South Africa: A Progressive Woman of the 1930s - Early Joburg's 'Lost' Female Architect Nelly Edwards


In the 1920s, Nelly Edwards began a career of designing buildings all over the city. Who was she?

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

In early Johannesburg, a female architect left her mark on a young city that was shaking off its rough-and-tumble mining roots. Then she was forgotten.

Nelly Edwards is believed to be Joburg's first female architect, who, though working in a male-dominated profession, had a prolific hand in the construction of houses, flats, churches and at least one famous pub.

Many of her creations are still there, hidden behind high suburban walls, the lucky survivors of the city's habit of renovation and rebuilding.

But all this is changing as historians and heritage homeowners have begun taking notice of her work, and they are slowly piecing together her story.

For heritage fundis Brett McDougall and Isabella Pingle, Edwards's name suddenly began popping up in the archives when they pulled up architect drawings of old Joburg buildings.

"And what we found is that there is a huge amount of Nelly Edwards housing stock," says McDougall, of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. "That has gone under the radar, and you only become aware...

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