pontiac, planning 26 churches throughout the state as well as other buildings including factories, summer camps, stores, schools and homes.

The Detroit Business Women's Club and the BPW

The Detroit Business Women's Club, the first professional women's club in the nation, was started in 1912, by Butterfield (the first president), publisher Emma Spoor, and manufacturer's agent Grace Wright.

"I think it never occurred to us that we were doing something absolutely unique, I know I never would have had the idea if it had not been that all of my business acquaintances were men, and I was actually lonesome for speaking acquaintances with business women as I pattered up and down the avenue at the noon hour looking for a place where a lone woman might eat." --Emily Butterfield [3]

In a series of mergers and assimilations, the Club became part of what is now known as BPW/Michigan, in turn a part of the oldest and largest organization for working women in the world, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.[3]

Greek activities

Arms of the ΑΓΔ Fraternity, designed by Butterfield

Butterfield was active in the college Greek movement. As an associate of the heraldry to design the coats of arms of several sororities and fraternities, among them her own ΑΓΔ coat of arms in the spring of 1906[4] as well as the coats of arms for Lambda Omega (later merged with Delta Zeta), Theta Phi Alpha, and Phi Beta sororities; she co-designed the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority coat of arms and the crest of Tau Kappa Epsilon.[4]

Butterfield also designed the coats of arms for Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, the national fraternity for men in music.

She also designed the chapter houses for the Syracuse and Michigan State chapters of ΑΓΔ. When the fraternity established a summer camp (the "Alpha Gamma Delta Summer Camp Lodges") for underprivileged children in Jackson, Michigan in 1920, Butterfield was the architect of the camp and was camp manager until 1924.[5] She served as editor of the Alpha Gamma Delta Quarterly, the fraternity publication, for 7 years.

Butterfield had a big impact on her fraternity and Greek life, as noted in the 2004 Alpha Gamma Delta Centennial Keynote Address:

"In the United States in 1900, three-quarters of the states forbade married women to own property in their name. In 1909, the members of Alpha Gamma Delta overlooked the statistic and planned ahead by starting a house fund in hopes of purchasing their own home. In 1928, they challenged the societal constraints once again by not only purchasing but building the first house — and we all know the name of the architect — Emily Helen Butterfield."[4]


Emily and her father also shared a love for, and studied the art of, heraldry, and she authored College Fraternity Heraldry in 1931.[6][7] She published a children's book in 1933, Young People's History of Architecture,[8] in which she used her illustrations from her many travels.


Butterfield was an accomplished illustrator, working in pen and ink and watercolor, illustrating mainly nature, Michigan, and architectural scenes. She exhibited at the J. L. Hudson Gallery and at the Toledo Artists Club.[2] Her artwork was used in her publications.

Retirement and death

Butterfield retired to Neebish Island, where she served as postmaster during World War II. She died on March 22, 1958[4] and was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame for her work in the field of architecture in 1990.


  1. ^ From the [1] page of the ΑΓΔ site, accessed December 18, 2006
  2. ^ a b From Butterfield page of Michigan Women Hall of Fame, accessed December 18, 2006
  3. ^ a b quoted at the BPW/MI (Business and Professional Women, Michigan chapter) site, about us section, accessed December 17, 2006
  4. ^ a b c d e From the heraldry page of the ΛΧΆ fraternity, accessed December 18, 2006
  5. ^ from Quarterly Winter 2003 issue, page 4.
  6. ^ College Fraternity Heraldry, Publisher, Menasha, Wisconsin, 1931. (information from Halston library site
  7. ^ College Fraternity Heraldry Amazon ASIN: B00085CS7U ISBN unknown, from info page on site
  8. ^ Young People's History of Architecture, Publisher, Dodd, Mead & company, 1933. Amazon ASIN B00085TRS8 ISBN unknown, from info page on site

External links

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