Fannie Belle Winkler Herman brought a first to Hickory. She is credited with being the first (and for a time, only) woman architect in North Carolina. This distinction came in an era when there were only a dozen or so, nationwide.
If you have driven the streets of Hickory, it’s likely you have passed one or more of the houses she designed, or helped design. The question is fuzzy because in her day, she never took credit for her contribution to the built environment she created. In 1911, Fannie Winkler married Hickory’s only architect, Quince Edward (Q.E.) Herman. Subsequently, any time she was mentioned, her name was reported as “Mrs. Q.E. Herman” (a widespread practice of the day) and all of the designs were credited to her husband, some even after he had died.
Early on, she professed no interest in learning her husband’s trade. Her training was in art, plus she played the organ, mostly for her church. After graduating from Lenoir’s Davenport College for Women, she planned to enter the only profession that was largely available to women at the time, teaching. We don’t know exactly how it started but she admitted to “filling in” for her husband from time to time with his drawings.
Her interest grew. When asked why, her candid response was “I did it because I liked it.” She added, “there is a fascination about designing a building and then watching it materialize right before your eyes. And for years afterwards, whenever you pass that structure, you feel that you have done something of a permanent and worth-while nature.” Once she saw how the process worked, probably over the shoulder of her husband, it all made sense to her. In fact, she believed that women might make better architects than men. “After all,” she explained, “it is a woman who spends most of her time at home, so why shouldn’t a woman have some good ideas about the building of that home!”
All over Hickory, the duo of Mr. & Mrs. Herman can bee seen. The Harris Arcade is a Herman creation. So is the Weaver Home on 11th Ave. Circle, NW. The Herman’s home on Third Ave., a 1.5 story Tudor Revival still stands, today as a business. There are plenty more. Over 40 structures designed by the firm of Herman & Herman remain part of the landscape.
Some say she was never “officially” licensed as an architect, but her contemporaries respected her abilities and considered her the equal of her husband. One engineer said, “she can make the best lay-out for electrical equipment of any architect in the state.” When the polio epidemic of 1944 came to Hickory, Fannie and her husband answered a plea to quickly redesign the available space into an emergency hospital so workers could start the next day.
Fannie Herman seemed rather nonchalant about the barrier she was breaking. When asked why more women were not architects, she answered, “I believer there are many women who would make fine architects; the trouble is that they never have given the matter a thought.” Her nephew remembered that she smoked cigarettes in an era when it was thought unseemly for women to do so, a clue to how little she cared about what folks said about her.
When Q.E. died in 1950 and the designs continued to flow, everyone began to acknowledge that she was a talented architect in her own right. Both the J.E. Husdon House and Starnes Chiropractic Clinic, near LR are examples of her undeniable solo work, built in 1954 and 1955, respectively. It never seemed to occur to her that she might one day be considered a groundbreaking (pardon the pun) architect. She just enjoyed the pursuit and left the rest to future generations, who still enjoy the buildings she designed.