Harriet Erwin of Charlotte was the daughter of Dr. Robert Morrison, the founder of Davidson College, and the sister-in-law of General Daniel Harvey Hill, an officer in the Confederate Army. Being sickly as a child, she spent her days in bed reading, while her brothers and sisters engaged in active play. In 1869, heavily influenced by her years of illness and readings in architecture, she set out to design a house that was both practical and economical for the invalid housekeeper. In that same year she received a patent for a hexagonal house design that emphasized more efficient lighting, better movement of air, and better use of space. At age forty-one, Irwin became the first woman in the United States to receive an architectural patent.