Florence Mary Taylor

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Florence Mary Taylor
Florence Taylor
Born (1879-12-29)29 December 1879
Bedminster, Somerset, England
Died 13 February 1969(1969-02-13) (aged 89)
Potts Point, New South Wales, Australia
Nationality Australian
Occupation Architect
Awards OBE, CBE
Practice Town Planning Association of New South Wales
Building Publishing Co. Ltd

Florence Mary Taylor CBE (née Parsons) (born 29 December 1879, Bedminster, England and died 13 February 1969, Sydney, Australia) was the first qualified female architect and the first woman to train as an engineer in Australia.[1] She was also the first woman in Australia to fly in a heavier-than-air craft in 1909. However she is best known for her role as publisher, editor and writer for the influential building industry trade journals established in 1907 with her husband George, which she ran and expanded after his death in 1928 until her retirement in 1961.[2]

Early life[edit]

Florence was born at Bedminster, in Somerset (now a part of Bristol), England to working class parents who described themselves as "stone quarryman" and "washerwoman" in the British census of 1881. Her family migrated to Australia when she was a child, arriving in Sydney in 1884 after a short stint in Queensland. Her father John Parsons soon found work as a draftsman-clerk with the Parramatta Council. According to her official although unpublished biography by Kerwin Maegraith, Florence attended a nearby public school where she says she received a "good education".[3]


Following the deaths of her mother in 1896 and father in 1899, Florence was forced to find work to help support herself and her two younger sisters. She eventually found a position as a clerk in the Parramatta architectural practice of Francis Ernest Stowe, an acquaintance of her father's.[4] Inspired by the example of draftspeople in the same office who were earning far more than herself, she enrolled in night classes at the Sydney Technical College where she became the first woman to complete final year studies in architecture in 1904.[3]

During her architecture course she was articled to the architect Edmund Skelton Garton. Although she had fond memories of being mentored by Garton, she later recalled that other workers in the office were less encouraging. Soon after completing her articles, she went on to work in the busy and prestigious office of John Burcham Clamp, where she claimed she was made chief draftsperson.[3]

With Clamp's strong support in 1907, Florence applied to become the first female member of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales.[5] However she was not accepted at this time, and she later claimed to have been "blackballed" by a groundswell of hostility from the all-male membership who did not wish to admit a woman member. She did become the first woman member of the Institute, but not until 1920 when she accepted their invitation to join.[6]

In April 1907, Florence married Sydney-born artist, inventor and craftworker George Augustine Taylor, at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church in Sydney.[4] George Taylor had lectured her at college and was a close friend of her first employer Francis Ernest Stowe. On 5 December 1909, Florence became the first Australian woman to fly a heavier-than-air craft, in a glider built by George, from the Narrabeen sandhills near Sydney.[7] They were both passionate about architecture and town planning, amongst many other interests and activities. Max Freeland described them as "possibly the most amazing couple in Australia's history".[8]

Within a few months of their wedding they had established a publishing company that specialised in building industry journals, spearheaded by "Building" magazine. According to garden historian Richard Aitken, 'Gardening, although not expressly covered by Building, was treated nonetheless as an integral part of design, both at a domestic level and on a broader public scale'.[9] In 1914 Florence helped George to found the Town Planning Association of New South Wales. Florence's secretary was Mary Emily Haworth (1901–1998), who was the maternal grandmother of Australian artist Kathy Panton (1969–). Journalist John Canner (1882–1978) also worked on "Building Ltd" where he met and later married Mary Haworth.

Following her husband's sudden death, drowning in his bath associated with an epileptic fit in 1928,[10] Florence maintained their publishing business and continued to produce town plans. She also travelled to Asia and Europe. She published a book about her town plans in 1959, authored by her employee J.M. Giles, 50 years of town planning with Florence M. Taylor. Florence was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1939 and elevated to a Commander of that order in 1961.

Retirement and death[edit]

Florence Taylor retired in 1961 at 81 years of age, and lived in Potts Point.[4] She died there on 13 February 1969 and was cremated with Anglican rites. Her estate was valued for probate at $226,281.[5]


