Taylor, Florence

2008
CC BY-SA 2.0
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Taylor, Florence

Florence Mary Parsons was born in Bristol, England on 29 December 1879. Her working-class parents described themselves in the 1881 census as 'stone quarryman' and 'washerwoman'.

The family migrated to Australia when Florence was four years old, apparently in search of a better life. Her father soon found employment with Parramatta Council in Sydney and Florence and her siblings attended local public schools. Florence's mother died when she was 16 and her father three years later. At the turn of the twentieth century, Florence found herself a young adult, 'orphaned' as she described herself, and with two younger sisters to support.

Domestic work was her most likely option yet she managed to obtain a clerical position in the Parramatta office of architect Francis Ernest Stowe, an acquaintance of her father's. This short stint led to an architectural apprenticeship with Edward Garton in the city. She attended night classes at Sydney Technical College, where she became the first woman to complete final fourth year studies in the architecture school. She also studied at Stowe's private Marine Engineering College in Sydney, where she gained qualifications as an engineer.

Soon after completing her architectural articles, Florence moved to the prestigious city office of Burcham Clamp, where she reached the status of chief draftsman. In 1907 Florence attempted to join the New South Wales Institute of Architects but claimed that she was rejected because she was a woman. This episode heralded the end of her career as an architect but coincided with her marriage to George Taylor.

Together with George she founded the Building Publishing Company. They developed a successful stable of publications, largely written by the Taylors and spearheaded by Building magazine, which offered influential commentary on the built environment in Australia for the next half century. In 1914 they were active in the establishment of the Town Planning Association in Sydney and welcomed Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin to Australia to carry out their urban design plan for Canberra. Unfortunately relations quickly soured between the couples and they ended up 'lifelong enemies', to use Marion's phrase. It was the most prominent of the many friendships and disputes played out in public by the Taylors in their self-appointed role as right-wing commentators on the Australian built environment.

After George died in 1928, Florence carried on the publishing business alone, surviving the Great Depression and expanding significantly after World War II. She also became prominent as a Sydney socialite and was actively engaged in a myriad of clubs and activities, most notably the Arts Club. At the same time, she maintained a private stream of town planning design suggestions for improving Sydney (largely based on more freeways and transport technology), which she had documented in a book entitled Fifty Years of Town Planning with Florence Taylor (c1959).

Taylor retired in 1961, a wealthy woman. Sadly, her sister and lifelong companion Annis Parsons died within the month. She herself died in 1969 after a lonely series of degenerative illnesses. Florence Taylor's proudest epithet was the description of her by the industrialist Essington Lewis as 'the most remarkable woman in the empire'.

References

Robert Freestone and Bronwyn Hanna, Florence Taylor's Hats, Halstead Press, Sydney, 2008

Marion Mahony Griffin, The Magic of America: Electronic Edition, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, http://www.artic.edu/magicofamerica/index.html

Bronwyn Hanna, Absence and presence: A Historiography of Early Women Architects in New South Wales, PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2000

Kerwin Maegraith, 'Florence Taylor,' unpublished manuscript, c1968, State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Library manuscripts

Bronwyn Hanna and Julie Willis, Women Architects in Australia 1900–1950, Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Canberra, 2000

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