C.W. Ramirez, Street Signs to History: The Story of the West Annapolis and Wardour Street Names (2016).

Constance Werner Ramirez

Ph.D. CRP '75

C.W. Ramirez, Street Signs to History: The Story of the West Annapolis and Wardour Street Names (2016).

A Preservation Pioneer

by Elisa Gallaro

Constance Werner Ramirez (Ph.D. CRP '75) became fascinated with architecture and historic preservation while exploring Annapolis as a child. Her family moved to the Maryland capital just before Ramirez entered second grade. It was their first time living outside New England, and everything was unfamiliar.

"This didn't look like Springfield or Providence or even like Cambridge," Ramirez says. "My parents' approach was, 'You're in a new place, so you get out and learn about it.' I don't know why, but the architecture interested me from the beginning."

Walks around the city — to school, the library, and the United States Naval Academy where her father worked — also gave Ramirez an appreciation "for the physical environment and its impact on your satisfaction and what you do." 

These early interests ultimately led Ramirez to a distinguished, more-than-50-year career in historic preservation, urban planning and design, education, and public service. 

An older woman poses for a photo with five college students.

Constance W. Ramirez with students from her Historic Preservation Studio Workshop at the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation.

During the late 1960s and '70s, as an expert on the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) of the National Park Service, Ramirez helped U.S. communities document their architectural heritage. She cataloged more than 800 historic buildings in Maryland, researched and prepared the history of the Georgetown waterfront in Washington, DC, and detailed urban development in Nantucket, Massachusetts. 

As a consultant and preservation officer for the Army, Ramirez developed programs to protect prehistoric archaeological sites on military bases and other government properties — work that informs Department of Defense preservation and management practices to this day. She also held leadership positions with the General Services Administration and the Federal Preservation Institute of the National Park Service.

To help train others in historic preservation and cultural resource management, Ramirez cofounded the nonprofit National Preservation Institute. For nearly four decades, she also taught classes in preservation policy and planning at colleges and universities, including the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia, and George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Her efforts have earned accolades from the U.S. government, professional societies, municipalities, and others.

The Department of the Army and the General Services Administration recognized Ramirez with certificates of appreciation, and the Department of the Interior presented her with the Honor Award for Superior Service. She also received the "Golden Trowel" Public Service Award from the Society for American Archeology and the President's Award for National Environmental Policy Act Excellence from the National Association of Environmental Professionals. 

Closer to home, Ramirez was named a Preservation Pioneer by the City of Annapolis. In 2020, she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from Historic Annapolis, an organization she first became involved with as a high school student, serving as one of its first junior tour guides in the 1950s. Then, after earning a degree in art and architecture from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Ramirez returned to the organization as its Assistant Director for Architectural Research, a role that involved researching and documenting historic properties in Annapolis.

It was a pivotal time for preservation efforts in the city. The downtown was declining and faced an additional threat from a mall under construction on the outskirts of town. Conferences were drawing preservationists and planners to Annapolis. Among them were Yale University's highly regarded Christopher Tunnard and Walter Harris, who persuaded Ramirez to pursue a master's at the Yale School of Architecture. That experience led to another fortuitous introduction — to John Reps of the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell. The renowned urban planning historian served on the jury for Ramirez's master's defense at Yale and invited her to apply to Cornell's doctoral program.

"I had no plans on being a scholar, or getting a Ph.D., or anything else," Ramirez says. "What I had were some interests, and it's the people who liked those interests who pushed me along."

She was accepted to Cornell but postponed attending until 1966, in order to work as a planner for two years with the federal Urban Renewal Administration. At Cornell, Ramirez was the only female doctoral candidate in the department, and she was a teaching assistant for Reps, who served as chair of her dissertation committee.

Ramirez completed her coursework and exams in two years and, a year later in 1969, married an architect with three young sons. He built an addition to their home in Arlington, Virginia, that would serve as an office for Ramirez. "I and my dissertation moved in," she says. Before long, the couple added two daughters to their family.

"In my generation, women had lives of discontinuity," Ramirez says. "We couldn't expect that our lives would follow the more stable, traditional track of men."

Instead, Ramirez built a successful consulting practice while completing her dissertation, "Urban History for Preservation Planning: The Annapolis Experience." She was awarded her Doctor of Philosophy in City and Regional Planning in 1975. By then, Ramirez had earned a reputation as an authority on HABS, historic preservation, cultural resource management, federal regulations, and urban planning. For the rest of her career, she used that expertise to help preserve both national treasures and the diversity of public spaces. Equally important, she helped prepare others to do the same.

Among the many lessons Ramirez has shared with her students is the value of her Cornell education, which she describes as "absolutely essential" for the depth of understanding it provided in her chosen field. Having a Ph.D. also proved advantageous when she was a consultant and, later, on the professional staff of the Army, where titles command respect.

Ramirez retired from government service in 2015, and from higher education four years later. She still works as a consultant and, since 2013, has been a trustee of the Chase Home, also known as the Chase-Lloyd House National Historic Landmark in Annapolis. Built in the late 18th century by Samuel Chase, one of four Maryland signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Georgian mansion served as a residence for elderly women for more than 130 years. The last resident moved out in 2020, after a structural assessment of the building discovered age, health, and safety issues. 

When Ramirez was a junior guide for Historic Annapolis, the Chase-Lloyd House was one of the highlights of the tour. Now, along with her colleagues on its Board of Trustees, Ramirez is helping to restore and preserve the home she's loved for more than 60 years.


Selected Works

Constance Werner Ramirez discusses the motivations behind her career in historic preservation, which earned her the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020 from Historic Annapolis.

Lifetime Achievement Award video

Cover of Cultural Resource Management scholarly journal

U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service Cultural Resources, Cultural Resource Management 20, no. 13 (1997): cover.

Cultural Resource Management

First page of scholarly article 'A Summary History of the Army's Preservation Program'

C.W. Ramirez, "A Summary History of the Army's Preservation Program," Cultural Resource Management 20, no. 13 (1997): 6.

"A Summary History of the
Army's Preservation Program"

First page of scholarly article 'Protecting Our Historic Places in Uncertain Times" published online

C.W. Ramirez, "Protecting Our Historic Places in Uncertain Times," Forum Journal 17, issue 3 (spring 2003).

"Protecting Our Historic
Places in Uncertain Times"

Title page of scholarly article on economic impact of federal historic properties

T.E. Kelly and C.W. Ramirez, "Measuring the Economic Impact of Federal Historic Properties" (June 2005).

"Measuring the Economic Impact
of Federal Historic Properties"

Cover of the SAA Archaeological Record (September 2007) showing a man working in a wooded area

Society for American Archaeology, The SAA Archeological Record 7, no. 4 (September 2007): cover.

SAA Archeological Record

First page of scholarly article "Historic Preservation Learning Portal: A Performance Support Project For Cultural Resource Managers"

C.W. Ramirez, "Historic Preservation Learning Portal: A Performance Support Project For Cultural Resource Managers," The SAA Archeological Record 7, no. 4 (September 2007): 33; making the case for an innovative, user-friendly search tool that provided immediate access to preservation resources on thousands of websites.

"Historic Preservation
Learning Portal"

Title page of the book Street Signs to History

C.W. Ramirez, Street Signs to History: The Story of the West Annapolis and Wardour Street Names (2016), written pro bono for the West Annapolis Heritage Partnership as a community service.

Street Signs to History

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