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Milka Bliznakov

Rebecca Wood Watkin

Vera Jansone 



Remembering Milka Tscherneva Bliznakov

By Inge S. Horton

Milka Tscherneva Bliznakov
Milka Tscherneva Bliznakov

It is with great fondness and deep sadness that I announce that my dear friend Milka Bliznakov passed away on November 4, 2010 in her home at Blacksburg, Virginia, shortly after reaching her 83th birthday. Milka, the founder and driving force behind the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, was indeed the friend of all women in architecture. Her passionate energy and strong dedication to the cause of recognizing the contribution of women to architecture and related design fields will live on in the Archive. Milka did not only recognize the need for collecting and preserving documents of women’s work but also stimulated the use of the collection by launching an annual research prize with her own funds. It was named in her honor the Milka Bliznakov Prize.

I feel honored to have known Milka, to have had the opportunity to learn from her and support the IAWA. Many happy memories surface when thinking of her. In 1987, even before I really knew her, she invited Wendy Bertrand and me to stay in her house while she was at a conference. Our visit was intended to get to know the Archive. “Just open the sliding door on the terrace and make yourselves comfortable inside,” she told us without hesitation. I remember with fondness her generous hospitality, inviting me and other board members to stay at her home in Blacksburg when attending the annual meetings of the IAWA. We often passionately discussed the direction and the future of the Archive late into the night. She also hosted wonderful concerts with music by women composers at her house. The board was amazed when she told us that she, then in her late seventies, carried several suitcases with drawings by Bulgarian women architects back to the United States after a trip to her homeland. She loved Bulgaria and organized an unforgettable trip for some of her friends to experience the beautiful country and the work of Bulgarian women architects. I am thankful for the encouragement she gave me for my own research on Bay Area women architects and her call congratulating me when she received my book. I will miss her cheerful voice and upbeat attitude when answering my phone calls. In her last years, she was troubled by the loss of her eyesight due to macular degeneration and was not able to read or drive her beloved historic Mercedes but she never complained.

Educated in architecture at the State Polytechnic University of Sofia, Bulgaria, Milka practiced architecture in Bulgaria, France and the United States. After earning her Ph.D. in architectural history from Columbia University she went on to teaching, first at the University of Texas and, starting in 1974, at Virginia Tech. According to her students, she was an excellent teacher as well as an outstanding researcher, became an authority on Russian Constructivism and a cofounder of the Institute of Modern Russian Culture at USC. Among several awards bestowed on her were two Fulbright scholarships which allowed her to carry out her research in Europe. A more formal obituary describes her many achievements and awards.

In the early 1980s, she perceived the need to collect documents of work by women architects because examples of women’s designs were not available to share with her classes. For this purpose, she founded the International Archive of Women in Architecture in 1985, which has since grown into a significant collection. Several California women donated money and either their whole collection or a few projects such the late Sigrid Lorenzen Rupp, Lois Gottlieb, Olive Chadeayne, Lilian Rice, Rebecca Wood Watkin, Zelma Wilson, Beverly Willis, Wendy Bertrand, Kathleen Cruise, Fani Hansen, Wena Dows, Sally Bould Stan, Jane Duncombe, Barbara Woodward, Cathi and Steven House, and others.


To honor the vision and important work of Milka Bliznakov, I would like to encourage you to support the mission and goals of the International Archive of Women in Architecture at Virginia Tech. Please donate documents of your own work to the Archive by contacting: 

Special Collections, Digital Library and Archives
University Libraries, Virginia Tech
P.O. Box 90001
Blacksburg, VA 24062-9001 USA

or e-mail Special Collections at


or make a financial donation in her name to the Milka Bliznakov Prize Fund of the IAWA, c/o Donna Dunay, Chair, IAWA, School of Architecture + Design, Virginia Tech, 201 Cowgill Hall, Blacksburg, Va. 24061-0205. 




Rebecca Wood Watkin

by Lisa Esherick


Photo Rebecca ("Becky") Wood Watkin

Architect and longtime activist for environmental, public housing, and other progressive causes, died quietly in her sleep on December 19, 2010, at the age of 97 in La Jolla. Becky was born on April 4, 1913 in Portland, Oregon. She earned her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and B. Arch. from the Architecture School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1937, one of the first women to receive that degree. Degree in hand, she moved to Sausalito, where she got work as a draftswoman in 1940, and later opened her own practice. Combining her professional life and her talents as a civic leader, she helped found and lead the Marin Ecumenical Association for Housing, to promote low-income housing. As a member of the Marin County Planning Commission in the 1970s, she was a leading advocate for environmentally sensitive development. Her dogged determination to recognize and address the needs of all citizens had a significant impact on raising public awareness and community planning. Always active in public affairs, Becky Watkin was a stalwart of Democratic Party politics from a time when Marin Democrats were an endangered minority. In 1952 and 1956, she was co-chair of Adlai Stevenson's local campaign. In 1960, she was John Kennedy's precinct chairwoman in Marin. In 1968, Becky was co-chair of Marin's Eugene McCarthy for President Committee, and in 1972 she headed George McGovern's local presidential campaign. Finally, in 1976, she backed a winner, running Jimmy Carter's primary campaign and serving as a delegate to the National Convention. Becky also served as a mentor and confidante for a number of public servants. In 1997, Assembly Member Kerry Mazzoni recognized her contributions by naming her California Legislature Woman of the Year for her district. In one of her favorite stories, Becky told of the time when a young Barbara Boxer came into a Marin campaign office asking if she could help. With her characteristic directness, Becky asked: "Can you type?" Thus did Senator Boxer's career in California Democratic politics begin. Rebecca Wood married Joseph Esherick in 1938; they had three children before divorcing in 1951. She married Harold Watkin in 1958; he died in 1981. Becky Watkin lived in the house she designed in Kent Woodlands from 1950 to 2003, when she moved to the White Sands retirement home in La Jolla, California. She loved the outdoors, hiking in Oregon, and skiing as a member of the Over the Hill Gang until age 83. Always a lover of music, she sang with the Marin Chorus until she was in her eighties.


For information about her work as an architect, please visit the entry of her collection at the International Archive of Women in Architecture at Virginia Tech


Vera E. Jansone-deFischer

Born in Latvia in 1915, Vera Jansone studied architecture, engineering, and art history at the University of Latvia. Following World War II, Jansone left her homeland to accept a scholarship to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris from 1945-49, after which she worked full time in the Atelier Le Corbusier on the reconstruction of Paris. Upon receiving her French license, Jansone started practicing with J.L. Humbaire working mostly on schools, housing, hospitals and commercial buildings. In 1950 Jansone was awarded full tuition and travel expenses under an American Association of University Women (AAUW) scholarship to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology, where she studied under Mies van der Rohe. Jansone received her MS in Architecture from IIT in 1952.


After returning briefly to Paris, Jansone moved to the United States, first living in New York for a short duration and later moving with her husband, Emanuel Frederic deFischer, to California in the early 1960s, where job opportunities were much more abundant for women architects. Her projects include The Fox Plaza in San Francisco while working with Victor Gruen Associates; underground stations for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system while working with Ernest Born; the Mt. Shasta Mall in Redding CA while working at Robert B. Liles, Inc.; and the Sycamore Medical Building, while working with T. Liles & Assoc.


For further information about Vera's work as an architect please refer to her archive at the International Archive of Women in Architecture at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.