Mary Rockwell Hook

A few weeks ago, I picked up this piece of cream ware at the Mission Road Antique Mall.

I’ve been interested in cream ware for a while and the coloring of this piece is similar to another I picked up from Suzanne Cooper, one of my favorite antique shops.

On the back of the new piece is a sticker identifying it as piece of the Dean and Mary Rockwell collection.

Rockwell is a name of note here in Kansas City, I thought it might be from a descendant of the Rockwell family from which one of our town’s most respected architects is a part.

It’s not. But, researching the piece took me on a tangent researching the architect, Mary Rockwell Hook; she was quite a woman. Mary was born in Junction City, Kansas in 1877 to a comfortable family. Her father, a grain magnet, took his family, including his five daughters, on many trips to Europe and the Orient.

Influenced by her extensive travels, Mary decided to be an architect. She graduated from Wellesley in 1902. She enrolled in the Chicago Art Institute to study architecture as the only woman in her class. She went on to study in Paris at the Ecole du Beaux Arts. The men in her class felt so strongly that architecture was a man’s field, they threw buckets of water on her after she finished her final exams.

When she returned to Kansas City in 1906, she joined the architecture firm of Howe, Hoit and Cutler. Her father would not allow her to draw a salary, but purchased lots in the city’s prominent Sunset Hill district for her to develop.

The neighborhood is hilly and curvy. The houses nestle in. She enjoyed using stone, brick and salvaged material together.


Mary wed Inghram Hook, an attorney, at the age of 44. I’ve concocted a soul mate for Mary in my head. Clearly, an independent woman of means, she must have married for love.

Hook has eight homes on the Historic Register in Kansas City.

Mary Rockwell Hook had an amazing life, an auspicious career. She was one of the first women architects in the country. She was honored by the American Institute of Architects on her one hundredth birthday; she had not been allowed to join the organization during her career because of her gender.

Hook also developed 75 acres in Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida. She died there on her 101st birthday.

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21 thoughts on “Mary Rockwell Hook

  1. How neat. It sounds like she was quite the woman. I am impressed with your research. The homes that she designed are very beautiful, and fit in well with their settings.

  2. Thanks for the kind words on the cream ware. Hook’s work is so good; I wish you could see the neighborhood so you could see how well the homes are integrated into the landscape. She must have been quite a woman – but I give her father credit, too. He exposed his daughters to a lot. One of the articles I read said all the girls were bright and “spirited.” Her parents must have encouraged her education. They, too, were ahead of their time.

  3. Wow! I grew up in a Frederick Law Olmstead neighbourhood, and it makes such a statement having an old architect-designed ‘hood, rather than a cookie-cutter development. Great post (as always).

  4. So interesting and inspiring–she was truly ahead of her time. Thanks for reminding me not to take the things we have today for granted.

  5. Just stubmled upon this. Mary Rockwell Hook came to our community and designed two houses in a small enclave…..

    “A quiet enclave of distinctive homes, “Sandy Hook” was developed by its namesake, Mary Rockwell Hook. A pioneer in the study of architecture—at a time when women were considered unsuited to the industry—Hook designed the first two winter cottages in the tropically secluded community, just off Ocean Boulevard on Siesta Key.

    Today, Sandy Hook continues to embody the spirit of Hook’s passion for art and architecture. The 42 single-family homes that share this private beach location are living monuments to that passion. “

    – Beth in Sarasota, Florida

  6. I am so happy to have found your blog and especially your story on one of my earliest heroines – Mary Rockwell Hook. I lived in one of her homes for over 15 years while growing up in KC, it is the one at 64th and Indian Lane in Mission Hills. I still consider that my “home” even though I have lived away from KC for 26 years! She was my design inspiration and I have ended up in the design field because of her and my devotion to her style and ideals of quality. I had the honor of meeting Mrs. Hook on her 100th birthday in Loose park after a day of touring all of her homes in KC, ours being one of them. I have worked in Paris with the best designers and have traveled all over the world and it is still my favorite place. Thank you for bringing attention to her and her selfless work. She is studied by most architects at some point in school, as I have praised her to every architect I have ever met! Reading your blog I see stories about many friends there and I will be a devoted reader.

