Anna Wagner Keichline: Architect, Inventor, Suffragist and World War I Special Agent

Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

The Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Anna Wagner Keichline (1889–1943) is prominent among a growing number of markers related to women’s history in the state. Keichline is known as one of the first women to practice architecture professionally in the United States, but she had multifaceted interests and achieved distinction in several fields.

Born and raised in Bellefonte, she exhibited an early aptitude for handiwork. At the age of 14 she won first prize at the Centre County Fair for an oak card table and a walnut chest she constructed in her own home woodworking shop. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this story of unusual achievement in 1903, indicating that young Anna intended to pursue a career in industrial art. She attended Pennsylvania State College for a year, studying mechanical engineering, but then transferred to Cornell University for architecture. At the time, Cornell’s architecture program was one of the few in the nation that accepted women, and in 1911 Keichline became the fifth female to earn an architecture degree from the institution.

After setting up a practice in Bellefonte, Keichline began working on two projects in 1912: a three-story building housing a printing office for a German newspaper in Centre Hall, Centre County, and a schoolhouse in nearby Milesburg. She designed numerous residences and commercial buildings, mostly in central Pennsylvania but also throughout the state and in Ohio and Washington, DC. In 1919 the Pennsylvania State Board of Examiners of Architects was established; the following year, Keichline passed the exam, making her the state’s first registered female architect.

Keichline was also an inventor, primarily of time-and space-saving devices. She combined a sink and washtub with a drain board that folded against the wall, especially desirable for those living in the cramped spaces of an apartment. She also patented an entire planned kitchen designed for efficiency, a folding bed for apartments, an air system for homes, and children’s play environments. She designed and patented building materials as well. One of the most successful was the K brick, specially molded to reduce weight yet allow for improved insulation and fire resistance. The brick was very affordable, and it was popular because it was available in a variety of colors.

Anna Wagner Keichline, 1916.

Anna Wagner Keichline, 1916.
Copyright ©2016 Nancy J. Perkins

A women’s rights advocate, Keichline led efforts in Bellefonte such as the March of the Vote on July 4, 1913, a local iteration of the Women’s Suffrage Procession in Washington, DC, that had taken place on March 3. She later became involved in politics and served as a delegate to the Better Housing Conference during Herbert Hoover’s administration.

During World War I, Keichline, at the age of 28, volunteered for service in the U.S. Army, stating that she preferred something “more difficult” and “more dangerous” than an office job. She was subsequently assigned as a special agent in military intelligence in Washington, DC, and she served in that capacity for the remainder of the war. Although little is known about the details of her service, she received letters of commendation from her superiors.

The marker commemorating the contributions of Anna Wagner Keichline was installed and dedicated in October 2002 in front of a building she designed in 1925, the Plaza Theatre, in Bellefonte.



The author and editor thank Nancy J. Perkins for providing information for this article.


Karen Galle is on the staff of PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office and has been the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program since 2005.