Leila Ross Wilburn was born in Macon, Georgia in 1885. Her family moved to Decatur, Georgia in the midst of the economic depression of 1895. She attended Agnes Scott Institute (now Agnes Scott College) and took private lessons in architectural drafting. After taking an architectural tour of the country, Leila returned home to join the Atlanta firm of Benjamin R. Padgett and Son as a trainee, making her one of only two Georgia women to work in the male-dominated field of architecture.
At age 22, she received her first commission, a three-story building that became the YMCA gym at Georgia Military Academy (now Woodward Academy). She continued designing single family homes and apartment homes throughout Midtown Atlanta and Decatur, many designed in the Craftsman style that is still popular today.
In 1909 she opened her own firm. She insisted that the design and construction of the American home should not be reserved only for those who could afford an architect. In a half-century of work, she left a legacy of homes, apartments and commercial buildings in the southeast.
To reach a wider audience, the innovative young architect produced a series of “Pattern Books,” from which people could choose a design and purchase construction plans. Today, her homes may be seen in the MAK Historic District of Decatur, Georgia, Ansley Park, Druid Hills and Candler Park in Atlanta. Some of her buildings are listed among the finest examples of 20th Century architecture. Each year Decatur, her former home, administers the Leila Ross Wilburn award to those who excel in historic preservation.
In 1961, Wilburn was welcomed into the Society of American Registered Architects, an honor which is reflected in the fact that the membership certificate at the time still read, “Having given evidence of his qualifications....”
In 1967, Leila Ross Wilburn passed away and was laid to rest in the Decatur Cemetery.