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The National Library of Australia’s digitized newspaper collection reveals people whose lives were richly lived. They have contributed much and then been forgotten. Agnes Avery (1881-1944) was an early, if not the first woman company director in Australia. She was also, it seems, a member of the British Institute of Psychoanalysis in 1936… but this needs verification. Certainly she was influenced by psychoanalysis. Had she lived longer who knows what difference she would have made.


In the early 1930s before she went to England and a life changing encounter with psychoanalysis, Mrs Agnes Avery of Adelaide could be described as a rich widow. Mother of five, she claimed expertise in the care and raising of children and was a member of Adelaide’s Psychology Club. She moved in Adelaide’s upper social circles, giving lectures to the Liberal Club, to fundraisers for the Lady Mayoress, lending her presence to philanthropic efforts in that city. These were ‘commonsense and witty lectures’, advocating freedom of thought for children, discouraging indulgence and the spoiling of the little ones, and urging mothers to, basically stop whingeing and get on with it. When, in May 1932 she departed on a lecture tour to London via Africa, with several children in tow, the columnists celebrated her future success and reported upon her activities during her journey through Africa to London. If the social columnists of the day are to be taken seriously, Mrs Avery was a woman of Empire, confident of her views, positive in her approach, and a leader in her field.

After reaching London she visited AS Neill’s ‘free school’ for children. Run on psychoanalytic principles the school was a exemplar of successful pedagogic psychoanalysis. It provided a safe, containing environment for children needing supportive and analytic treatment. ‘Mrs. Avery said that A. S. Neill’s book “The Problem Parent” should be read by every mother and father. “In the hands of the ‘right person child psychology is a power for great good,” said- Mrs. Avery. But, she warned, “in the hands of charlatans it can do tremendous evil.”

A second meeting, with the psychoanalyst, Dr David Eder, was more significant for her. She had consulted Eder, a founder member of the British Psychoanalytical Society. Renowned for his work on war shocked soldiers during the Great War, Jewish born, Eder was a socialist, – a former member of the Bloomsbury Socialist Group, and a Zionist, and had been active in the founding of Modern Palestine.

Eder’s earlier interest in motherhood and child development may have drawn Agnes Avery to seek him out. He had practiced medicine in British slums in 1905, and established the first school clinic (the Bow Clinic) in London for poor children in 1907. He continued to provide it with medical services, and then at the Margaret MacMillan School Clinic. In 1910 he established and edited the journal , which brought the health of England’s poor children to the nation’s attention. During the war, Eder spent over a year working part-time as a medical inspector in London’s East End schools. In his pre-war years, Eder was an important contributor to the Fabian Society paper, ‘The New Age’. His work regularly appeared in the paper between 1907 and 1917. He largely addressed medical and psychological topics, including school hygiene and the link between socialism and medicine, as well as politics, literature, and religion. In 1908 The New Age Press published his treatise , in which Eder argued for a social safety net for new mothers just before and after they gave birth. He was also interested in Jung’s version of psychoanalysis, the basis for his involvement in the London Psychoanalytic Group and, in the long term, the British Psychoanalytical Society.

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Friday 26 February 1932, page 10

Agnes Avery returned to Adelaide in January 1933 after her world tour, only to announce she was selling up and returning to Britain. It appears that her intention was to undergo psychoanalysis. We do not know with whom.

In December 1935 Mrs Avery returned to Australia. By February 1936, much to the mirth of Board, she took over the Chair of the Board of Directors at Stoneyfell Quarries, one of the oldest in the state of South Australia, her father’s former company

By then she was also ‘the only woman member in Australia of the British Institute of Psychoanalysts’, the reporter for the reporter for the Adelaide Advertiser wrote. She had ‘a Freudian theory to account for the modest place that her fellow country women have hitherto taken in industry’, the reporter continued. “The reason is fear,” Mrs Avery said.

Their ability Is all there, but it is locked up and out of use. Secret fear of making mistakes is accentuated by the prejudice that they sense in the attitude of others. They accept and are paralysed by the verdict of the majority that women would be ‘no good’ In executive positions”, she continued.”If they could rid themselves of fear they would make mistakes, but what of it? Everybody makes mistakes at first. There is no reason why they should not prove themselves as invaluable as women leaders of industry in countries overseas, where such achievements are taken for granted.”

It would be interesting to learn more about this remarkable woman. Where, prior to her departure for London Mrs Avery had used the Adelaide press to promote herself, after her return she faded into the background, presumably devoting herself to her work. She used the Letters columns rather than the lecture circuit to propound her views. On 14 August 1937 a fortnight after the the New Education Fellowship Conference began its six week tour of Australia capital cities, she wrote a letter to the supporting education reform in the face of criticism of the ideas propounded by the Fellowship. She may have been aware that the British psychoanalyst and educationalist Susan Isaacs was a delegate to the Conference.

On 11 May 1938 following a call for the development of a psychological clinic in Adelaide, Mrs Avery wrote again to the editor of the Advertiser.

In South Australia there is urgent need for a clinic whereby the mentally sick may be treated scientifically. No one is perfectly normal and balanced, least of all those who vehemently assert that they are; but the tragedy lies in the fact “that few of us can have any doubt of the general accuracy of the estimate that one person in thirteen in this country < England), and in Australia too is in need of psychological reaajustment. That being so, how can we get to the cause?

Thirty odd years ago. Dr. Freud, of Vienna, discovered the method of “transference,” now known to the world as the psycho-analytical method. In London today is a body of men and women called -The British Institute of Psycho-Analysts.” One thing is essential is that every member must himself or herself have bsen analysed. You must heal yourself before you can heal others. The power is tremendous, and therein lies also the danger. Dealing with sick minds requires skill and technique of no mean order. The power of analysis, allied with medicine, has no limits.

Have we no sons and daughters of pioneers who, in their turn, will go forth and pioneer this great scientific knowledge for the benefit of humanity? It takes three years for a full analysis, followed by two years’ practice under the guidance of your medical-analyst. It can be taken in the stride of a medical course, and the British Institute of Analysts is out to encourage and help medical students to include analysis in their course. Men of undoubted ability and repute, such as Dr. Emest Jones or Dr. Edward Glover, are ready to point the way. To a young nation this is a matter of national import.

She was supported by someone calling themselves, ‘Probono Publico’ perhaps Medical Practitioner in a letter dated 23 May 1938.

War was declared in 1939. By the time anyone was able to examine the issue again it was 1945. Mrs Avery passed away on 27 August 1944.


PARADISE FOR CHILDREN (1933, January 14). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133066877

MEETING SHAW (1933, February 21). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), p. 14. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41469023

Women In Industry (1936, February 4). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35406233

Versatile S.A. Family (1936, May 1). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article132207519

CURING S!CK MINDS (1938, May 11). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), p. 28. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30867716

POINTS FROM LETTERS (1938, May 23). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), p. 22. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30870780