Florence Mary Taylor

Florence Mary Taylor (1879-1969), architect, engineer and publisher, was born at Bristol England, eldest of five daughters of Eliza (born Brooks) and John Parsons, a government employee. In 1888 the family emigrated to Australia. Her father died when she was nineteen and she began work as a clerk in an architect-engineer's office. (Many men then combined what later were regarded as two separate professions.) Florence decided to become a draftsman. She served her articles with Edmund Skelton Garton, attended evening classes at the Sydney Technical College, in building construction, architectural drawing and quantity surveying, and lectures at the University of Sydney Engineering School. At the college at first she was failed in all her examinations; it took her eight years to compete the course. In the office she was given the arduous task of writing out construction specifications. She wrote later: 'They seemed to be never ending and I thought I would never get around to designing homes and other buildings though I used to get in at 7.30 am every day in a desire to overtake my work.'

She became chief draftsman for John Burcham Clamp, the Diocesan architect. In 1907 Clamp nominated her for associate membership of the New South Wales Institute of Architects, the first woman ever to be nominated; she was not accepted though Clamp strongly defended her talents: 'She could design a place while an ordinary draftsman would be sharpening his pencil.' It was not until 1920 that she was admitted to the Institute as Australia's first qualified female architect.

In 1907 Florence married George Augustine Taylor, an architect-engineer who had qualified at the University of Sydney. Taylor was a remarkable man of diverse talents, a cartoonist, a 'Bohemian', a pioneer in wireless, aviation and engineering. Florence shared many of his interests. She learnt to fly in 1909. With him, she was a founding member of the Town Planning Association of Australia (1913). Together they started the Building Publishing Company which produced trade journals, including The Australasian Engineer, Building and The Commonwealth Home. Through these they campaigned for urban planning and improved construction methods and materials. They promoted the interests of engineers, architects and builders with the government and the public, as in their organisation of a petition from professionals supporting Walter Burley Griffin's designs for Canberra.

George Taylor's early death in 1928 left Florence with a host of tasks and responsibilities. She ceased publishing eight of their eleven periodicals, continuing only Building (later Building, Lighting and Engineering), Construction, and The Australasian Engineer. She continued to produce a stream of town planning schemes which she employed others to draw up, not being able to spare her own time from publishing. Her schemes included traffic subways for Sydney, a new airport at Newport, and an express route for traffic from the centre of Sydney to its eastern suburbs. She travelled to Europe and America and brought back planning ideas which she advocated in her writings and speeches. Under her editorship the journals became recognised organs of the engineering and building industries. She sponsored design awards and had several named in her honour, most importantly the Australian Institute of Metals Florence M. Taylor medal and a plaque for distinguished service from the Master Builders' Association.

She was appointed OBE (1939) and CBE (1961). The associations and clubs in which she was strongly involved included the Arts Club, the International Society of Australia, the Royal Empire Society, the Royal Aero Club of New South Wales, The Royal Society of Arts, and the Society of Women Writers. She was widely respected, even if her talent for probing questions and sharp criticism irritated some members of her profession.

Her views on the responsibilities of women were definite: 'For a woman to marry, get into the small confines of her home and never be articulate is a disgrace,' she said in 1953. 'There is not enough mental occupation in the home and women never get a chance to shoulder life's full responsibilities'. In l961 she retired in ill health to live in semi-seclusion with her sister Annis Parson. She died on 13 February 1969.

Christa Ludlow