In 1883, after a journey from Oakland, California to Brooklyn, New York on the Transcontinental Railroad, eleven-year-old Julia Morgan (known as Dudu to her family) got to walk on the newly completed Brooklyn Bridge. She was awestruck by that engineering marvel which was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time.
Her mother tolerated Julia’s obsession with structures and construction techniques when she was a child, but as Julia grew into a young woman, her mother admonished her to concentrate on her needlework and dance lessons. How did Julia think math and drawing was going to help her find a husband?
Julia didn’t care about finding a husband. She wanted to go to college and study architecture, but in the 1890s, there were no women architects. Throughout high school and college, Julia managed to convince her parents to let her take math and engineering courses, even when she was often the only girl in class.
This fictionalized account of the Julia Morgan, the first woman to be granted an architect’s license in California, follows her life from that awe-inspiring visit to the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 until her college graduation in 1894. She faced constant adversity to reach her goal, sometimes from her well-meaning family who wanted a traditional life for her, and sometimes from men who were threatened by her intelligence.
Author Susan Austin did a fabulous job of world building. Details such as what clothes were worn, what food was eaten, and what games were played gave a sense of what life was really like in Oakland, California in the 1880s and 1890s. One of the funniest examples of tradition was when the college underclassmen knocked the top hats off of the juniors’ and seniors’ heads. Having a battered “plug” as the hats were called, was a source of pride.
The fascinating “Epilogue” explains which parts of the story are fact and which are fiction and where Austin found her sources of information. Drawing Outside the Lines is a wonderful tribute to one of America’s woman trailblazers, the talented and hard-working architect, Julia Morgan.