September 27: Theodate Pope Riddle’s Architectural Masterpiece


As one of the first licensed woman architects in the United States and the first to be licensed in both Connecticut and New York State, Theodate Pope Riddle was one of Connecticut’s great designers and innovators of the early 20th century.

A portrait of Theodate Pope in the last decade of the 19th century. (Connecticut Historical Society)

Born into a wealthy family in 1867, young Effie Pope attended school at the prestigious Miss Porter’s School for Girls in Farmington before changing her named to Theodate in honor of her grandmother and embarking on a grand tour of Europe, where she fell in love with the architectural styles of Great Britain.  Upon her return to the United States, Theodate hired private tutors to teach her the principles of professional architecture and design, and promptly acquired practical experience by purchasing and restoring historic homes throughout Connecticut.  In 1901, she completed the “Hill-Stead” in Farmington (now open to the public as the Hill-Stead Museum), a colonial revival estate intended to serve as a retirement home for her parents.  Other notable projects of hers include the Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut and the restoration of Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood home in New York City.

Uninterested in the late Victorian era’s emphasis on domesticity and child-rearing, Theodate spent most of her life devoted to her professional career as an architect.  She traveled extensively and was one of the few people to survive the sinking of the Lusitania ocean liner after it was bombed by a German U-boat in 1916.  While she married later in life and desired no sons or daughters of her own, she was a lifelong advocate for child welfare, fostering two young boys with her husband and incorporating her philosophies of healthy childhood into her magnum opus: The Avon Old Farms preparatory school for boys.  Riddle designed the campus of Avon Old Farms school to mimic an English Tudor village, and even set up a blacksmith’s forge on-site to create authentic hand tools for carpenters to use in the construction of the dormitories and classrooms.  It took nearly ten years for Riddle’s vision to become reality, but finally, on September 27, 1927, Avon Old Farms opened its doors for the first time.  Riddle remained heavily involved with the school until her death in 1946, and today, Avon Old Farms remains one of the most prestigious prep schools in the northeastern United States.

The Chapel at Avon Old Farms, with a water tower behind it, exemplifies Riddle’s Tudor-style architectural design.

Further Reading

Deb Cohen, “A Cotswold Village in Connecticut: Avon Old Farms School,” The Front Door Project

Nancy Finlay, “Theodate Pope Riddle: Connecticut’s Pioneering Woman Architect,”

Theodate Pope Riddle,” Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame

History,” Avon Old Farms School

Hill-Stead Museum webpage