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Marie Clay

Educationalist (1926–2007)

She hated being introduced as the “Reading Lady”, insisting that developmental science was at the basis of what she did. But the success of Marie Clay’s Reading Recovery programme made the label hard to escape. By the time of her death Reading Recovery – a highly-effective early intervention for young readers – had been used for millions of children across five countries.

Clay’s background was in practice; she taught children with intellectual disabilities even while studying at university. But it was also in science; a Fullbright Scholarship took her to the University of Minnesota to study developmental psychology, a subject not available in New Zealand at the time.

Clay began teaching remedial reading herself while at home with young children, and the sudden improvement of two of her pupils lead her back into research. She gained a PhD from the University of Auckland in 1966, was made the first female professor at that university in 1975, and in 1994 was named “New Zealander of the Year”.


“Dame Marie Clay,” Royal Society of New Zealand, ‘2007 Academy Yearbook'.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary.