Faith Bemis Meem

While in Weigle’s anecdote Faith Meem appears only as a footnote, nothing could have been further from the truth, for Faith was a person of force and accomplishment in her own right. The Santa Fe Living Treasures project ( “publicly honors elders who have generously served our community with kind hearts and good deeds,” individuals who “make a difference” and “express our best values.” One hundred and seventy-five individuals in the Santa Fe area have been honored since the program’s founding in 1984. Faith Meem was one of the very first, in 1985. In a piece entitled “Faith Meem: The Spirit of Civility,” the project’s website provides a sketch of her early life and her meeting with John:

Faith Meem’s interest in construction came naturally. Her father’s “first love” was construction–bricks and mortar. “He invented some of the first modular houses,” says Faith’s daughter, Nancy Meem Wirth.

Born in 1902 to Faith Gregg Bemis and Albert Farwell Bemis, Faith grew up in the Boston suburb of Chestnut Hill. One of seven children, Faith and her father enjoyed doing construction projects together. Faith attended Vassar for a couple of years, but when she became unhappy, her father encouraged her to study art in France.

On her return, Faith wanted to study architecture. Women weren’t admitted to MIT or Harvard in the 1920s. The two schools had created the Cambridge School of Design for women who wanted to study architecture and landscape design. Faith received her degree from this school in the late 1920s. Afterwards, she remodeled a house in Washington, D.C., and worked briefly in New York, “but it was during the Depression and jobs were scarce,” Nancy said.

The man Faith would marry, architect John Gaw Meem, contracted tuberculosis and came to Santa Fe for his health in the early 1920s. He was establishing himself in his profession. and one of his best clients was a woman from Colorado Springs named Alice Bemis Taylor. Alice hired John to build the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

She also asked him to hire her niece, Faith, as a draftsman in his office. John agreed, and Faith Bemis headed to Santa Fe. The only one of her siblings to go West, Faith felt New Mexico was like “being close to the sea because she could see the horizon,” Nancy told us. “She became attuned and identified closely with the Southwest.”

Faith and John were married in 1933. The couple lived in his office for a while and then bought property on Old Pecos Road, now Old Santa Fe Trail. “Together, they designed and built the split level part of the house in 1938,” said Nancy, who now lives in the home. “I was born in 1937. My parents had a housewarming and christening for my first birthday when the house was completed.”

What no one knew at the time, of course, was that the backyard of this very same property would, some two decades later, become the seedbed for the Santa Fe campus of St. John’s.