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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wray, Elinor Caroline (1899–1992)

by Diana Maloney

This article was published online in 2016

Elinor (Ellinor) Caroline Wray (1899–1992), speech therapist, was born on 30 October 1899 at Chatswood, Sydney, younger child and only daughter of New South Wales-born parents Arthur Gore Wray, draftsman, and his wife Annie Charlotte, née McDonald. Elinor grew up in a conventional home, where she developed financial acumen and, despite strong opposition from her father, a level of independent thinking. As a young woman, she became (1919) a licentiate in elocution (Trinity College of Music, London), and taught at Grace Stafford’s studio. Among her pupils were people with speech and voice disorders, and her compassion for them led her to seek knowledge about treatments. By 1926 she had saved sufficient money to sail to England and undertake a remedial speech course at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, London.

Wray returned to Sydney in 1928. Unable to find paid employment as a speech therapist, she commenced training as a nurse at the Coast (Prince Henry) Hospital, where she met the orthopaedic surgeon (Sir) Robert Wade. In 1931, with his support and intervention, she established a speech therapy clinic, the first in Australia, at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children (RAHC), Camperdown. She worked part-time in an honorary capacity for seven years, initially treating Wade’s cleft-palate patients. Her successful results rapidly generated the referral of patients with a range of communication disorders.

Described as having 'an open face with great compassion, and beaming blue eyes that twinkled with humour, joy and a loving interest in everything and everybody’ (Theosophy in Australia 1993, 19), Wray tirelessly disseminated information about communication problems, warning that they could prevent normal development in children if untreated. To earn a living, she taught speech and drama, and also organised and conducted the Greenwood Verse-Speaking Choir. In 1937 she became an associate of the British Society of Speech Therapists (later, licentiate of the College of Speech Therapists). By 1939 she had established a flourishing private practice in Macquarie Street. That year the Training School for Speech Therapists began at the RAHC with Wray as director; it was another Australian first. The initial two-year diploma course was increased to three years in 1949.

Wray was a founding member (1944) of the Australian Association of Speech Therapists and a founding fellow (1949) of the Australian College of Speech Therapists. Having resigned her directorship of the training school about 1952, she continued to lecture to its students for many years. She opened clinics for adult patients at the Dental Hospital and Sydney Hospital, supervising students’ clinical training. In 1958 she convened the first meeting of the Lost Chord Club of New South Wales, for laryngectomy patients. A keen conference-goer, she presented numerous papers. On her retirement in 1966 she was appointed an honorary speech therapy consultant to Sydney Hospital.

In 1966 Wray was invited to India, a country with which she had an affinity. She opened a speech therapy clinic at Velore and conducted a laryngectomy clinic at the Government General Hospital, Madras (Chennai). Always an enthusiastic traveller, on an unaccompanied trip to Nepal she engaged a team of Sherpas to walk in the foothills of the Himalayas. Having been an active and long-term member of the Theosophy Society, she later also joined the Liberal Catholic Church, Gordon, Sydney.

Wray considered herself fortunate to have spent her life doing what she enjoyed best. In 1981 she was appointed MBE and honoured with the establishment of the annual Elinor Wray Award by the Australian College of Speech Therapists (now Speech Pathology Australia). The Speech Pathology Department at the RAHC was named for her in 1990. She attributed her longevity to her vegetarian diet, and to exercise: gardening, walking, and swimming. Never married, she resided at Fairy Bower, Manly, in a flat under the home of her niece. She died on 4 December 1992 at St Leonards and was cremated. The University of Sydney and the University of Newcastle hold portraits of her by Mary Benbow.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Eldridge, Margaret. A History of the Treatment of Speech Disorders. Edinburgh and London: E. & S. Livingstone Ltd, 1968
  • Elinor Wray Speech Pathology Department. Records. Children’s Hospital, Westmead, Sydney
  • Hamilton, D. G. Hand in Hand: The Story of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Sydney. Sydney: John Ferguson, 1979
  • Lowry, Catherine. ‘Congratulations . . . Elinor Wray,’ Theosophy in Australia 45, no. 3 (September 1981): 251–52
  • Theosophy in Australia. ‘Farewell to Pioneer Speech Pathologist Elinor Wray.’ 57, no. 1 (March 1993): 18–19
  • Wray, Elinor. ‘The History of Speech Therapy in Australia.’ In Conquering Physical Handicaps: Official Proceeding of the First Pan-Pacific Rehabilitation Conference, Held in Sydney, Australia, Nov. 1014, 1958, 263–69. Sydney: Australian Advisory Council for the Physically Handicapped, 1959.

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Citation details

Diana Maloney, 'Wray, Elinor Caroline (1899–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 13 August 2020.

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