Constance Muriel Davey

Constance Muriel Davey (1882-1963), psychologist, was born on 4 December 1882 at Nuriootpa, South Australia, daughter of Emily Mary (born Roberts) and Stephen Henry Davey, bank manager. She was educated at country schools. An accident, in which she was thrown from a trap and permanently injured her hip and spine, delayed her further education but in 1908 she began teaching; next year she joined St Peter's Collegiate Girls' School as a mathematics and economics teacher and began studying part-time at the University of Adelaide (BA 1915, MA 1918).

In 1921 'Consie' won the Catherine Helen Spence (q.v.) scholarship, which she took up at University College, London, to study psychology (PhD 1924). She observed pioneer work with disturbed children at Leicester and visited the United States and Canada to study the teaching of retarded and delinquent children. In 1924 she became a psychologist in the South Australian Education Department. She examined, by testing and observation of home conditions, all children who were retarded educationally; in 1925 the state's first 'opportunity class' for problem cases and slow learners was established in which children could learn at their own rate, based on Davey's testing of their intelligence. She organised after-care guidance for these pupils to help them find employment and provided vocational advice to other school-leavers. In 1931 she introduced a course to train teachers to work with the retarded which included lectures on the psychology of retardation and behaviour problems, appropriate teaching methods, legal and social implications, remedial physical training and handwork.

Dr Davey was often consulted by other community bodies: she cooperated with the Children's Court and the Children's Welfare Department, ran a clinic at the Adelaide Children's Hospital and advised Minda Home and other agencies handling problem children. Although she continued with experiments to standardise tests, she always insisted that she was not just an intelligence tester: as a psychologist she handled problems of behaviour. In 1927-50 she lectured in psychology and logic at the university and in l934 helped establish courses there to train social workers. She went to England in 1938 and visited child-guidance clinics. On her return she sat on the 1938-39 government committee which made a detailed examination of the state's approach to child delinquency and recommended reforms based on the idea of 'guardianship'. In 1942 she resigned from the Education Department.

In her early years she had been resisted by some colleagues who thought her work a useless frill, but she gradually created a welfare section and her ability, intelligence and persistence wrought great changes. She introduced the idea of organising single classes at different levels to accommodate the varying abilities of pupils and was also concerned for gifted children. As supervisor in the opportunity classes she was compassionate, unassuming and good humoured: it was her habit to arrive with a box of 'penny sticks' for the children.

Davey belonged to the Women's Non-Party Political Association (League of Women Voters) for 30 years and was its president in 1943-47. The League worked to have women represented on public boards and commissions; it prepared the bill for the Guardianship of Infants Act 1940 which adopted the principle of equal parental guardianship; it also brought about reforms in the Children's Court. Dr Davey twice led deputations seeking the right for women to serve as jurors.

Davey was a skilful bridge player and loved cricket. From 1945, as senior research fellow at the university, she worked on a historical study of South Australian laws relating to children, Children and Their Law-makers (1956). In 1950 she was elected a fellow of the British Psychological Society; in 1940-47 she was president of its South Australian section and in 1947-48 president of the Australian branch. She was appointed OBE in 1955. She died from cancer on 4 December 1963.

Suzanne Edgar