Stella Cunliffe

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Stella Vivian Cunliffe MBE (12 January 1917 – 20 January 2012)[1][2] was a British statistician. She was the first female president of the Royal Statistical Society.[3]

She was educated at Parsons Mead, Ashtead and the London School of Economics where she gained a BSc (Econ).


She started her career in the Danish Bacon Company (1939–44) but at the end of World War II interrupted her career to do voluntary relief work in Europe with the Guide International service (1945–47).

In 1947 she resumed her career by accepting a post as statistician at the Dublin brewers Arthur Guinness Son & Co. (1947–70). In this role, Cunliffe developed important principles of experimental methods that are taught to this day. In the most famous example, Cunliffe redesgned the instructons for quality control workers who were tasked to either accept or reject handmade beer barrels.[4] Before Cunliffe's redesign, workers accepted barrels by rolling them downhill and rejected barrels by pushing them uphill, the more difficult task; thus, workers were biased to accept barrels even if they were flawed. Cunliffe redesigned the quality control work station so that it was equally easy to reject or accept a barrel, eliminating the prior bias and saving Guinness money in the process.

She then in 1970 became Head of Research Unit at the Home Office (1970–72) before being appointed Director of Statistics at the Home Office (1972–77), the first woman to reach this grade in the British Government Statistical Service. During her time at the Home Office she expanded the department's statistical and support staff, and established a dedicated computing team.[5] She was a prison visitor, and promoted the use of statistics in criminal justice policy. She presented the Home Secretary Roy Jenkins with international comparisons to show that capital punishment had no affect on murder rates.[5][6]

She was later Statistical Adviser to the Committee of Enquiry into the Engineering Profession 1978-80.[7]

She served as the first female President of the Royal Statistical Society from 1975 to 1977.[8]

Guide International Service[edit]

The Guide International Service was formed from specially trained ex-Girl Guide volunteers to help with the rehabilitation of Europe after the war, As a member of the service, Stella Cunliffe was amongst the first civilians to go into Belsen Concentration Camp in 1945 [9] where they oversaw the "human laundry": the delousing of the inmates.

She was appointed MBE in 1993, for services to the Guides and the community in Surrey.[10]

Presidential Address to the RSS[edit]

Her recreations were work with youth organisations, gardening and prison after-care. She also served as a Mole Valley District Councillor from 1981-1999, chaired the local Community Health Council, and served as Chair of Governors for Parson Mead School.[5]


  1. ^ "Stella Vivian CUNLIFFE Obituary: View Stella CUNLIFFE's Obituary by The Times". The Times. The Times. 31 January 2012. Retrieved 12 February 2012. Stella Vivian died peacefully on 20th January 2012 aged 95. 
  2. ^ "Stella Cunliffe dies aged 95". This Is Surrey Today. 26 January 2012. Retrieved 12 February 2012. 
  3. ^ "First woman RSS president, Stella Cunliffe, dies - RSSeNEWS". Royal Statistical Society. 26 January 2012. Retrieved 12 February 2012. It is with sadness that we report that Stella Cunliffe, who was our first woman president, has died at the age of 95. 
  4. ^ A., Nolan, Susan (2016-01-01). Statistics for the behavioral sciences. Worth Pub. ISBN 1319014224. OCLC 956339986. 
  5. ^ a b c Philpotts, Greg (1 October 2012). "Obituary: Stella Vivian Cunliffe MBE, January 12th, 1917–January 19th, 2012". Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society). 175 (4): 1058. Retrieved 21 April 2016. 
  6. ^ Leatherhead Advertiser. "Tributes to 'amazing' Stella Cunliffe". Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser. Local World. Retrieved 21 April 2016. 
  7. ^ Haines, Catherine (2001). International Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary to 1950. ABC-CLIO. pp. 74–75. Retrieved 21 April 2016. 
  8. ^ "Royal Statistical Society - Presidents". Royal Statistical Society. Retrieved 7 August 2010. 
  9. ^ Davies, Serena (14 August 2009). "100 years of the Girl Guides". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 August 2010. 
  10. ^ "Supplement to the London Gazette". The Gazette (53332). 12 June 1993. p. B16. Retrieved 21 April 2016. 
  • Julian Champkin. A Life in Statistics: Beer and Statistics (An interview with Stella Cunliffe) Significance 2006; 3(3):126–9. doi:10.1111/j.1740-9713.2006.00184.x
  • David Salsburg The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century, Owl Books (NY), 2002. Chapter 25 has an account of Cunliffe's career based on her presidential address.

External links[edit]