Grace E. Crosby was among the earliest women to work as an architect in Indiana, beginning her career at a time when few women nationally had entered the field. Grace Crosby was born in 1874, a native of Fort Wayne and a graduate of Fort Wayne High School. She received her training as an architect by apprenticing with several firms in Fort Wayne and as early as 1894, Grace was listed in the city directories as a “tracer” of architectural plans. By 1900, Grace was serving as a “draughtswoman” with the architectural firm of Alfred Grindle whom she worked for up until 1910. Crosby then joined Wildwood Builders at its organization with Joel Roberts Ninde and her husband Lee Ninde. Together, Crosby and Ninde worked in partnership as the company’s design department and construction supervisors.
By 1912, several houses that had been designed by Joel Ninde, Grace Crosby, and possibly Louise Josephine Pellen, were published in Wildwood Magazine. Wildwood Builders also published a book of home plans by Ninde and Crosby titled, Wildwood Homes: Being a Collection of Houses and Details with Suggestions for the Home Builder, in 1912. Both the magazine and the book were nationally distributed and by 1914 the success of Wildwood Builders was due in large part to these two women. A newspaper article published in August 1914 stated that Joel Ninde and Grace Crosby had opened their own architectural firm that included services in both architecture and interior design, in addition to their continuing work at Wildwood Builders. Unfortunately, Ninde and Crosby’s partnership was short lived and ended abruptly when Joel Roberts Ninde died from a stroke in 1916 at the age of forty-two.
After Joel Ninde’s death, Grace continued to work as an architect for Wildwood Builders and even briefly owned her own private firm in 1917. This opportunity occurred as a result of World War I; after most of the men in the area left for military service there still remained a huge demand for architects. Crosby was able to take advantage of the situation temporarily and gained enough market share to venture out on her own. Crosby’s firm was located at 409 E. Berry Street in Fort Wayne, Indiana. After the war, Grace continued to work in Fort Wayne, first as a designer at Steele-Myers Department Store in 1918 and then as a draftswoman in 1919. Grace then went on to become a draftswoman for the S.F. Bowser Company and during her time there she designed gasoline pumps and filling stations. Later, Crosby joined the firm of Griffith and Goodrich and her final employer was the architectural firm of Bradley & Babcock. Grace worked at Bradley & Babcock as an architect until her retirement in 1930. Crosby lived until the age of eighty-eight and passed away in 1962. Her obituary noted that she had worked in the architectural field for over thirty-five years, making her a female trailblazer in the profession.
Grace E. Crosby 1874-1962
The Crosby Family home.
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- Allaback, Sarah. The First American Women Architects. University of Illinois Press, 2008. Pp. 204-205.
- Grace E. Crosby House, 413 West DeWald Street, City of Fort Wayne Historic Preservation Commission Staff Review, July 23, 2007.
- Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “Ft. Wayne Women Form New Architect Firm.” August 30, 1914.
- Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “Grace E. Crosby.” May 18, 1962.
- Indianapolis Star, “Mrs. Joel Roberts Ninde of Ft. Wayne Broadened Her Womanly Sphere By Becoming an Architect and the Creator of Fair ‘Honeymoon Row’.” November 7, 1914