    Leigh Chandler

  7. Leigh – what a treat to have lived in one of Hook’s houses. One of my dear friends, Sloane Simmons, also grew up in a Hook house and she too has said it had such an impact on her. I’m thrilled you’ve found Mrs. Blandings – thanks for reading.

  8. On Sunday 6/14/09 at 2 pm, the Kansas City Bungalow Club is hosting a slide show presentation on Mary Rockwell Hook at the Plaza Library (sorry for the short notice!). It will be given by Professor Tom Cooke, who grew up in one of her homes. Tom is now a realtor & is selling the home Mary built for her sister & neice. The neice, Jean, is now nearly 90 & is moving.
    Mary's wonderful 1970 autobiography, "This and That", can be found at the Missouri Valley Room of the KC Public Library (816.701.3400 & http://www.kclibrary.org).
    Mary rocked!
    Jan
    http://www.kcbungalow.org

  9. I am very happy to have found this blog. Mary Rockwell Hook is my great-grandmother. I am doing an assignment for a history class and this has led me to many discoveries about my family. I grew up vacationing in FL at my grandparent's house in Siesta Key, unaware of the history that surrounded me. I never had the pleasure of meeting my great-grandmother, she passed before I was born. Our family still has a cabin in CO that she built. The last time I was there I found an article she had written on the history of the cabin, and that has inspired me to learn more. Again thank you for your blog and also inspiring me to learn more about such an amazing woman.

    Emily Hook

  10. thanks for the photos! Mary Rockwell Hook was my grandfather's first cousin; her father's brother, George Arthur Rockwell, is my great-grandfather. Though I grew up in FL going to the beach at Siesta Key, and my parents had visited Mary there, I never knew her. Last winter visiting my mother in FL we drove around Sandy Hook on Siesta Key. The Rockwell family has an amazing collection of artists, engineers, architects, inventors,farmers, gardeners, interior designers, landscape designers among them.

    Virginia Ruth Rockwell
    Landscape Designer, Horticulturalist
    http://www.gentlegardener.com

  11. Thank you for this information! I just found some Susie Cooper dinnerware and several of the pieces have the "Dean and Mary Rockwell Collection" stickers on them. I plan to write about them in my blog, The Estate Sale Chronicles, and with your permission I'll put a link to this page so people can read your research and see your photos.

  12. I think I may have found some information on Dean and Mary Rockwell, but I'm still waiting for confirmation.

  13. I am researching the Rockwell family. My great aunt, Marguerite Lillian Hagar, was the daughter of Etta B. Rockwell. She was an artist, her brother, Carl, talented as well, went into the aerospace industry, designed engines and was very clever. I recently was made aware of a painting my great aunt painted of Mary Rockwell Hook. There must be some familial connection, but my search on Ancestry.com has been unsuccessful. If any of you Rockwells know of an Etta in your family, I would love to know more.

  14. Mrs. Blandings, I'm enjoying this blog 8 years after it was written! Like The Gentle Gardener, above, Mary Rockwell Hook was also my grandfather's first cousin. I knew Mary Hook as a dynamic lady with a keen mind and a subtle sense of humor. I remember, as a child, being in awe of her home in KC and thrilled to splash in her swimming pool, one of the first to be built in a private home. My father described in his memoirs that "Mary was easily recognized driving around KC – a lady in a white Chrysler convertible with top down, her red hair blowing in the wind, and a spotted Dalmation sitting on the seat beside her. She knew everyone."

    To Judy Hagar: the Rockwells have extensive genealogical information, and I'm betting with a few more details, we could help you locate Etta B. Feel free to contact me at rockwell150@aol.com.

    Karen Rockwell Elbadry
    Dobbs Ferry, NY

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