“Woman-Planned – Woman Supervised – Brodrick-Built,” reads a 1936 advertisement for three homes by Maud Brodrick, a Newton-based female architect, builder, and marketer whose homes transformed the housing landscape in Newton and surrounding suburbs at a time when real estate was dominated by men.
Historic Newton featured Brodrick in its annual house tour, which the organization released as a series of videos this year due to the pandemic.
Brodrick not only designed and built her homes, according to Historic Newton, but she also launched a “grand scale” advertising campaign during the Great Depression focused on the merits of homes designed by a woman.
“She was so good at marketing,” said Clara Silverstein, who manages the house tours and community engagement for Historic Newton. “She would play up the fact that she was a woman, and she knows what women want and how to design a house that will appeal to them.”
Brodrick built about 200 homes in Newton, Wellesley, and other local suburbs, according to research by Laura Fitzmaurice, chair of the Newton House Tour Committee. Brodrick had a sixth grade academic education, experience in the building trades from working with her housebuilder father, and a taste in architecture that combined popular styles at the time with forward-thinking designs,
Historic Newton usually hosts an in-person tour of local, historical homes in May, but the event was rescheduled to October due to COVID-19. When it became apparent that in-person tours would no longer be possible, the team focused on a series of video tours.
Silverstein said the new format reminded her of her first year running the house tour.
“It’s a whole new take on it, so there’s something exciting about that,” she said. “You’re on this deep learning curve. It can be scary, I’ll be honest, but it’s also really exciting to make something new happen.”
Brodrick’s homes are characteristic for their use of sweeping staircases, niches, modern bathrooms, and discrete bars, which she built into some of her homes during the Prohibition era. For instance, in one of the homes, a small bar hides behind wood paneling in a living room. Brodrick frequently included bars in her fully finished basements, which she advertised as daytime playrooms for children that could transform into evening nightclubs for adults, Fitzmaurice’s research found.
Quoted in a 1936 article in the Newton Graphic newspaper, Brodrick said, “Mrs. Modern Woman not only appreciates but actually seeks the home which has substantial structural details as well as visual appeal.” The article quoted Brodrick for several paragraphs explaining the merits of women’s taste in home design.
“Modern basements and attics can be comfortable rooms when efficiently planned,” Brodrick said, emphasizing how this was a fact that “modern women know.”
In the house tour videos, Fitzmaurice, who is an architect and architectural historian, toured several Brodrick homes and discussed with the homeowners design elements and architectural features such as Tudor arches, wrought iron ornaments, shell motifs, and fleur-de-lis designs.
Brodrick advertised her homes as “planned by a woman who knows a woman’s needs in a home and who builds into it the innumerable small details that men often overlook,” one 1932 ad in the Newton Graphic newspaper read.
“One of the things Maud promoted is woman-centered design,” said Fitzmaurice in one of the video tours, pointing out two closets located in the reception hall of a home called a “Norman Castle.”
“A woman knows what a woman needs, and what a woman needs is storage space,” Fitzmaurice said.
Silverstein said she was eager to share Brodrick’s story in this year’s house tour.
“It seems like men make all the decisions, at least the way history is often presented,” Silverstein said. “So I got really excited about this story.”
Brodrick and her husband entered real estate when Brodrick successfully sold a home for a friend, research by Historic Newton found. They soon opened a real estate business, and in 1923 Brodrick began designing and building houses. Brodrick independently studied architecture and construction, including a two-month sketching tour of Europe. She and her husband eventually settled on Randlett Park in West Newton.
Lisa Dady, director of Historic Newton, said she switched careers from social work to history so she could share stories of people of color and women such as Brodrick.
“It was really a question of public service and social justice to bring these kinds of histories to light,” she said.
Michelle Lane, who works in real estate and watched the tours, said she enjoyed the video format and appreciated the focus on a woman architect.
“As a woman, I’m fascinated with the fact that these were really successful female architects in a time when, you know, females didn’t usually have opportunities to be business people,” Lane said.
Gabriel Harrison can be reached at email@example.com.