Ethel Mary Charles (1871–1962) was the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1898.
Ethel Charles and her sister Bessie were both trained as architects under the partnership of Ernest George and Harold Peto. In 1893, they both attempted to continue their training by attending the Architectural Association School of Architecture but were refused entry. Ethel completed part of the course offered by the Bartlett School of Architecture, receiving distinctions. Drawings in the RIBA Collection document her travels through England, France and Italy. After her apprenticeship with Ernest George, she became an assistant to Walter Cave, studying Gothic and domestic architecture. In June 1898, she passed the RIBA examinations for associate membership. Despite initial opposition, she was finally granted membership, 51 voting in favour and 16 against.
Unable to obtain commissions for large-scale projects which continued to be reserved for men, Ethel Charles was forced to concentrate on modest housing projects such as labourers' cottages, often working with her sister, the second woman to become a member of RIBA in 1900. Charles stated publicly that the best opportunities for architects were in commercial commissions but the only reference to her work on large-scale designs is an untraced prize-winning church in Germany in 1905. The same year she was awarded the RIBA Silver Medal.
Ethel Charles' othorgraphic projections of labourers' cottages from 1895 are presented by RIBA as an example of how the Old English style began to evolve towards the Arts and Crafts and Garden City movements.