Sexology in the Wellcome Library

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Dr Magnus Hirschfeld

Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, 1932.

Last week I attended a colloquium in Berlin, Das Erbe der Berliner Sexualwissenschaft: Eine Fachtagung sexualwissenschaftlicher Archive, commemorating the 80th anniversary of destruction of Magnus Hirschfeld‘s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft by the Nazis on 6 May 1933.

I had been asked to talk about the material we hold in the Wellcome Library relating to Hirschfeld and his legacy and the impact of continental sexual science on British sexologists. There is a small amount of material specifically relating to Hirschfeld in Archives and Manuscripts: like Havelock Ellis, he was a respondent to Dr Josef Strasser’s questionnaire on his career decisions, c. 1930, and his 3-page letter to Strasser and a pamphlet can be found in MS.7042.

There is also a group of photographs of the World League for Sexual Reform (founded by Hirschfeld) Congress in Brno, 1932 among the archives of the Family Planning Association. Charlotte Wolff worked with Hirschfeld in her younger days in Berlin, and her papers among the archives of the British Psychological Society include her research files for her 1986 biography of him, the first to be published in English. The Library also holds copies of several of his works.

I was also able to mention that we hold the papers of Hirschfeld’s important precursor, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, as well as some material on Havelock Ellis, and important early printed works of sexology, including the first edition of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis and the German, and first English, editions of Ellis and J A Symond’s Sexual Inversion (the latter is very rare since Symonds’ executor bought up the entire edition to protect the family from scandal and distress). There is also a significant amount in A&M and the Library more generally pertaining to Hirschfeld’s leading British disciple, the Australian doctor Norman Haire.

World League for Sexual Reform leaflet

World League for Sexual Reform leaflet, SA/EUG/D.250

Material on the World League for Sexual Reform (as well as published proceedings of some of its congresses held in the Library) is to be found in several archival collections, including the Eugenics Society (available online via Codebreakers), the Family Planning Association, and the Wolff papers. The international impact of early twentieth century European sexology can be seen in the files among the Edward Fyfe Griffith papers relating to the journal Marriage Hygiene, published in Bombay by Aliyappin Padmanabha Pillay.

While anyone seeking the impact of Hirschfeld’s work and that of continental sexology more generally in the UK and beyond would have to look in many other places besides the Wellcome Library (from the Havelock Ellis papers just down the road at the British Library, to the Haire papers at the University of Sydney, and numerous collections across the USA), nonetheless we hold a significant amount of material reflecting his legacy.

Lesley Hall

Lesley Hall

Lesley Hall, FRHistS, PhD, DipAA, has been an archivist at the Wellcome since 1979. She has published extensively on the history of sexuality and gender in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries, given many talks and conference presentations, and featured on radio and television. Further details can be found at her website.

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2 comments on Sexology in the Wellcome Library
  • Peyton Allen


    is it possible i could use the World League for Sexual Reform leaflet, SA/EUG/D.25 picture for my national history day project

    • Lalita Kaplish


      Dear Peyton,
      You have permission to make copies of this image under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-commercial license.

      Non-commercial use includes private study, academic research, teaching, and other activities that are not primarily intended for, or directed towards, commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.

      The image should be attributed to Wellcome Library, along with the reference SA/EUG/D.250.
      Best wishes,
      Web Editor

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