Havelock Ellis (1859 - 1939)
Henry Havelock Ellis was a British doctor, sexual
psychologist and social reformer.
Ellis was born at Croydon, then a small town south of London. His father was a
sea captain, his mother, the daughter of a sea captain, and many other relatives
lived on or near the sea. At seven years of age his father took him on one of
his voyages. After his return Ellis went to a fairly good school, the French and
German College near Wimbledon, and afterward attended a school in Mitcham.
In April 1875 he left London on his father's ship for Australia. He became a
tutor for a family and spent a happy year there,
doing a lot of reading, and then obtained a position as a master at a grammar
school in Grafton. The headmaster had died and Ellis carried on the school for
that year, but was too young and inexperienced to do so successfully.
At the end of the year, he returned to Sydney and, after three months training,
was given charge of two government part-time elementary schools, one at Sparkes
Creek and the other at Junction Creek. He lived happily and healthily at the
school house on Sparkes Creek for a year (the most eventful year of his life).
Ellis returned to England in April 1879. He had decided to take up the study of
sex and felt his best step must be to qualify as a medical man. He studied
medicine at St Thomas' Hospital, although he never had a regular medical
practice; he joined The Fellowship of the New Life in 1883, meeting other social
reformers Edward Carpenter and George Bernard Shaw.
In November, 1891 at the age of 32, and still a virgin, Ellis married the
English writer and proponent of women's rights, Edith Lees. From the beginning,
their marriage was unconventional (Edith Ellis was openly lesbian), and at the
end of the honeymoon, Ellis went back to his bachelor rooms in Paddington, while
she lived at Fellowship House. Their "open marriage" was the central subject in
Ellis's autobiography, My Life.
According to Ellis in My Life, his friends were much amused at his being
considered an expert on sex considering the fact that he suffered from impotence
until the age of 60, when he discovered that he was able to become aroused by
the sight of a woman urinating.
His Sexual Inversion, the first English medical text book on homosexuality,
co-authored with John Addington Symonds, described the sexual relations of
homosexual men and boys, something that Ellis did not consider to be a disease,
immoral, or a crime.
The work assumes that same-sex love transcends age as well as gender taboos, as
seven of the twenty one examples are of intergenerational relationships. A
bookseller was prosecuted in 1897 for stocking it. Althought the term itself is
attributed to Ellis, he writes in 1897, “‘Homosexual’ is a barbarously hybrid
word, and I claim no responsibility for it.” Other psychologically important
concepts developed by Ellis include autoerotism and narcissism, both of which
were later taken on by Sigmund Freud. Ellis was a supporter of eugenics which he
wrote about in The Task of Social Hygiene.
The Papers of Havelock Ellis are held at the University of Birmingham Special