March 25, 2021

Boundary-Crossing and Standard-Breaking: Alumna India Boyer

When India Boyer crossed the commencement stage in 1930, she became the first woman to graduate at The Ohio State University with a degree in architecture. In 1941, she became the first licensed woman architect in the state of Ohio.

Portriat of India Boyer
India Boyer, photo courtesy of The Boyer Guild of Women in Architecture.

When India Boyer crossed the commencement stage in 1930, she became the first woman to graduate at The Ohio State University with a degree in architecture. And in 1941, she became the first licensed woman architect in the state of Ohio.

Born in Sidney, Ohio in 1907, India Boyer attended Pemberton High School where she graduated as the class valedictorian. When she matriculated at Ohio State in 1926, the university had just opened the Department of Architecture to women. Five other women enrolled with Boyer. While a student she was a member of Tau Sigma Delta, an honorary architecture society, and a sister of Alpha Delta Theta sorority.

Notable during this time was the requirement of military training as part of her core studies. Boyer refused to participate in the training, and the campus requirement was eliminated during her senior year. This was neither the first nor the last obstacle she faced. Recalling her exclusion from a competitive examination whose winner would study architecture in France during the summer, Boyer said: “When I learned that I would not be eligible to take the exam, I became very upset and protested my exclusion. I was told that I could not be included in the competition because I might win and there were no facilities for women there.”

During the summer between Boyer's junior and senior years at Ohio State, she worked for Joseph Bradford, the architect of the university. By her senior year, Boyer was the only woman remaining from her original class in the architecture department. Among the 1,450 students graduating from Ohio State in 1930, Boyer received her Bachelor of Science in Architecture with just ten other students. 

Tau Sigma Delta Architecture Fraternity - 1930
India Boyer, bottom row, fifth from left. Photo from The Ohio State University 1930 Year Book.

Graduate studies and employment prospects were limited due to the Great Depression. Boyer eventually accepted an appointment with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, where she worked on navigation and flood control projects. Following the great flood of 1937, she traveled throughout the tri-state area inspecting flood control projects, which included her supervision of the construction of the Beachmont levy in Cincinnati. In 1939, she was appointed head of the architecture department of the Corps—a position she held for seven years.

After Boyer resigned from the position, she founded the firm of Vogt, Ivers and Associates with former Corps colleagues in Cincinnati. As the director of the firm's architectural division, she was responsible for the contract drawings and specifications for commercial, industrial, educational, and religious facilities. Among Boyer's notable projects was the design of the layout for the buildings and rail systems of the Ryerson Steel Company complex and its branch offices. She was also known in the Cincinnati area for designing the Elmwood Place School and the Shawnee Park, as well as her work on the Provident Bank and the Federal Building.

Boyer received a Distinguished Alumna Award from the College of Engineering in 1983. Boyer's legacy at Ohio State is highlighted through the India Boyer ‘30 Faculty Prize for Outstanding Teaching, Research, and Practice—awarded to faculty from the Knowlton School. The award was most recently given to Landscape Architecture Section Head Kristi Cheramie. “I was honored to have been recognized by Knowlton in 2020 and have enjoyed getting to know India Boyer and her remarkable career by way of the award,” said Cheramie. “Much of my own research explores the US Army Corps of Engineers in the early 20th century—the very moment when India would have been shifting her focus within the logistical landscape of the Corps from flood control infrastructure to architecture. Her disciplinary and professional arc was both boundary-crossing and standard-breaking, and I am honored to be associated with her name and her legacy.”

Boyer's legacy continues to support women in the profession. She was present for the founding of the Boyer Guild of Women in Architecture in 1994. The association of female architects in Greater Cincinnati serves as a professional networking organization for women in architecture and continues to meet to discuss issues of interest in the field.