Robinson, Florence Bell (1885-1973) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Robinson, Florence Bell (1885-1973)

Historical Note:

Florence Bell Robinson (1885-1973)

Born in Lapeer, Michigan on 1 November 1885, Florence Bell Robinson was the only child of Dr. and Mrs. William Robinson. In 1908, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, MI, as well as a second bachelor of philosophy having taken correspondence courses from the University of Chicago, and had become fluent in French and German. From 1908 to 1926, she taught natural and physical sciences at several high schools in Detroit, MI, while obtaining a third bachelor in architecture from the University of Michigan and eventually a Masters in Landscape Design (MID) in 1924. In addition to teaching and studying, she ran a private landscape architectural practice from 1916 to 1926 and worked as an architectural draftsperson for J.W. Case in Detroit, MI. (Hoddeson)

Florence Bell Robinson entered into the field of landscape architecture when women, frustrated at being  "unable to attend eastern schools" began to teach as a professor in landscape architecture departments elsewhere (Hoddeson 113).  In 1926, Robinson moved to Illinois and spent the rest of her career working for the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Florence Robinson was first hired as an associate teacher for the Department of Landscape Architecture (1926). She successfully broke the gender tenure barrier by becoming the first female tenure track faculty member in 1929. Over the summers, she traveled to Europe, China, Japan, and Korea. In the following decades she and her colleagues, Stanley White and Karl Lohmann, successfully established a highly ranked landscape architecture department. It became unique by including city planning in the curriculum and helping students see various levels and styles of design. Women still encountering many obstacles to progressing to tenure at the time, Robinson slowly moved up the ranks, becoming associate professor in 1949 and full professor for plant identification and planting design in 1951 at the age of 66. Robinson retired in 1953 at the age of 68.

Robinson was very influential throughout the 1950s and 1960s given her research on plants, ecology, and her emphasis on the interdependence of building and planting design. She was recognized both as a teacher and author of textbooks, books including "Landscape Planting for Airports" (Aeronautics Bulletin #2 1948) and Palette of Plants (1950), as well as several articles in academic and popular magazines such as Landscape Architecture Magazine, House and Garden, and Country Life. Her Planting Design (1940) was ahead of its time and reflected views shared by her and her colleague Stanley White. Her Tabular Keys for the Identification of the Woody Plants (1941) became the standard text in plant material courses throughout the United States, Australia, The Philippines, Russia, and England. Robinson was also known for her card index system recording plants identified during weekly plant walks for her plant identification course. One of those, Useful Trees and Shrubs (Champaign, IL: Garrard Press) was published in 1938.

Through her teaching and publications, which both reflected her background in architecture and science, Robinson was a stimulating influence for her students, at least three of whom, Hideo Sasaki, Richard Haag, and Peter Walker,  became known for formulating modernism approaches to landscape architecture.

References: Hoddeson, Lillian. (2004) No Boundaries: University of Illinois Vignettes. Champaign-Urbana, IL.

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