Very Much Part of the Landscape: Mabel Keyes Babcock
It should come as no surprise that roles for women during this era were pretty rigid. Gardening was fine, but it was quite unusual for a woman to pursue landscape architecture. Mabel Keyes Babcock had other ideas.
Babcock took advantage of the short window of time when MIT offered a professional landscape architecture education program that admitted both men and women. She received her two architecture degrees at MIT, a SB in 1908 and an SM in 1909. MIT was the only institution at that time to include women.
Her accomplishments were diverse. She designed the MIT President’s House Garden (pictured left) in what is now known as Gray House, as well as what we now call Killian Court (then, it was referred to as the Great Court). This work led to other landscape design opportunities on the MIT campus. Babcock was president of the MIT Women’s Association from 1916 to 1920. She also was a member of the MIT War Service Auxiliary during WWI and eventually became the Dean of Women Students at the Institute.
Perhaps also unusual for the era, Babcock’s work was recognized at the time. In 1917, the Cambridge Chronicle reported:
One of the loveliest and at the same time most unusual gardens in New England is that which has just been completed for President Maclaurin, of Technology. The garden was designed by Mabel Keyes Babcock. Tech, ‘08. Owing to the close proximity of the student dormitories there were many peculiar difficulties to overcome before the work was brought to its present charming climax .… Here and there in the garden are tiny pools where seated on carved stone benches, one may watch by day the twinkling sun reflections, while at night the stars come out to play hide and seek in the still water. Greater Boston has many beautiful gardens, but few more exquisite than the one which the coming of Technology has created in Cambridge.
Next time you’re in Killian Court, think about Mabel Keyes Babcock, as she is still very much part of the MIT landscape.
Presented by Human Resources at MIT
Cambridge Chronicle, October 13, 1917.
Ben-Joseph, Eran, Holly D. Ben-Joseph, and Anne C. Dodge. “Against All Odds: MIT's Pioneering Women of Landscape Architecture.” MIT, School of Architecture and Planning, 2006.
Mabel Keyes Babcock. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 21, 2015.