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Taylor, Florence Mary (1879–1969)

by Christa Ludlow

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Florence Mary Taylor (1879-1969), architect and publisher, was born on 29 December 1879 at Bedminster, Somerset, England, eldest daughter of John Parsons, labourer, and his wife Eliza, née Brooks. The family migrated to Sydney in 1884 where John worked in the sewerage construction branch of the Department of Public Works. Florence assisted her father with his engineering calculations. After his death in 1899, she had to find work to support her two sisters. She decided to become a draftsman. While articled to the architect Edmund Skelton Garton, she attended night-classes at Sydney Technical College until 1904.

She had meanwhile been promoted chief draftsman in Garton's office. Having completed her articles, she went as chief draftsman to J. B. Clamp who nominated her in 1907 for associate membership of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales. Despite his defence of her talent (she 'could design a place while an ordinary draftsman would be sharpening his pencil'), the nomination was defeated, notwithstanding which she built up a thriving practice designing homes.

On 3 April 1907 at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney, Florence married George Augustine Taylor. Sharing many of his interests, on 5 December 1909 she reputedly became the first Australian woman to fly—in a glider built in his workshop at Redfern. With George, she was a founding member (1913) of the Town Planning Association of New South Wales and its secretary for many years. Together they started the Building Publishing Co. Ltd which produced trade journals, three of which Florence edited: Harmony, Young Australia and the Australian (later Commonwealth) Home. Through their journals they campaigned for urban planning, improved construction methods and better materials; through them, they also promoted the interests of engineers, architects and builders. In 1920 Florence was eventually invited to join the Institute of Architects. She accepted.

When George Taylor died suddenly in 1928 he left his estate, valued for probate at £10,147, to his wife. Florence was determined to carry on their business. Although forced to cease publishing eight of their eleven journals, she maintained Building (later Building, Lighting and Engineering) (1907-72), Construction (1908-74) and the Australasian Engineer (1915-73), editing them herself. She continued to produce town planning schemes, but relied on others to draw them as she was unable to spare time from publishing. She visited Europe, the Americas and Asia, bringing back ideas on urban and rural planning which informed her writings and speeches.

An 'indefatigable founder and joiner', Mrs Taylor was closely involved in the Arts Club, (Royal) Aero Club of New South Wales, Society of Women Writers, New South Wales branch of the Australian Forest League, Australian-American Association, Royal Empire Society and the Bush Book Club, among others. She was widely respected, even if her questions and criticism irritated some of her professional colleagues. Her energy, determination and outspokenness earned her the title, 'The Grand Old Lady of Publishing'. Remembered by her contemporaries for dressing (even in the 1930s) in long sweeping skirts and a picture hat decorated with ostrich feathers, she was a tall, striking woman, with blue eyes and blonde hair, and a fine singing voice. She retired at the age of 81. Appointed O.B.E. in 1939 and C.B.E. in 1961, she was an honorary member of the Australian Institute of Builders and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London.

Her ideas on the responsibilities of women were fixed: for 'a woman to marry, get into the confines of the home and never be articulate in public affairs is a disgrace'. Her achievements and the publicity they received did much to advance the public acceptance of women in the professions. In declining health she sequestered herself at her Potts Point home with her sister Annis Parsons. Florence Taylor died there on 13 February 1969 and was cremated with Anglican rites. Her estate was valued for probate at $226,281. She had no children. A portrait by Jerrold Nathan is held by the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Giles, Some Chapters in the Life of George Augustine Taylor (Syd, 1957)
  • J. M. Giles, 50 Years of Town Planning with Florence M. Taylor (Syd, 1959)
  • J. M. Freeland, The Making of a Profession (Syd, 1971)
  • M. Roe, Nine Australian Progressives (Brisb, 1976)
  • People (Sydney), 30 Dec 1953, p 423
  • Building (Sydney), Mar 1969, p 9
  • F. M. and G. A. Taylor papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • K. Maegraith papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Christa Ludlow, 'Taylor, Florence Mary (1879–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-florence-mary-8754/text15337, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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