Anna Wagner Keichline (1889-1943)


Born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, in 1889, architect, inventor, suffragist, and World War I Special Agent Anna Keichline started early in her pursuit of the non-traditional.  As a fourteen year old, she won a first prize at the Centre County Fair for a card table made of oak and a walnut chest. The Philadelphia Inquirer cited her skills at building furniture in her ‘professionally outfitted model shop’.  In 1903 that was news. “Such a liking has she taken to industrial art that [she] expects to make it her life study”, the article stated.

After high school graduation in 1906, she studied mechanical engineering at nearby Penn State, the only female student in the class.  In 1907 she transferred to Cornell University to study architecture.  While at Cornell, she was elected a class officer, was a member of the drama club and a sorority and an athlete on the women's basketball team.  She graduated in 1911, as the fifth woman to earn a degree in architecture from Cornell but was probably one of the very first women to actually practice the profession during the last century.  She can claim design authorship to over 24 commercial buildings and residences spanning central Pennsylvania, Dayton Ohio and Washington D.C.

In 1920, when registration became a requirement to practice architecture in the state, Anna passed the exam thereby becoming the first women registered as an architect in the state of Pennsylvania.

Keichline published research articles on air conditioning that incorporated her patented 'Building Block' (1927) one of her inventions.  She was granted six utility patents and one design patent in all; a Sink for Apartments (1912), a Toy (1916), components for Kitchen Construction (1926), a child's Portable Partition (1927), a Folding Bed for Apartments (1929) and an Air System (1931).

As an advocate for women's rights, Keichline led a parade of Suffragists in Bellefonte as part of the nationally organized march of the vote on the Fourth of July 1913.

In addition to her work as an architect and inventor, in 1918 Anna volunteered for the U.S. Army's war effort.  She was assigned to be a Special Agent in the Military Intelligence Division in Washington D.C. and lived there until the end of the war.  In describing her qualifications for this duty she stated: “Am twenty-eight and physically somewhat stronger than the average. Might add that I can operate and take care of a car [she owned her own automobile]. The above might suggest a drafting or office job, but if you should deem it advisable to give me something more difficult or as I wish to say more dangerous, I should much prefer it. You have asked for my salary in order to rate me. . . last year my fees amounted to something over six thousand.”  In today’s dollars, her fees were over $92,000 that year. Letters from superiors at the end of the war praised her service.  Keichline responded “I was pleased with your mention of your appreciation of my services, but . . . I feel that the appreciation should all be on my side - my having been given the opportunity to serve. I know of no other way to express this than to say that I will bear my experience in mind, study when possible, so that should the occasion arise, I will have more to offer.”

Anna Keichline was honored with an official state of Pennsylvania historical marker in 2002.  It was placed in front of one of her architectural designs, the Plaza Theater, Bellefonte, which was built in 1925.


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Article and image are courtesy of the Association of Women Industrial Designers. Written and
researched by Nancy J. Perkins FIDSA, great-niece of Anna Keichline.