Left: Phyllis Richman. Right: Denise Scott Brown.

Left: Phyllis Richman. Right: Denise Scott Brown.


It's hard to say what's most awesome about Phyllis Richman's letter to William A. Doebele Jr., a former department figure at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.

It might be that it's coming so late: Richman, who is a former food critic for The Washington Post—the first woman to hold the post for the newspaper—once applied to study at GSD. In 1961, she received a letter signed by Doebele asking how she thought she could balance her family and work life. ("Therefore, for your own benefit," the GSD letter reads, "and to aid us in coming to a final decision, could you kindly write us a page or two at your earliest convenience indicating specifically how you might plan to combine a professional life in city planning with your responsibilities to your husband and possible future family?") Richman published her response on Sunday—52 years later.

It might be that her June 9 response is so spot on and insightful. And snarky: "At the time, I didn’t know how to begin writing the essay you requested," she writes. (She never finished her application for GSD.) "But now, two marriages, three children and a successful writing career allow me to, as you put it, 'speak directly' to the concerns in your letter."

What makes Richman's letter so awesome might be her effort to lend a hand to Denise Scott Brown, FAIA, who is appealing to the Pritzker Architecture Prize committee for some recognition for the high honors that her husband, Robert Venturi, FAIA, received in 1991. Two students in the Women in Design student organization at GSD launched a petition on Scott Brown's behalf that is at present just 124 signatures short of 15,000. Richman, for her part, at the end of a long and thoughtful letter, asks Doebele whether he supports Scott Brown. "Dr. Doebele, have you signed the petition yet?"

To be sure, it is most awesome that The Washington Post has published the entire exchange—including Doebele's response. You can and should read the whole thing.