Ethel Tory was born in 1912 in Subiaco, Western Australia and attended the St Mary’s Church of England Girls School, West Perth where she enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Western Australia in 1932. In 1936, Ethel graduated with 1st class Honours in French and in 1938 added an Honours in Latin to her academic achievements.
Ethel spent her early post-university years as a teacher of French and Latin in the Western Australian education system and completed a Diploma of Education from the University of Western Australia in 1939.
During the war years of 1940-1941, Ethel was employed in the Western Australia Censorship Department scanning all mail in French and Latin to ensure that no secrets were being sent out of the country. At the end of that period she won the prestigious Hackett Research Scholarship from the University of Western Australia and conducted research into the Literature of France from the late 19th Century to the present day, covering the novel, poetry and theatre, from its origins to modern times.
In 1942 Ethel returned to secondary school teaching and in 1946 was appointed Tutor in French at the University of Western Australia. In 1947 she was appointed as lecturer in Latin.
In 1947, Ethel was awarded a French Government Scholarship and attended the University of Paris for two years where she obtained the Diplôme de littérature française contemporaine. She stayed in France for the next ten years earning her living by doing research, teaching and translating.
In 1961, Ethel graduated from the University of Paris with the Docteur de l’université (mention très honorable). The title of her doctoral thesis was “Giraudoux et l’idéal.” She returned to Australia and commenced a lectureship in French at The Australian National University where she was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1965 and served as Acting Head of the Modern Languages Department in 1969 and from 1974 to 1975.
Ethel's passion was the theatre and she continued her research on Giraudoux and published an edition of his play “Intermezzo” for use in schools and universities.
In 1977, Ethel retired from the University to her beachside home on the NSW South Coast.
Dr Tory was a lifelong supporter of the Alliance Française and in retirement, she ran courses on French Language and poetry for the Eurobodalla branch. She earned the accolade: “Elle a bien mérité de l’Alliance” from the French Government to acknowledge what she had done to promote its country’s culture within university circles and beyond by making her a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.
In 1995, the ANU formed The Ethel Tory Drama Endowment from donations from Ethel Tory during her lifetime. The EE Tory Endowment was established through a bequest to the ANU on Dr Tory’s death in 2003. The endowment is used to support academics and students in drama, language and student scholarship support for the study of languages internationally.
More recently the new state-of-the-art languages centre in the Baldessin Building, which is for all ANU students studying a language, has been named in her honour. The Ethel Tory Centre was open for use at the commencement of Semester 1 2011 and was officially opened in May 2011.