Who is Ethel Mary Charles? Only the lady who didn't take no for an answer; who had a strong belief in equality of opportunity based on merit, which resulted in her being the first woman to join RIBA back in 1898. Today we celebrate this leading lady who designed the path for all future women to join RIBA.
Ethel had a battle on her hands when she became the first female member of the RIBA. Professor George Aitchison, who was RIBA President at the time, was a feminist himself and stated that it would be ludicrous to deny her or, any other woman, admission to the RIBA. Not everyone shared his view as Ethel’s admission was opposed by a minority of members but in the end, she was finally granted membership.
The Architectural Association was the next stop on Ethel’s agenda, where she made a representation for women to be accepted as architects. This representation was made in 1907 but the Association did not admit any women until 1917.
Becoming a RIBA member didn't lead Ethel to uncontested success, she was unable to obtain commissions for large-scale projects as they were reserved for men. Ethel’s sister Bessie, the second woman to join RIBA in 1900, worked with her sister on modest housing projects.
Despite the odds, Ethel won a RIBA Silver medal in 1905 and her work on labourers’ cottages is now presented by the RIBA as an example of the Old English style and how it evolved towards Garden City movements.
RIBA have celebrated Ethel as a pioneering architect and now every 5th July is #EthelDay
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