Women’s History Month 2012 theme

Winsome Hall AndrewWomen with a Plan: Architects, Planners and Landscape Architects 

The Australia’s Women’s History Month 2012 theme aimed to turn the extraordinary into the ordinary with the theme Women with a Plan. The women urban planners, architects, and landscape architects who shaped our surroundings, and our history in the past century deserve attention both for the notable work of some and for the extraordinary determination they all showed in following professions dominated by men.

Some of these women helped lay the foundations of these professions in Australia. Others, from early 19th century First Lady Elizabeth Macquarie to fighting feminist Bessie Guthrie 150 years later, had a more singular impact on the planning and design of their surroundings.

We have selected just a few women from Australia’s planning and design history for our Women with a Plan Gallery for Women’s History Month in March 2012.

This outline previews the ‘leading lights’ nominated for the Gallery from Australia’s pioneering women architects, urban planners and landscape architects. It summarises their training, indicates highlights of their work and notes some of their successes in overcoming obstacles to gaining professional status and developing successful practices.

Each of these stories features in the Women with a Plan Gallery. By recognising these achievements we hope to make it less surprising that so many talented women shaped our surroundings in the past century.

Winsome Hall Andrew

Leading lights

When we look into the shadowy corners of our planning past in Australia, two women shine most brightly. Both qualified and practised as architects, both are now better recognised in connection with town planning, and neither was born in Australia. Marion Mahony Griffin was a draftsman for distinguished Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright when she began working with her husband on a submission in the design competition for Australia’s national capital in 1911. Then a draftsman in the Sydney architectural firm of JD Clamp, Florence Taylor was a talented designer of houses before her marriage to George Taylor. They formed the duo that so successfully fostered town planning in Australia as practitioners and publishers.

Though Marion Mahony Griffin and Florence Taylor are most familiar among pioneering women architects and urban planners, every Australian state had its own talented cohort of Women with a Plan.

In New South Wales in the 1920s Ellice Nosworthy and Eleanor Cullis Hill were the first women to set up their own architectural practices.  In Victoria architects Cynthea Teague and Ellison Harvie worked in prominent Melbourne firms in the 1930s, at the same time Mary Turner Shaw worked in her own partnership. Edna Walling was then a well-established landscape designer in Victoria, thirty years before the profession was established in Australia. In South Australia in the 1940s Marjorie Simpson was an architect with the Commonwealth Department of Public Works.  In late 1950s South Australian town planner Stroma Buttrose was the first woman in her profession in the State, while Mervyn Davis preceded her profession – landscape architects were not recognised in Australia for another decade.

Also nominated for a place in the Women with a Plan gallery for Women’s History Month 2012 are four Western Australians. Margaret Morison became the state’s first woman architect in 1924 and Margaret Feilman the first woman town planner in 1950. Another pioneering woman architect in 1930s Perth was Nancy Lorne Allen, while landscape architect Jean Verschuer’s contribution to her profession was recognised with an AM in 2001. Queensland architect Beatrice Hutton made history in 1916 as the first woman in Australia admitted to an Institute of Architects, while Elina Mottram in 1924 was the first in the state to set up her own practice. In Tasmania Margaret Findlay in 1944 was the first woman to register as an architect  and Marjorie Matthews the first to open her own practice, in the late 1940s.

Our Women’s History Month theme for 2012 puts a special spotlight on Canberra, Australia’s only planned capital city as this is the centenary of the city’s design. In 1912 the design prepared by Walter Burley Griffin in partnership with Marion Mahony Griffin won the competition for Australia’s national capital. Other ‘leading lights’ of subsequent design work in the city include architect Heather Sutherland, architect and planner Rosette Edmunds and landscape architect Margaret Hendry

In practice

The woman architects designed public buildings, commercial premises and houses; the planners sites in city and country and the landscape architects designed for a range of notable projects. Some had their own practices, like Margaret Feilman in Perth, Elina Mottram in Brisbane and Ellice Nosworthy and Elinor Cullis-Hill in Sydney. Others were in partnership with their husbands, like Marion Mahony GriffinHeather Sutherland and Winsome Hall Andrew; some worked for other firms, like Sydney’s Judith Macintosh, Melbourne’s Cynthea Teague and Ellison Harvie and Perth’s Nancy Allen.

