Lilian Jennette Rice was born in National City, San Diego County, California in 1888. Supported by strong-minded parents, her father an educator and her mother an artist, she was one of the first women to earn a degree in architecture from the University of California Berkeley, class of 1910. Her professor and dean of the department was the master Beaux-arts architect John Galen Howard, who was also the UC Berkeley campus architect. Having successfully completed her studies Lilian returned home and for the next few years served as a draftswoman for the noted architect and daughter-in-law of California Governor Waterman, Hazel Waterman. The project Lilian may have participated in was the reconstruction of the Casa Estudillo in Old Town San Diego. The faithful recreation of the 1830s adobe included well-researched adobe brick building methods, an experience that would remain with Lilian throughout her career.
Lilian also taught mechanical drawing and descriptive geometry at the high school and college levels in San Diego. A student of hers was a young Sam Hamill. Hamill was a junior draftsman for the noted Requa & Jackson architectural firm at the time. Later he continued his architectural training at UC Berkeley, at Lilian’s urging. Hamill went on to become one of San Diego’s leading post war Modernists. Later Lilian would employ another young architect named Lloyd Ruocco, who also went on to be a innovative and expressive Modernist architect as well.