BELLEFONTE - First she'd have designed the "glass ceiling" a century ago and then proceeded to break through it.
Today Anna Wagner Keichline, the state's first licensed female architect, is helping area Girl Scouts earn an architectural badge to adorn their sashes, thus learning first-hand the definition of "girl power."
This badge is no easy feat, according to assistant troop leader francy Shreve, who said nationally the scouts are eliminating it because of difficulty meeting the criteria.
At left, Anna W. Keichline stands in front of her car. She drew Bellefonte’s awe for repairing it herself.
Below, Scout Leader Jennifer Zeigler discusses exhibits of Bellefonte’s favorite daughter with her troop.
Yet, everything needed is readily at area troops' fingertips thanks to a permanent exhibit dedicated to Keichline's accomplishments in the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County, at 133 N. Allegheny St. There the scouts are able to learn about the multi-faceted architect from childhood to educated professional. Exhibits depict her blueprints, photos of designed structures, plus a smattering of seven patented inventions.
At the museum the girls discover that one such invention graces most of their homes in some manner. The 1927 "K-Brick structural tile" with patent no. 1,653,771 was the precursor to the cinder block found in current inventories of the country's lumber yards and hardware stores. Upon inspection, Ayriella Spicer, 9, notes the original invention reminds her of the Roman numeral two. Keichline had six other patents from the early 20th century including a bed that folded into the wall, much like today's "Murphy bed."
The scouts learned that Keichline began cultivating her design talents at just about their age. In 1903, the architect won first place in the furniture division at the county fair at age 14. She entered an oak Victorian-styled calling card table that she had skillfully built herself. That recognition drew the attention of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper which featured the Centre County teen as living in a household where parents encouraged nontraditional paths for their children.
From there Troop 40023 drew inspiration to design individual one-inch-scale drawings, a leg of the badge requirements. Scout Kayla Fleming conceived a cat sanctuary. Fleming explained hers was not for household use, but rather for a zoo to house larger felines "like jaguars."
Upon entering the exhibit room, one first notices a gigantic black- and-white photo circa 1913 detailing a Suffragette parade through the heart of the borough. Keichline holds a banner leading the march. A graduate of Cornell University, she donned her graduation cap and gown for the event. Troop leader Jennifer Zeigler explained to her scouts this was Keichline's personal statement as few women of the day were educated to that degree. The photo portrays the outfit as an in-your-face gesture to all the males pictured lining the parade route with crossed arms clenched across their chests.
Keichline's politics pushing for the woman's right-to-vote, combined with her success in a male-dominated profession, plus her German ethnicity, might have found her the subject of some secret government file noting her as a subversive during the World War I years.
However, to skirt such scrutiny in a defensive move, the scouts learned, the architect bravely volunteered as an Army spy with the U.S. Military Intelligence Division during that war. Because she knew fluent German, Keichline could decipher both oral and written communications. Zeigler draws the girls' attention to a recognition letter from Military Intelligence that compliments her stealth years of service to the federal government and at the same time accepts her resignation. Keichline's written response included a request not to make her war involvement public.
Setting a high water mark within the community, she developed a local reputation for not only being a female owning a car, but also repairing it herself. Clearly lessons learned in Penn State's 1910 mechanical engineering class, boosted by her Cornell degree, aided her in this endeavor.
Keichline took the Cadillac as partial payment for her design work on the 1916 "Cadillac (dealership) Building" on Bishop Street. Today it stands as a charred skeleton since fire ravaged the structure several years ago. However, recent interest in the structure may soon see it resuscitated.
While many examples of Keichline's work sit in a number of Pennsylvania and Ohio counties, local works appear a stone's throw in any direction from the museum. The scouts are on their way to what was once a 1936 "model home" to study it as yet another requirement for the badge. The house is in a handful of homes that sit amidst the eclectic architecture that stretches through the town's residential areas.
Located on High Street, near the courthouse in the heart of the business community, stands the circa 1925 "Plaza Theatre" that currently houses an antique co-op. Keichline's historical marker is located in front of this business thanks to the tireless efforts of her descendents. It was officially erected a decade ago.
The Keichline exhibit on the museum's second-floor appears in the "architecture room." Other displays found in both the community and tea rooms host rotating works of county artisans.
The main gallery is currently featuring NASA photos "From Earth to the Solar System" that includes 30 images. The exhibit concludes July 15.
The museum is free and open to the public from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday and other times by appointment. Extended Thursday hours are offered during the NASA exhibit. To learn more visit www.bellefontemuseum.org/.