In Brisbane in the 1920s Elina Mottram designed elegant flats at Kangaroo Point and private houses in Corinda and Ascot. She also designed public and commercial buildings, including Longreach’s Masonic Temple and the town’s Motor Garage.  Her contemporaryBeatrice Hutton’s work was mainly houses designed for clients in the Queensland coastal city of Rockhampton and in Sydney, where she was in partnership with Claude Chambers. The extraordinarily energetic Barbara van den Broek was an architect, town planner and a founding landscape architect in Queensland.

In Sydney the design work of architect Ellice Nosworthy, in 1922 one of the first graduates of the new School of Architecture at the University of Sydney, included the Reid Wing of the Women’s College at the University of Sydney. Like Nosworthy working from her own home, Eleanor Cullis-Hill designed kindergartens and some 30 houses in neighbouring Warrawee, Turramurra, Pymble and Wahroonga. Not all aspiring architects succeeded of course – we have included Esther Baylis, who found her her prospects in 1920s Adelaide discouraging and turned instead to photographing the built environment.

In Melbourne in the 1930s Cynthea Teague worked for several small practices, designing houses and then commercial and industrial buildings,becoming chief designer for Oakley and Parkes. She joined the Commonwealth Department of Works, where she was on the design team for Commonwealth offices around Australia. Her contemporary Ellison Harvie worked for Stephenson & Turner, eventually becoming a partner in this firm which specialised in hospital design. She designed the Jessie McPherson wing of the Queen Victoria Hospital and was also involved in the design of the Royal Melbourne Hospital. The third Victorian architect in the WHM 2012 Gallery, Mary Turner Shaw was in partnership in the 1930s with German architect Frederick Romberg. Their work includes the Newburn Flats in Queens Road and the Yarrahee Flats in South Yarra.

South Australian architect Marjorie Simpson qualified at Sydney Technical College and worked in the architectural office of Eric Nicholls until she was registered in 1949. She and her architect husband then worked for the Commonwealth Department of Works in Sydney, their commissions including design and documentation of the Woomera Rocket Range in 1951. They designed their own homes in Sydney and then in Adelaide, where Marjorie Simpson became Director of the Small Homes Service of South Australia in 1957. She later formed a practice with her husband, their work including the Royal Society for the Blind Institute at Gilles Plains, built in the 1970s.

Town planner Stroma Buttrose, another South Australian, supervised the Gawler Land Use Survey, an area about 100 by 40 kilometres, and the Willunga Land Use Survey, covering an area of the same extent. She helped in the production of the Development Plan for the Metropolitan Area of Adelaide, published in 1963. After graduating Master of Town Planning from the University of Adelaide in 1972 Stroma Buttrose became the first woman Commissioner of the Planning Appeal Board. She is the author of a number of publications, including City Planning in Australia in 1975.

Perth’s first woman town planner, Margaret Feilman, ran her own practice in Perth, her major project the Kwinana New Town in 1952.  In 1938 she was the first female cadet in the state’s Public Works Department. Eligible for registration as an architect in 1945, in 1950 when she qualified as a town planner with a postgraduate diploma from the University of Durham, she became a founding member of the WA Town Planning Institute.  Western Australia’s first woman architect was Margaret Morison, who registered in 1924 and practised as a design architect until 1948, when she took a teaching post at Perth Technical College. Nancy Allen worked in the domestic and commercial architectural practice of W G Bennett in Perth from 1935, becoming a partner in 1962.

