Florence Mary Taylor: "The most remarkable woman in the Empire"
Florence Mary Taylor – structural engineer, civil engineer, the first female architect in Australia, an Officer of the British Empire, the first woman to attempt a glider flight in Australia, the first woman to fly a heavier-than-air machine in Australia, the Building Publishing Company’s co-owner, a founding member of the Town Planning Association in New South Wales, these accolades are few and far between.
She was a woman both deplored for her hunger and ungarnered by male authority in her industry. In a male-dominated industry within the late 19th century and early 20th century, she strived to make a difference and be one of the women at the forefront of change in a time when women weren't seen as architects as much as men.
‘New South Wales Institute of Architects’ – I can imagine her mumbling a defamatory slur amidst walking out of the institute’s building – her first attempt at fighting to be its first female member in 1907.
She was English – born in 1879 and moved to Sydney in 1884. Her father worked in the sewerage construction branch of the Department of Public Works.
Florence assisted her father with his engineering calculations – she had two sisters, and being the eldest, she was to support them after her father’s death in 1899.
Taylor became a draughtswoman because it paid well. Perhaps a peek into the mind of an adorned feminist, later to pave the way for the attitude towards women in her industry and women generally.
She enrolled in evening classes at Sydney Technical College in 1902. She was the only female, go figure.
Later, her employer, John Burchan Clamp, would stand in disagreement with the Institute’s rejection and hatred of her, singing, “Why she can design a place while an ordinary draughtsman is sharpening his pencil!” Go figure.
Taylor eventually was granted her membership, only 13 years later, when she was a successful publisher with her husband George Taylor. Almost wastefully staring at her empty hands, such as “What does this mean to me now?” type-rhetoric.
A quote by Florence Mary Taylor; “I don’t know why you are subjecting me to this scrutiny now, which is tantamount to persecution. Years ago, when I was an orphan with sisters to keep, I was denied entry, though I was fully qualified, and at a time when membership would have placed the hallmark upon my architectural reputation.”
“Now it seems nothing to me for I am successful without your help. It does, however, mean something for my sex, which is why I am linking up.”
Edmund Garton was Taylor’s first apprentice experience, where she was essentially sitting around filing paper. She wasn't made to do much from what we know, she was probably not allowed to work on the design or architectural side of apprenticing. Probably mumbling more slurs, until her wasted talent probably became a dull hum.
She then transferred to the office of John Burchan Clamp, and she stayed there until she completed her studies in 1907 at the age of 28, Clamp later strongly supported her membership of the Institute.
Her rejection from the Institute seemingly fostered a chain reaction of reluctance to engage in architecture, as if neglecting her once feverish and unswayed persistence in the profession.
A partnership of circumstances and timeliness paralleled her marriage with George Taylor – her sights, in fact, were completely removed from the profession altogether. In practice, of course, perhaps not so much in thought, because the first company she co-owned and headed alongside her husband was the Building Publishing Company.
Predominantly written, produced, all the rest, by the Taylor’s; the company’s main pull was its magazine titled Building, which was said to offer influential commentary on the built environment in Australia for the 50 years to follow onwards.
So, what did Florence actually design, you might ask? There are minimal specific records of Taylor’s residential designs, although a claimed 100 houses – only some of her designs have now been documented.
She won prizes for several drawings which featured in several architectural design sections of the First Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work and a kitchen design published in, ironically, the NSW Institute of Architect’s journal in 1907.
Her real legacy was most fundamentally cemented in the establishment of the Town Planning Association in Sydney and related efforts thereafter.
Taylor’s town plans, which were published in her journals Fifty Years of Town Planning with Florence Taylor (1959), advocated for ideas which have come to fruition in recent decades, including our harbour tunnel crossing, eastern suburbs distributor freeway, ‘double-decker streets’, increased building of apartments in harbourside localities, flexible mixed-use zoning, longer shopping hours for tourism-attraction.
Taylor’s more unpopular ideas included her desire to demolish Hyde Park Barracks or build heliports in the CBD, plus, her contention that the Sydney Opera House would be a white elephant which I think today we are glad it is not.
Whether it be creating ‘lifelong enemies’, as were the words of Marion and Walter Griffin, or being an incessantly right-wing commentator on the Australian built environment, Taylor was often controversially fiery and vibrant.
Supposedly, a prominent Sydney socialite and actively involved in the Arts Club, it is only through research one could remark that Taylor’s collective aura, achievements, positioning and ‘lust for life’, if you will, had an affect that reached farther than exclusively her wits.
Described by the industrialist, Essington Lewis, as “the most remarkable woman in the Empire”, Taylor’s honor lives on through several professional awards named after her, Sydney’s town planning, her contribution to the progression of women in architecture and engineering, but most notably, a three-story high portrait that faces out to no one at Central Station and is coupled with the Mortuary Station – a building she didn’t design.
Surely, a confused eclectic, but perhaps a true realization of Taylor – three-stories high, ‘Australia’s first woman architect’ and remarkably, enigmatic.
Today is the 141st anniversary of Florence Mary Taylor's birth – in honor of her contribution to the industry of architecture, engineering, and progression of women in professional industries. She will forever be remembered as the person who pioneered women within the industry and ultimately serviced as an example to young women to this day that are inspired to pursue architecture and construction within Australia and around the world