Ethel Charles nomination papers
This article is by Susan Pugh, Curator.
Although women practiced within the architectural sector throughout the early 19th century it was not until 1898 that women were admitted as members of the RIBA. The first female member of the institute was Ethel Mary Charles (1871-1962).
The ‘Nomination Papers’ for Ethel’s membership can be found in the RIBA institutional archive, held in our outstore in Fulham. All candidates for election had to be nominated by at least two existing members. The renowned architect and future President of the RIBA, Ernest George, can be seen here vouching for Ethel’s abilities and experience.
George was exceptional at taking on students, not only in terms of numbers but also for boldly employing a woman, Ethel Charles, as an apprentice. The pupillage system under which early professional architects trained was not considered appropriate for young women as apprentices often had to live with their architect tutor and their families.
Later in her career Ethel went on to practice with her sister, Bessie Charles, who became the institute’s second female member in 1900.
In addition to the nomination papers, our collections hold several original design drawings and four sketchbooks by Ethel Charles.
Each year in June, around the anniversary of Ethel’s election to the institute, RIBA celebrates women in architecture on "Ethel Day", dedicated to this pioneering figure.