Margaret Findlay, in 1944 the first woman to register as an architect in Tasmania, had completed her training at Hobart Technical College and worked for the state Department of Public Works until 1946 when she was appointed to the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Sydney, where she taught until her retirement in 1970. Marjorie Matthews opened a sole practice in Launceston in the late 1940s before migrating to the UK.

The professions

Marion Mahony Griffin, who graduated in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1894, became the first woman architect registered in Illinois. Florence Taylor qualified as a draftsman at Sydney Technical College in 1904 and three years later was so successfully designing houses for the architectural firm of JD Clamp she became the first woman nominated for membership of the NSW Institute of Architects – though the nomination was unsuccessful and she was not admitted until 1920.

In Australia professional bodies for architects were formed in the colonies in the 19th  century. A federated Australian Institute of Architects was formed in 1930. Professional town planning came later, with a national body established in 1951, now the Planning Institute of Australia. The profession of landscape architecture is the most recent, with the formal establishment of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architecture in 1969.

Although professional architectural institutes were formed in Victoria in 1856, NSW in 1871, South Australia in 1886 and Queensland in 1888, it took a long time for the first women architects to be admitted. As Bronwyn Hanna  shows, Beatrice Hutton became the first when the Queensland Institute of Architects admitted her as an associate member in 1916. Next was Florence Taylor, finally accepted by the NSW Institute of Architects in 1920, fifty years after its foundation and thirteen years after she had first been nominated and refused.The Victorian Institute had been in existence for 64 years that year, when Eileen Good became the third Australian woman member of the professional association. The Western Australian institute was formed 44 years before Zoie Fryer became the first woman member in 1938 and South Australia’s Institute had been in existence 53 years when Beverley Bolin was admitted in 1949.

Until 1950, Margaret Findlay and Marjorie Matthews were the only Tasmanian women members of the state chapter of the RAIA, formed in 1929.  Not all qualified women architects opted to join their professional association though. The first Western Australian woman graduate, Margaret Morison, whose registration in 1924 launched a professional career of more than 64 years, seems never to have sought membership.

Margaret Feilman, Perth’s first female town planner was a founding member of the Western Australian Town Planning Institute in 1950. After returning from the UK where she gained her professional qualifications, Mervyn Davis lived in Melbourne, from where she  was a prime mover in establishing an Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.

Just why these remarkable figures have remained unremarked is not the focus of the gallery Women with a Plan. We bring together this historical group for Women’s History Month Australia in 2012 simply to celebrate their talents, skill and determination made their mark.

Today women are more prominent in architecture, urban and regional planning and landscape architecture. Leaders include the first woman president of the Australia Institute of Architects, Louise Cox who also subsequently headed the International Union of Architects, while in 2009 Canberra architect Melinda Dodson became the AIA’s youngest national president. Award-winners include Kerry Clare, joint 2010 recipient of the Australian Institute of Architects gold medal with her husband Lindsay for a body of work including GOMA, Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art.

In the planning profession, Sandy Vigar became the first female president of the Planning Institute of Australia (1996-97), followed by Barrie Melotte 1998-99 and Barbara Norman 2000-01.

The history of women’s professional involvement in architecture, town planning and as landscape architects  in Australia is a fascinating one.  We hope you will join us with your own Women’s History Month event to commemorate the history of Australia’s women architects an d town planners.  Please enter your event’s details in our online calendar.

Download our free poster (PDF 223kb) to help publicise your events and Australian Women’s History Month

Contributed by Lenore Coltheart

Further reading

Compiled by Libby Coates


Freestone, Robert, and Bronwyn J. Hanna. Florence Taylor’s Hats : Designing, Building and Editing Sydney Halstead Press, Sydney, 2007

Goad, Philip and Julie Willis The Encyclopaedia of Australian Architecture

McGregor, Alasdair,. Grand Obsessions : The Life and Work of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin / Alasdair McGregor. Lantern, Camberwell, Vic., 2009

Walling, Edna The Edna Walling book of Australian garden design / edited by Margaret Barrett. Anne O’Donovan, Richmond, Vic.  1980

Willis, Julie, Bronwyn J. Hanna, Women Architects in Australia 1900-1950 Royal Australian Institute of Architects,Canberra, 2001

This is a very useful history with many individual profiles as well as a survey of the different paths taken by the considerable number of female architecture graduates in the 20th century.


