Henry-Russell Hitchcock, considered the "father" of modern architectural historiography, played a major role in bringing modern architecture to the United States. As an eminent professor for more than forty years, Hitchcock trained and influenced several generations of scholars and critics. He combined a love of architecture with criticism and scholarship to produce a large number of distinguished monographs and articles on a broad range of styles and periods.
Born in Boston in 1903, Henry-Russell Hitchcock was the son of Mayflower descendants. At Harvard University, he studied medieval history with A. Kingsly Porter as his mentor and completed the undergraduate curriculum in three years. Hitchcock spent his senior year studying architecture, graduated in 1924, and stayed to study for a master's degree, which was awarded in 1927. During his years at Harvard, he wrote for Hound and Horn and knew Alfred Barr, T. S. Eliot, Philip Johnson, Lincoln Kirstein, Virgil Thomson, and others who became leaders in the modernist movement.
Henry-Russell Hitchcock's teaching career began when he was appointed an assistant professor at Vassar College for the academic year 1927-28. In 1929, he joined the faculty of Wesleyan University, where he remained for two decades before moving to Smith College in 1949. During his tenures at Wesleyan and Smith, his services as a visiting lecturer were employed on many occasions by Cambridge University, Connecticut College, Harvard University, the Institute of Fine Arts, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Yale University. Upon retiring from Smith College in 1968, Hitchcock moved to New York City and taught briefly at Columbia University, the Institute of Fine Arts, and the University of Massachusetts, at Amherst.
Best known as a proponent of modernism, Hitchcock wrote more than two dozen books about a wide range of styles and periods, and most are considered standard works on their subjects. His first, Modern Architecture: Romanticism and Reintegration, appeared in 1929 and was the first book on the subject to be published in English; his final book, German Renaissance Architecture, was published in 1981.
Henry-Russell Hitchcock served as director of the Smith College Museum between 1949 and 1955. In addition, he was curator of several exhibitions, the first and most important of which was Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, organized in collaboration with Philip C. Johnson and held at the Museum of Modern Art. Their book, The International Style: Architecture Since 1922, was published in 1932 in conjunction with the exhibition.
During World War II, Hitchcock's civilian service included working as director of the U. S. Navy's Photographic Library and writing Pratt and Whitney aircraft engine manuals.
Henry-Russell Hitchcock was an active member of many professional associations. He served as president of the Society of Architectural Historians from 1952 to 1954. In addition, he was a founding member of The Victorian Society in Great Britain, and between 1969 and 1974 was president of its sister organization, The Victorian Society in America.
During his long and illustrious career, Henry-Russell Hitchcock won many awards and honors. Awards for Early Victorian Architecture in Britain and Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries were conferred by the Society of Architectural Historians (1955) and College Art Association (1960), respectively. Hitchcock received the Royal Society of Arts Medal for Best Lecture (1956) and its Benjamin Franklin Medal (1970), in addition to the American Institute of Architects' Architectural Critics' Medal (1970). Other awards include: National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1956), American Council of Learned Societies Prize for Distinguished Accomplishment in Humanistic Scholarship (1961), Friends of Cast-Iron Architecture Certificate of Commendation (1978), the American Institute of Architects Award of Merit (1978), and Municipal Art Society Certificate of Merit (1978).
He received honorary degrees from Glasgow University and the University of Pennsylvania in 1973, and in 1979 from Wesleyan University. In Search of Modern Architecture: A Tribute to Henry-Russell Hitchcock, edited by Helen Searing, was published by The Architectural History Foundation in 1982.
Due to declining health, Henry-Russell Hitchcock lectured rarely and wrote little in the three years preceding his death from cancer. He died in New York City, February 19, 1987.