In some of the many interviews where she told her life story, Florence Taylor suggested that she had designed up to 100 houses in Sydney during her stint as an architect between 1900 and 1907. Although she left no easy records specifying where these were located, some aspects of her design work have now been documented. In 1907 she worked with her employer John Burcham Clamp on the basement of the Farmers Department store in Pitt Street Sydney, perhaps the first example of a woman contributing to commercial architectural design in Sydney. Also in 1907 she provided a perspective drawing for the winning competition entry for the Commercial Traveller's Building in Sydney (which was demolished to make way for the MLC Centre in the 1970s). Again in 1907 she won prizes in several architectural design sections of the "First Australian Exhibition of Women's Work" in Melbourne in 1907. Her winning design for a kitchen was published in the NSW Institute of Architects' journal in November 1907 (accompanied by a somewhat condescending commentary). Her second prize winning design for a seaside cottage had to wait another 50 years before being published in one of her own journals, "Construction", on 24 December 1958. Further research has uncovered houses probably designed by Florence Taylor at 12 Florence Street Cremorne, Hogue House in Kareela Road Cremorne and a house built in the 1920s for her sister Annis in Thomas Street Roseville.[3]

Taylor's legacy as a town planner is more extensive. Throughout her career she produced town planning schemes which were published in her journals and presented to government authorities but otherwise apparently ignored. Yet many of the ideas she advocated for Sydney have come to fruition in recent decades including a harbour tunnel crossing, an eastern suburbs distributor freeway, the construction of "double-decker streets" such as the Victoria Street overpass across William Street at Kings Cross, increased building of apartments especially in harbourside localities such as Woolloomooloo and North Sydney, more flexible mixed-use zoning (including longer shopping hours), making Sydney more attractive for tourism and the need to conserve and plant more trees everywhere. Other ideas have proved unpopular or incorrect, such as her desire to demolish Hyde Park Barracks or build heliports in the CBD and her contention that the Sydney Opera House would be a white elephant.[11]

The Canberra suburb Taylor was named in her honour, as were several professional awards, including the 'Florence M. Taylor Medallion' from the Master Builders Association of Victoria and the 'Florence Taylor Award' from the Queensland chapter of the Australian Institute of Building.[12][13]

A three-storey high portrait of Florence Taylor adorns an apartment building facing the railway on the southern approach to Sydney's Central railway station, which commemorates her as "Australia's first woman architect". Although this portrait also features a photograph of the beautiful Gothic Mortuary Station, located nearby, that building was completed ten years before Taylor's birth, designed by the then Government Architect James Barnet, and there is no known link between Taylor and the building.[11]

A portrait of Florence Taylor by Jerrold Nathan is held by the Mitchell Library, Sydney.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ De Vries, S. 1999. The Complete Book of Great Australian Women. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-7322-7804-X
  2. ^ Willis, Julie and Bronwyn Hanna "Women Architects in Australia 1900–1960" Royal Australian Institute of Architects, 2000
  3. ^ a b c d Hanna, Bronwyn Hanna "Absence and Presence, A Historiography of Early Women Architects in New South Wales", PhD, University of New South Wales, 1999, online at http://www.library.unsw.edu.au/~thesis/adt-NUN/uploads/approved/adt-NUN2000.0006/public/01front.pdf
  4. ^ a b c "Florence Taylor" (PDF). Pioneer Women: the newsletter of the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame Inc. (Alice Springs, NT: The National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame, published September 2004). 2004. pp. 8–10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 August 2007. Retrieved 7 September 2007. .
  5. ^ a b c Ludlow, Christa (1990). "Taylor, Florence Mary (1879–1969)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. Retrieved 7 September 2007. 
  6. ^ Heywood, Anne (4 July 2002). "Taylor, Florence Mary (1879–1969)". Australian Women Biographical Entry. National Foundation for Australian Women. Retrieved 7 September 2007. 
  7. ^ Naughton, Russell (2005). "TAYLOR, Florence, OBE". Women Aviation Pioneers of Australian and New Zealand Skies 1900–2000. Monash University: Engineering. Retrieved 7 September 2007. 
  8. ^ Freeland, J.M. (1971) The Making of a Profession, Angus & Robertson, Sydney
  9. ^ Aitken, R., ‘“Return to Lutyens": Florence Taylor and the folly of architecture', Australian Garden History, 19 (3), 2007/08, pp. 15–17.
  10. ^ "The Architect who found MI not so natural". Magnetic Times. 19 April 2002. p. 1. Retrieved 7 September 2007. 
  11. ^ a b Freestone, Robert and Bronwyn Hanna, "Florence Taylor's Hats", Halstead Press, Sydney, 2008.
  12. ^ Master Builders Association of Victoria. Apprentice of the Year Awards
  13. ^ Bickerdike, Garry (2006). "President's Report" (PDF). Australian Institute of Building Queensland Chapter Annual Report (54) (Fortitude Valley, Qld: Australian Institute of Building, published 2006-06-22). p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 7 September 2007. .