Constructive Times : Newsletter of Constructive Women, the Association of Women Architects, Landscape Architects, Planners & Women of the Building Industry. [The Association, Spit Junction, N.S.W., 1983.

Fabrications: The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians Australia & New Zealand.  Its index is available online

Australian garden history [Bowral, N.S.W.] : Australian Garden History Society, 1989- Vol. 1, no. [1] (June/July 1989)


Aitken, R. “‘Return to Lutyens’: Florence Taylor and the Folly of Architecture.” Australian Garden History 19.3 (2008): 15-19.

Birmingham, Elisabeth. “Marion Mahony, Architectural Attribution, and Millikin Place.”Architectural Theory Review 9.2 (2004): 34-50.

Burns, Karen. “Ex Libris: Archaeologies of Feminism, Architecture and Deconstruction.”Architectural Theory Review 15.3 (2010): 242-65.

Burns, Karen.’Prophets and the Wilderness -Australian Architecture of Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin’, Transition: Discourse On Architecture, no.24, (1988): 14-30.

Cavenagh, Cindy, Lidia Rozman-Jones, and Andrea Mahony. “Women in Engineering. -Collection of Articles” Civil Engineers Australia, 67.11 (1995): 22-28.

Connolly, Christopher.” Redressing the Shortage of Engineers.” Engineers Australia, 62.5(1990): 16-17.

Crittenden, Victor,” How I became an Edna Walling publisher “ Australian Garden History 12.1 (2000 ) :16-18

Davies Elaine. “Women in Architecture”., Architect South Australia 24 (1993): 22-24

De Lorenzo, Catherine. “Joan Kerr, A Singular Voice: Essays on Australian Architecture, Ed. Candice Bruce, Dinah Dysart and Jo Holder, Sydney: Power Publications, 2009.”Architectural Theory Review 15.1 (2010): 102-5.

Dixon, Trisha, 1953-. The vision of Edna Walling : garden plans 1920-1951 / Trisha Dixon and Jennie Churchill. Bloomings Books, Hawthorn, Vic, 1998.

Ferretti, Donna, and Planning Education Foundation of South Australia. Making a Difference : Celebrating the Diversity of Women’s Contribution to Planning / Edited by Donna Ferretti. The Planning Education Foundation, [Adelaide, S.Aust.], 1995.

Forsyth, Holly Kerr Remembered gardens : eight women and their visions of an Australian landscape / Holly Kerr Forsyth. MIEGUNYAH Press, Carlton, Victoria ,2006

Freestone, R. “Florence Taylor: The Lady Town Planner of Loftus Street.”, New Planner6(1991): 12, 11.

Freestone, Robert. “Women in the Australian Town Planning Movement 1900-1950.”Planning Perspectives 10.3 (1995): 259-77.

Architect South Australia 17 .1 ( 2003): 8-33 , This edition contains a series of articles complied by the guest editor Christine Teichert about ‘ some of the aspects of being a female within the profession of architecture ‘.

Gatley,  Julia. “For King and Empire: Australian Women and Nascent Town Planning.”Planning Perspectives 20.2 (2005): 121-45.

Hanna, Bronwyn “Australia’s Early Women Architects: Milestones and Achievements.” (2001) Fabrications 12.1, 27-57.

—–.. “Profile: Champion of Woman Architects.” Architect (2001): 17. A profile of architect Eve Laron She has been a promoter of solar design and ecologically sustainable development. In 1983 Laron founded Constructive Women, an organisation to promote and support women in architecture and construction

—–. “An Interpretative Biography of Winsome Hall Andrew (1905-1997).” Architectural Theory Review 6.1 (2001): 48-62.

