Anne Graham Rockfellow was born in Mt. Morris, New York 12 March 1866, the daughter of Julia Lucinda (Conkey) and Samuel L. Rockfellow. Samuel, a prosperous mercantile businessman, cultivated a broad social circle. The family traveled frequently during Anne’s early years, visiting many of the major cities along the East Coast. They lived briefly in Edenton, North Carolina. Between the ages of 12 and 15, Rockfellow and her family resided at various hotels in Mt. Morris and Saratoga Springs, New York. This lifestyle afforded Anne many experiences atypical for young ladies of this era.
During high school, Rockfellow discovered a Massachusetts Institute of Technology catalogue and decided she wanted to study architecture there. A local architect, William C. Walker, offered her employment at his firm upon her graduation, while she was still living at home in Rochester, New York.
When M.I.T. opened its doors to female architecture students in 1884, Anne Rockfellow became the first women student to enroll in that department, in 1885. She began a two-year course for “special students,” which meant that she studied an abbreviated curriculum and did not prepare a thesis. Known as “Rocky” to her classmates, she graduated in architecture in 1887, the first such degree granted to a woman at M.I.T. In an autobiographical account, Rockfellow describes herself as surprising to her peers and professors. Other then sensing some mild resentment, she found the experience positive and the majority of her fellow students encouraging.
William Walker in Rochester kept his promise by employing her as a drafter and designer after her graduation. She worked in the firm for the next six years, until the Depression of 1893 brought business to a standstill.
By 1895, Rockfellow decided to try her luck in Tucson, where her brother John had settled in 1879 and joined the faculty of the University of Arizona. Through this family connection, Anne secured a position teaching English, history, and geography in the University’s preparatory department. She found these subjects difficult, but enjoyed tutoring several students in architecture and drawing. After her two‑year University contract ended, Rockfellow embarked on a four‑month bicycle trip through continental Europe and Great Britain.
Returning to the United States in 1898, Rockfellow established a private practice in her birthplace, Mt Morris. She worked on her own, and also for firms in Detroit and Buffalo until 1909. “The Nutshell,” A residential design by Rockfellow, was featured in the January 1905 issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine, and this publicity resulted in residential commissions.
Rockfellow spent the next two years with her dying father in Arizona. After his death in 1911, she returned to Rochester, New York and resumed private practice. During this time, she designed a house for her brother in Tucson.
During one of Rockfellow’s visits to Tucson, architect Henry O. Jaastad asked her to collaborate on a competition entry for the Y.M.C.A. in Miami, Arizona. The design won the competition and Jaastad offered Rockfellow a permanent job. Before committing herself, Rockfellow completed several unfinished projects, and visited the Panama‑California‑Pacific Exposition in San Diego, an experience that influenced her future architectural designs.
Her later buildings were inspired by the Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Revival styles. In 1916, at the age of 50, Rockfellow became a member of Jaasad’s office. She spent 22 years the firm, “taking part in all the work and supervision, but principally the designing.” She was also the first woman architect registered in Arizona.
Although she received many residential commissions, Rockfellow preferred commercial work. Her contributions to the architecture to Tucson include El Conquistador, Desert Sanatorium, La Fonda Buena Provecho, and Saffford School. According to one of her nieces, Rockfellow considered the El Conquistador Hotel her greatest achievement. The Tucson Citizen described the hotel’s 1928 opening as a “blaze of social splendor,” and praised the décor, layout and elegance of its Arizona version of the Mission Style. The opulent El Conquistador Hotel became a casualty of the Great Depression, went bankrupt in 1935, and was demolished in 1964.
Rockfellow retired from Jaastad’s firm in 1938 and moved to Santa Barbara California. When Rockfellow died 17 January 1954, the Santa Barbara News‑Press ran an obituary declaring that “Rocky lived with the same independent spirit that marked her career and was frequently seen hiking along the waterfront wearing a skipper’s cap.”
Safford School 1918
Comstock Hospital 1920
Eric Wick House 1920
George Martin House 1923
W.E. Rudasill House 1926
Desert Sanatorium 1926-1929
El Conquistador Hotel 1928
E.S. Jackson House 1928
Hayward Hoyt House 1929
Reilly Building remodel 1929-1935
La Fonda Buena Provecho Inn 1931
R.P. Bass House 1932
J. Ivancovitch Building façade 1932
Inspiration Home 1935
Arizona Children’s Home n.d.
Rockfellow, Anne Graham, The Cactus Gets Under the Skin, The Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation.
Regan, Margaret, Remembering Rockfellow, Tucson Weekly, 31 January 2000