Drawing Outside the Lines is an imagined childhood of pioneering architect Julia Morgan, who left behind an extraordinary legacy of creativity, beauty, and engineering marvels.
In 1883, eleven-year-old Julia visits the amazing new Brooklyn Bridge, an experience that ignites within her a small but persistent flame. Someday, she too will build something wonderful. Her journey is not easy. Growing up in horse-and-buggy Oakland, she enjoys daring fence walks, climbing the tallest trees, and constantly testing her mother’s patience with her lack of interest in domestic duties and social events. At a time when “brainy” girls are the object of ridicule, Julia excels in school and consistently outsmarts her ornery brothers. A greater battle awaits her in college. The male students taunt her, and the professors belittle her. Through it all, Julia holds on to her dream of becoming an architect. She faces each challenge head-on, firmly standing up to those who are convinced that a woman’s place is in the home. Fortunately, the world is about to meet the indomitable Miss Morgan.
The following is a scene from Drawing Outside the Lines. Julia has just begun high school when her mechanical drawing teacher, Miss Connors, asks the class to draw a bird’s-eye view of any building they choose, as long as they can see it from the school’s tower:
The tower with windows on all four sides, offers a fine view of the city. After considering several sites, I decide on an unusual structure I frequently pass by.
The next day, as I climb the tower’s narrow staircase, voices and thumping noises dash my hope of being alone. The room is packed with fellow drawing students. As soon as I step inside, the place turns eerily quiet.
I’m not surprised. The boys have never approved of me. Pencils go missing from my desk, my work is crumpled or tossed to the floor, and every day my stool mysteriously moves to the back of the room. It hardly ever happens to the few girls in the class. Just me. Although I hate the situation, it would be worse if I spoke up. Over the years, I’ve grown used to being teased by both boys and girls, mainly about my good grades. But high school is different. The boys in mechanical drawing have made it clear: I am not welcome.
I make my way to the best window for viewing my subject—the Pardee water tower. It’s a two-story wood construction, wider at the bottom, and topped with a windmill. Two boys standing by the window appear absorbed in their drawings. When I head toward a second, less favorable window, the boys standing there act as if I’m invisible. The air in this crowded, silent room is stale and unpleasant, much like the smell of dirty laundry in my brothers’ bedroom.
Heading to a third window, I steel myself for trouble, resolving to be sugar sweet. I will shame them. With a cheery smile, I say, “Excuse me. Is there room for one more here?”
The boy with freckles finally looks up from his sketchpad. “Have to wait ’til we’re done. And that could take a while.” I glance at his notebook. Blank.
I want to race back down those stairs, but I stay. Still smiling, I say, “Frankly, I think your estimate is incorrect. I shall not take up much room.”
If they are like my brothers, they will back down like timid deer. Can they hear the frantic flutter in my chest? After the briefest pause, they shuffle aside, red-faced, leaving me a tiny space.
The water tower is visible against a flame-red sunset. Within minutes I have a decent rendering. A quick glance at the boys’ sketchbooks confirms my hunch. Still blank.
The floorboards creak as I leave the church-quiet room. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I hear that familiar refrain. “She’s too brainy for a girl.”
The laughter that follows stings worse than the words. I shut the door behind me, angry. What’s wrong with a girl being smarter than a boy? And so what if I draw well? It’s easy for me, like breathing.
Look for these splendid sketches in Drawing Outside the Lines created by artist Suzanna Klein.
Julia Morgan’s Oakland Home, 1884
Oakland High School in the 1880s
UC Berkeley Library, Bacon Hall, 1890s