Harper, H. “A Thoughtful Approach”, National trust journal (Qld) : 12 (1999): 22-24

Hardy, Sara The unusual life of Edna Walling / Sara Hardy, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, N.S.W.  2005

Huxley, Margo. “Feminist Urban Theory: Gender, Class and the Built Environment”,Transition: Discourse on Architecture, 25(1988): 39-43.

Lardner, H. “Breaking the Confines”. Trust news Victoria : 19.3 (1990): 24-26 an interview with Melbourne architect, Ailsa Trundle. She discusses her early education, the perceived role of women in the architecture profession, and the opportunities which arose for women during World War II.

Loder Andrea Jane. “Florence Taylor- Architect, Engineer, Town Planner: ‘ the Great Lady of Sydney Town’.” Heritage Australia 8.2 (1989): 43-45.

McInerney, Marie. “How Architecture Fails its Women.” Place 1.4 (2005): 6-11.

McKay, Judith. “Early Queensland Women Architects”., Transition: Discourse on Architecture, 25 ( 1988): 58-60

Pfeiffer, Andrew ,”Romantic recollections. -The life and legacy of Edna Walling, our first lady of garden design“, Vogue Living , 22.6, (1988) :32

Reinmuth Gerard, and Hewett Ben. “Shelley Penn at the DPWS.” Architecture Australia 90.6 (2001): 76-79.

Rubbo, Anna. “Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin: A Creative Partnership.”Architectural Theory Review 1.1 (1996): 78-94

Schoffel, Sarah. “Women in Architecture in Victoria from 1930 to 1960.” Architectural Theory Review 1.1 (1996): 104-11.

Serle, Geoffrey. ”Obituary: Mary (Mollie) Turner Shaw. Eulogy Delivered at Her Funeral, 27 Apr 1990.” Transition: Discourse on Architecture, 31 (1990): 7

Shannon, Susan. “Architecture and Equity: Education and Practice.” Architectural Theory Review 1 .1 (1996): 48-62.

Van Schaik, Leon. “The Urban Designs of Jenny Lowe.”, Transition: Discourse on Architecture, 27-28, ( 1989): 137-146.

Watson, Robert. “Kesho Leo Children’s Home.” Architecture Australia 99.5 (2010): 76-77.

Wehner, Volkhard ,”Genesis of a historic garden: Part 1: Edna Walling at Folly Farm”,Australian Garden History,16.2(2004):8-14

Weirick, James. “The Griffins and Modernism”, Transition: Discourse On Architecture, 24, (1988): 5-13
—. “Marion Mahony at MIT. -Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States-”,Transition: Discourse on Architecture, 25( 1988): 48-54

Wells, Judy. “Representations of Marion Mahony Griffin.” Architectural Theory Review 3.2 (1998): 123-5.

White, Deborah. “Half the Sky, but no Room of Her Own: Women in the Built Environment.”, Transition: Discourse on Architecture,25( 1988): 23-32

Whitman, Paula, and Queensland University of Technology. Going Places the Career Progression of Women in the Architectural Profession : Findings of a National Study Examining the Careers of Women in the Architectual Profession in Australia Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 2005

Whitman, Paula. “Going Places.” Architecture Australia 95.1 (2006): 47-53.
—. “Warry Residences.” AR Australia.96 (2006): 98-103.

Willis, Julie, and University of South Australia. A Statistical Survey of Registered Women Architects in Australia / Julie Willis. Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, University of South Australia, Adelaide, 1997.

Willis, Julie. “Four Early Women Architects in Victoria.” Architectural Theory Review 1.1 (1996): 95-103.
—. “Invisible Contributions: The Problem of History and Women Architects.” Architectural Theory Review 3.2 (1998): 57-68.

Forsyth, Holly Kerr,  From the British pastoral to the Australian arcadia : women, transferred vision and the reconstruction of landscape 2004, PhD Thesis, University of New South Wales, 2004