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Born in 1897, Ellice Maud Nosworthy attended high school at SCEGGS Redlands in Cremorne, and commenced a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney in 1917. When Professor Leslie Wilkinson arrived at the university the following year to establish the nation's first academic architecture course, Nosworthy transferred into the new faculty with the first group of students.
A woman's practice
Following her graduation, Nosworthy was employed by architects Waterhouse & Lake during 1922 and 1923, but by 1925 she was setting up her own practice which would be the mainstay of her professional life. Conducted from home at Treatts Road in Lindfield, the practice focused on domestic architecture, with the clientele consisting largely of north shore friends and acquaintances. Nosworthy consistently employed other women architects in the practice including Barbara Munro, Ethel Richmond, Louise Hutchinson, Libby Hall, Elizabeth Hare, Gene Wilsford, Winsome Kelman and Judith Macintosh.
Several homes designed by Nosworthy were photographed by Max Dupain and Harold Cazneaux, and the photographs were published during the1940s. They show substantial single storey houses with minimal decorative detail, oriented around courtyards, and with an emphasis on interconnectedness between interior and exterior.
During World War II, Nosworthy also worked for the Allied Works Council. From 1941 to 1972, Nosworthy was the honorary architect for Women's College at the University of Sydney, her alma mater, providing free advice for the maintenance of its buildings and also designing several substantial additions.
In collaboration with Leslie Wilkinson, she designed alterations for St John's College at the same university. She also designed buildings for the Sydney Day Nursery and Nursery Schools Association, Karitane, YWCA, Frensham School and Ku-ring-gai Council. A major project later in her life was designing four blocks of community housing for the Ku-ring-gai Old People's Welfare Association (KOPWA) in the 1960s. Her designs were still appreciated by KOPWA in the 1990s as 'practical, functional design … value for money ... [which] fulfilled their purpose admirably, and continue to do so'.
Nosworthy's work tended to follow the architectural norms of the periods she worked in, so that her early houses exhibit English cottage style detailing, while later work shows a preference for non-decorative, functional, modern design. Her architectural philosophy focused on accommodating her clients' needs. While she understood and used modernist principles of design and construction, her oeuvre was not restricted to this. She was aware of the profound and diverse array of meanings which people attach to their homes and was prepared to listen to and accommodate her clients' opinions. Nosworthy was a Fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
A University of Sydney Women's College tribute on her death commented on her expertise, energy and patience. Just as impressive is the outstanding reputation she achieved for her highly respected architectural practice amongst women architects of her generation and subsequent generations. Her family has donated of a large archive of her drawings and professional documents to the National Library of Australia.
Architecture, June 1920. (featuring student designs by Nosworthy amongst others).
Australian National Journal (Autumn 1940) - house for 'Mr and Mrs G.U. Allen', Pacific Road, Palm Beach.
George Beiers (ed.) Houses of Australia, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1948 - house for 'Mrs Peter Russo', Pacific Road, Palm Beach.
Bronwyn Hanna, interview with Cecily Gunz, sister of Ellice Nosworthy, 1995 – source of all quotes.
Bronwyn Hanna, 'Ellice Nosworthy', Constructive Times, no.49, 1997, pp4-7.
Bronwyn Hanna, 'Ellice Nosworthy', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.15, University of Melbourne Press, 2000, pp499-500.
Bronwyn Hanna 'Absence and Presence, A Historiography of Early Women Architects in NSW', PhD, UNSW, 2000. Respondents and people interviewed in this study who mentioned Ellice Nosworthy as an admired pioneer included: Robert Bland, Catherine Brink, Dierdre Broughton, Louise Cox, Constance Crisp, Eleanor Cullis-Hill, Beryl Fakes, Margaret Harvey-Sutton, Marjorie Holroyde, Judith Macintosh, Josephine Martin and Caroline Roberts, Janet Single and Gwen Wilson.
Julie Willis and Bronwyn Hanna, Women Architects in Australia, 1900-1950, RAIA, Canberra, 2001.