Ethel was born on 11th November, 1891 in London to John and Margaret Robson (a blind German-British citizen). John worked as a printer. By the 1901 census Margaret ran the home for paying guests while John worked as a grocer. The family lived at 7 Holland Road.
By 1911 the family were living at 40 Hillside Road, Streatham Hill (London). Ethel was studying Domestic Economy presumably at a university in London.
She held cookery courses in Oswestry and Whitchurch during the First World War in school kitchens.
By the 1939 census she was registered as working as a domestic science teacher, living at 35 Ferrers Road.