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Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection

Identifier: Ms-2007-030

Scope and Content

The Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection contains sketches and drawings for approximately 160 Portsmouth area projects, the majority of the drawings represent residential designs but churches, retail stores, and institutional buildings are also included. Watercolor class projects from her days at Cornell University School of Architecture are also present; however, these drawings are extremely fragile and may require conservation work prior to access. The materials range in date from 1936-2002 with the bulk of the materials ranging from 1936-1950.


  • 1936 - 2002
  • Majority of material found within 1936 - 1950


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Many of the college drawings and projects are extremely fragile and may require conservation work prior to access.

Biographical Note

Mary Ramsay Brown Channel was born December 8, 1907 to William Ambrose Brown and Mary Ramsay Brown of Portsmouth, VA.

She attended Randolph-Macon’s Woman’s College earning a bachelor of Mathematics in 1929. Channel wanted to follow her brother to the University of Virginia to study architecture, but women were not accepted into the University’s graduate programs at the time. She instead applied and was accepted to Cornell University School of Architecture.

Graduating second in her class in 1933, she was also the first woman to win the Baird Prize Competition Medal. The Baird Prize was a six day design competition held by Cornell for architecture students in their junior and senior years. Channel was awarded the second prize medal for her design of a “monumental aeration fountain for the city reservoir.”

Channel returned to Portsmouth, VA after graduation and began her career with the Norfolk architecture firm Rudolph, Cooke and Van Leeuwen. She drew no salary for her two years but gained valuable experience working with the team that designed the main post office in Norfolk as well as several other civic and organizational buildings. In 1935, Channel was one of three candidates in a class of five to pass the Virginia Examining Board’s licensing exam becoming Virginia’s first licensed female architect.

Following her licensure she opened her own practice. In October, 1941 she married local businessman Warren Henry Channel. After the birth of her first child she limited her practice to residences and churches. Channel retained her license until 1990 and was actively drawing plans into her eighties.

Channel designed structures throughout southeastern Virginia. Some of her projects include the Lafayette Square Arch housing the main entrance of the demolished American National Bank, the old Virginia Power Company Building on High Street, Channel Furniture Store in Greenbrier, numerous houses, church additions and renovations.

She was recognized in October, 1987, at an occasion honoring Portsmouth’s local and statewide notables.

Mary Ramsay Brown Channel died on January 21, 2006. She was 98 years old.


11 Cubic Feet (10 boxes and 36 oversize folders)


After graduating from Randolph-Macon Woman's College in 1929, Mary Ramsay Brown Channel earned her degree in architecture at Cornell University in 1933. She returned to her hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia, and worked at a firm for two years before opening her own office as the first registered woman architect in Virginia. She became known for her residential and church designs. Her collection includes sketches and drawings for about 160 mostly residential projects in the Portsmouth area. Also included are some college drawings and projects.


The collection is arranged into two series, I: Personal Papers, 1952-2002, and II: Project Records, 1936-1978, bulk 1936-1950. Each series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II: Project Records primarily contains architectural project drawings. Mary Ramsay Brown Channel did not consistently label or date her drawings. The records are arranged in a project index alphabetically by client’s name. When a client’s name was not available the records were ordered by project description and/or title. Any text in brackets was supplied by the processor.

In order to determine a date range for each project Channel’s signature has been recorded in the project index. MRB stands for Mary Ramsay Brown and would indicate projects undertaken before her marriage in 1941. MBC stands for Mary Brown Channel and would indicate dates post-1941.

On the reverse of a majority of projects there is a number in red ink. This number appears to be an organizational scheme and therefore has been recorded on the project index. They were very helpful in bringing together drawings that had become separated from their projects. However, the researcher should note, there are several cases where the same number appears on distinctly different projects.

Source of Acquisition

The Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection was donated to Special Collections in 2007.

Related Materials

There is a one page article about the acquisition of the Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection in the Fall 2008 IAWA Center News, the International Archive of Women in Architecture newsletter.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of the Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection commenced and was completed in April 2010.

Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection, 1936-2002, bulk 1936-1950
Sherrie A. Bowser, Archivist
2010 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US