A Modern Building for a Modern Woman
In 1964, the Rockville, Maryland community proudly conducted their business at the new Suburban Trust building (now the Bank of America). Designed by Arthur L. Anderson and sited in a prominent location at 255 North Washington Street at the corner of Beall Avenue, this five-story office building was considered innovative and modern for its time. But the Suburban Trust building’s definition of modern applies to its significance in more ways than one—Vivian Simpson, a remarkably modern woman of her time and one of the building’s original tenants.
Born in 1903, Vivian Simpson grew up in nearby Takoma Park. In 1923, she headed off for college like most young women of her age. Instead of blending in with her classmates, though, Simpson stood out for breaking the rules that discriminated against women. When she openly complained, the University of Maryland labeled her a troublemaker and refused to readmit her the following year. Simpson took the university to court and won her case only to have it overturned on appeal. By then Simpson had already transferred to George Washington University and soon graduated from its School of Law with the highest honors.
After school, Simpson opened a solo law practice in 1928 in Rockville. It was a bold move since women lawyers accounted for less than two percent of the field. Indeed, she was the first woman lawyer in Montgomery County. Yet it would be the beginning of many firsts for Simpson as she cleared the path for other women to succeed in the legal field, including first woman attorney for the Board of County Commissioners in Montgomery County, first woman secretary of the State of Maryland, and first woman president of the Bar Association of Montgomery County.
A few years into her law practice, Simpson was joined by her younger brother Joseph and the law firm of Simpson and Simpson was born. They were a highly formidable and celebrated law team. When they were displaced from their office on Perry Street during urban renewal, Vivian Simpson was at the height of her career and decided to move their office to the fifth floor of the newly built Suburban Trust building. As one of the most modern and first large-scale office buildings constructed north of downtown, Suburban Trust represented Rockville’s transformation from a rural town to an urban center. And Vivian Simpson was part of that change.
Until her retirement in 1980, Simpson practiced law from this building. When she died in 1987, women comprised of thirteen percent of the nation’s lawyers. Because of her achievements, Simpson was inducted into Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003. Her former law partner and successor, John Noble occupied the office suite leaving Vivian’s office intact until he moved in May 2006.
Once again, urban renewal threatens the office of this modern woman. The Suburban Trust building is slated for demolition to make way for luxury condominiums. When less than five percent of all National Historic Landmarks in this country are dedicated to women, the Suburban Trust building becomes that much more significant—not only for its style but for its place in Rockville’s history. We urge you to contact the Mayor and Council and ask to save the Suburban Trust building as part of the Town Center. Be sure to let the council know how important such buildings are to maintaining a diverse and dynamic city.