Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ethel Turner Stoneman (1890–1973)

by Jan Wilson

This article was published:

Ethel Turner Stoneman (1890-1973), psychologist, was born on 10 August 1890 in Perth, Western Australia, second daughter of Charles Edgar Stoneman, coffee importer, and his wife, Minnie Caroline, née Farmer. After her mother's death in 1891, Ethel ('Effie') and her sister were reared by their grandmother, Lydia Farmer. In 1909 Ethel attended the Teachers' Training College, Claremont, and in 1913 entered the University of Western Australia (B.A., 1916) where she began a lifelong commitment to experimental psychology. Independent and adventurous, she left Australia in 1916 to study intelligence testing and abnormal psychology at Stanford University, California, United States of America. She came back two years later to lecture at her old college. In 1924 Stoneman researched in Britain and Europe: at the University of London she worked with leading psychologists and conducted experiments in measuring changes of emotion in patients at the Bethlem Royal Hospital.

Returning to Perth next year, she persuaded Philip Collier's government to establish (under her directorship) a State Psychological Clinic which opened at West Perth in 1926. Stoneman also lectured part time at the university, giving courses in experimental and abnormal psychology.

Her teaching inspired Norma Parker and Constance Moffat among others to become innovative social workers and Stoneman was significant in establishing the professional status of clinical psychology in Australia.

She concentrated on the application of psychology to education, vocational guidance and criminal correction. Stoneman gave intelligence tests to state school pupils in order to make comparisons with overseas data and to obtain norms for Western Australian children. She tested applicants for printing apprenticeships and applied psychological techniques to crime, many of her clients being boys from the Children's Court and the Child Welfare Department. She also ran a branch of her clinic in Fremantle Gaol. As State psychologist, her major concern was with the diagnosis of mental deficiency which eugenists then considered to be a major social problem. In 1926 she drafted a bill for state control of the mentally handicapped. Parliament rejected it.

Opposition to Ethel Stoneman's work stemmed from sexual discrimination, from professional rivalry and from ideological antipathy. Men like (Sir) Walter Murdoch saw psychology as intrusive and scientifically unreliable. The defeat of Labor in Western Australia in 1930 contributed to the abolition of the clinic and to Stoneman's retrenchment. Bitterly disappointed, Ethel travelled to Scotland and did research in the medical department at the University of Edinburgh (Ph.D., 1933); her thesis, an inquiry into attempted suicide, was published as Halfway to the Hereafter (Perth, 1935). In 1934 she returned to Perth as a consulting psychologist and in 1935 established a practice in Collins Street, Melbourne.

Ethel Stoneman always hoped that scientific psychology would ameliorate mental deficiency, delinquency and crime, and that it would contribute to an 'efficient' society. She was an advanced thinker who found fulfilment in her work. Slightly built, with magnetic eyes, she was an intensely private woman and a devout Anglican. She died, unmarried, in Diamond Valley Community Hospital, Victoria, on 5 July 1973 and was buried in Nillumbik cemetery. Her estate was sworn for probate at $34,000.

Select Bibliography

  • West Australian, 8, 28 Nov 1930
  • biographical index (State Library of Western Australia)
  • State Psychological Clinic (Western Australia), Annual Report, 1926-39 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Chief Secretary (Western Australia), records: Establishment of psychological clinic and appointment of psychologist (State Library of Western Australia)
  • University of Western Australia Archives.

Citation details

Jan Wilson, 'Stoneman, Ethel Turner (1890–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Stoneman, Effie

10 August, 1890
Perth, Western Australia, Australia


5 July, 1973 (aged 82)
Diamond Creek, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.