Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harvie, Edythe Ellison (1902–1984)

by Harriet Edquist

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Edythe Ellison Harvie (1902-1984), architect, was born on 18 May 1902 at Prahran, Melbourne, daughter of Victorian-born parents Robert William Harvie, photographer, and his wife Alice Edington, née Marshall. Wanting to be an architect from an early age, Ellison was educated at Warwick, a girls’ school at East Malvern. In 1920-23 she took courses at Swinburne Technical College. One of her lecturers, (Sir) Arthur Stephenson, invited her to serve her articles in the partnership he had recently established. She joined the firm in 1921 and remained there throughout her professional life.

In 1925-28 Harvie attended the Melbourne University Architectural Atelier (1925-28), where she excelled, her work being later recognised in the award of a diploma of architectural design (1938)—the first received by a woman. Registered as an architect and elected an associate (1928) of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects, Harvie specialised in hospital architecture, a field in which Stephenson & Meldrum gained an international reputation. She led work on the Jessie Macpherson wing of the Queen Victoria Hospital (1928), and on designs for the St Vincent’s (1933), Mercy (1934, 1937-39) and Freemasons (1935) hospitals. Hers was, she insisted, a `co-operative profession’. Stephenson dubbed her his `right hand’ and the journalist Nora Cooper called her in 1936 `an architect of brilliant achievement and great promise’.

Harvie was made an associate of the new partnership Stephenson & Turner in 1938 and soon placed in charge of work on the Royal Melbourne Hospital. The demands of World War II meant she effectively ran both the practice and project, extending her interests in office management, qualifying as an accountant and developing a form of building contract that could adjust to economic instability. In 1946 she was made a partner of the firm and elected a fellow of the RVIA—the first woman to gain this status. She was also a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and, later, a life fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.

A committed modernist, Harvie drew much of her inspiration from the innovative institutional work she observed during travels through the United States of America and Europe. Deploring the lack of architectural appreciation in Australia, she served on the RVIA’s Board of Architectural Education (1946-56) and on the board of the University of Melbourne’s faculty of architecture (1945-73).

Harvie also became an advocate for the professional development of women, urging their full participation in public life and an end to discrimination against them in employment. She continued to work on hospitals until her retirement from full-time practice in 1968, but also designed two buildings specifically serving women: the Lyceum Club (1959) and St Hilda’s College (1963), University of Melbourne. The former has an elegance typical of late 1950s modernism; the latter, in spare, pale brick, is tempered with modest references to the traditions of collegial gothic.

Quietly charming, if austerely groomed—and to some younger colleagues daunting in her dedication—Ellison Harvie was president (1963-65) of the Lyceum Club and a foundation member (1948) and honorary treasurer of the Melbourne Soroptomist Club. A member of the Royal Society of Arts, London, and the Victorian Artists Society, she enjoyed landscape painting. Chess and golf were other interests. She had a working knowledge of Japanese, Chinese and Greek, and some Danish and Swedish. She died at East Melbourne on 27 September 1984 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Willis and B. Hanna, Women Architects in Australia 1900-1950 (2001)
  • Australian Home Beautiful, 1 Aug 1936, p 13
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 21 Feb 1948, p 9
  • Melbourne University Gazette, Dec 1984, p 14.

Citation details

Harriet Edquist, 'Harvie, Edythe Ellison (1902–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/harvie-edythe-ellison-12605/text22705, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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