Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Elaine Marlay (1915–1977)

by Jennifer Harrison

This article was published:

Elaine Marlay (1915-1977), dentist and university lecturer, was born on 9 October 1915 at Coorparoo, Brisbane, second daughter of Queensland-born parents Robert Wilson, public servant, and his wife Elsie Daisy, née Preston. Educated at Greenslopes State and Brisbane Girls' Grammar schools, Elaine wanted to study medicine but could not afford to attend the University of Sydney, the nearest institution that offered a medical course. She took the advice of her mentor Professor Ernest Goddard and enrolled in dentistry at the University of Queensland (B.D.Sc., 1937). After graduating, she practised at Killarney. On 6 August 1943 at St John's Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane, she married Mervyn Marlay, a 24-year-old soldier in the Australian Imperial Force. When the war ended, her husband's employment in banking took them to various country centres where she worked as a part-time or full-time dentist. In the late 1950s they settled in Brisbane.

Appointed a temporary lecturer in the department of dentistry, University of Queensland, in 1961, Mrs Marlay joined the permanent staff in 1965 as lecturer in oral biology. She was awarded a Ph.D. in 1969 for a study of the incidence of dental caries in adolescent girls; her project also contributed 'to knowledge about tests of buffering capacity of saliva and the ability to predict dental caries increments'. On 1 January 1971 Dr Marlay was made a senior lecturer.

Throughout her professional career, Marlay endeavoured to further her education and to promote the role of women in a male-dominated profession. A skilled and persuasive debater, she was president (for two years) of the Amara Study Group, a society of female dentists. In 1975 she contributed a chapter on women in dentistry to a book commemorating International Women's Year. Taking study leave in 1976, she examined 'schemes for the continuing education of women dentists' in the United States of America, Europe and England, and prepared a report recommending that similar measures be implemented in Australia. While abroad, she represented the Australian Committee on Overseas Professional Qualifications as an official visitor to dental schools at universities in Paris.

Following several years of research and consultation, Marlay completed the final draft of A History of Dental Education in Queensland 1863-1964 (Brisbane, 1979). Despite holding strong views on the changes that had occurred in the university's department of dentistry from the time she had graduated, she refrained from expressing her opinions in writing 'because she was part of the history she recorded'. The department published her book after her death. Of middle height and average build, with a tinge of red in her hair, she was charming, sensitive and enthusiastic. In March 1977 she fell ill and took sick leave. Survived by her husband and two daughters, she died on 3 May that year in Princess Alexandra Hospital, South Brisbane, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. N. Davies, 'Foreword' in E. Marlay, A History of Dental Education in Queensland 1863-1964 (Brisb, 1979)
  • University News, 18 May 1977, 10 Oct 1979
  • University of Queensland staff file 61/94 (University of Queensland Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jennifer Harrison, 'Marlay, Elaine (1915–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 16 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Wilson, Elaine

9 October, 1915
Coorparoo, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


3 May, 1977 (aged 61)
South Brisbane, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia