Henry Havelock Ellis, known as
Havelock Ellis (2 February 1859 – 8
July 1939), was an English physician, writer, progressive intellectual
and social reformer who studied human sexuality. He co-authored the
first medical textbook in English on homosexuality in 1897, and also
published works on a variety of sexual practices and inclinations, as
well as on transgender psychology. He is credited[by whom?] with
introducing the notions of narcissism and autoeroticism, later adopted
by psychoanalysis. Ellis was among the pioneering investigators of
psychedelic drugs and the author of one of the first written reports
to the public about an experience with mescaline, which he conducted
on himself in 1896. Like many intellectuals of his era, he supported
eugenics; he served as president[when?] of the
1 Early life and teaching career
2 Medicine and psychology
5 Sexual impulse in youth
8 Views on women and birth control
8.1 Views on sterilization
10 Later life and death
13 Further reading
14 External links
Early life and teaching career
Ellis, son of Edward Peppen Ellis and Susannah Mary Wheatley, was born
Surrey (now part of Greater London). He had four sisters,
none of whom married. His father was a sea captain, his mother the
daughter of a sea captain, and many other relatives lived on or near
the sea. When he was seven his father took him on one of his voyages,
during which they called at Sydney,
Callao and Antwerp. After his
return, Ellis attended the French and German College near Wimbledon,
and afterward attended a school in Mitcham.
In April 1875, Ellis sailed on his father's ship for Australia; soon
after his arrival in Sydney, he obtained a position as a master at a
private school. After the discovery of his lack of training, he was
fired and became a tutor for a family living a few miles from Carcoar.
He spent a year there 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 unsuccessful.
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, near
Scone, New South Wales
Scone, New South Wales and the
other at Junction Creek. He lived at the school house on Sparkes Creek
for a year. He wrote in his autobiography, "In Australia, I gained
health of body, I attained peace of soul, my life task was revealed to
me, I was able to decide on a professional vocation, I became an
artist in literature these five points covered the whole activity of
my life in the world. Some of them I should doubtless have reached
without the aid of the Australian environment, scarcely all, and most
of them I could never have achieved so completely if chance had not
cast me into the solitude of the Liverpool Range."
Medicine and psychology
Ellis returned to England in April 1879. He had decided to take up the
study of sex, and felt his first step must be to qualify as a
physician. He studied at
St Thomas's Hospital Medical School
St Thomas's Hospital Medical School now part
of King's College London, but never had a regular medical practice.
His training was aided by a small legacy and also income earned
from editing works in the
Mermaid Series of lesser known Elizabethan
and Jacobean drama. He joined
The Fellowship of the New Life in
1883, meeting other social reformers Eleanor Marx, Edward Carpenter
and George Bernard Shaw.
The 1897 English translation of Ellis's book Sexual Inversion,
John Addington Symonds
John Addington Symonds and originally published in
German in 1896, was the first English medical textbook on
homosexuality. It describes the sexual relations of homosexual
males, including men with boys. Ellis wrote the first objective study
of homosexuality, as he did not characterise it as a disease, immoral,
or a crime. The work assumes that same-sex love transcended age taboos
as well as gender taboos.
In 1897 a bookseller was prosecuted for stocking Ellis's book.
Although the term homosexual is attributed to Ellis,
he wrote in 1897, "'Homosexual' is a barbarously hybrid word, and I
claim no responsibility for it."
Ellis may have developed psychological concepts of autoerotism and
narcissism, both of which were later developed further by Sigmund
Freud. Ellis's influence may have reached Radclyffe Hall, who would
have been about 17 years old at the time Sexual Inversion was
published. She later referred to herself as a sexual invert and wrote
of female "sexual inverts" in Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself and The Well
of Loneliness. When Ellis bowed out as the star witness in the trial
The Well of Loneliness
The Well of Loneliness on 14 May 1928,
Norman Haire was set to
replace him but no witnesses were called.
Ellis studied what today are called transgender phenomena. Together
with Magnus Hirschfeld,
Havelock Ellis is considered a major figure in
the history of sexology to establish a new category that was separate
and distinct from homosexuality. Aware of Hirschfeld's studies of
transvestism, but disagreeing with his terminology, in 1913 Ellis
proposed the term sexo-aesthetic inversion to describe the phenomenon.
In 1920 he coined the term eonism, which he derived from the name of a
historical figure, Chevalier d'Eon. Ellis explained:
On the psychic side, as I view it, the Eonist is embodying, in an
extreme degree, the aesthetic attitude of imitation of, and
identification with, the admired object. It is normal for a man to
identify himself with the woman he loves. The Eonist carries that
identification too far, stimulated by a sensitive and feminine element
in himself which is associated with a rather defective virile
sexuality on what may be a neurotic basis.
Ellis found eonism to be "a remarkably common anomaly", and "next in
frequency to homosexuality among sexual deviations", and categorized
it as "among the transitional or intermediate forms of sexuality." As
in the Freudian tradition, Ellis postulated that a "too close
attachment to the mother" may encourage eonism, but also considered
that it "probably invokes some defective endocrine balance".
Edith Lees and Havelock Ellis
In November 1891, at the age of 32, and reportedly still a virgin,
Ellis married the English writer and proponent of women's rights,
Edith Lees. From the beginning, their marriage was unconventional, as
Edith Lees was openly lesbian. At the end of the honeymoon, Ellis went
back to his bachelor rooms in Paddington. 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. Some knew that he suffered from
impotence until the age of 60. He then discovered that he could become
aroused by the sight of a woman urinating. Ellis named this
"undinism". After his wife died, Ellis formed a relationship with a
French woman, Françoise Lafitte.
Ellis was a supporter of eugenics. He served as vice-president to the
Eugenics Education Society and wrote on the subject, among others, in
The Task of Social Hygiene:
Eventually, it seems evident, a general system, whether private or
public, whereby all personal facts, biological and mental, normal and
morbid, are duly and systematically registered, must become inevitable
if we are to have a real guide as to those persons who are most fit,
or most unfit to carry on the race.
The superficially sympathetic man flings a coin to the beggar; the
more deeply sympathetic man builds an almshouse for him so he need no
longer beg; but perhaps the most radically sympathetic of all is the
man who arranges that the beggar shall not be born.
In his early writings, it was clear that Ellis concurred with the
notion that there was a system of racial hierarchies, and that
non-western cultures were considered to be “lower races.”
Before explicitly talking about eugenic topics, he used the prevalence
of homosexuality in these ‘lower races’ to indicate the
universality of the behavior. In his work, Sexual Inversions, where
Ellis presented numerous cases of homosexuality in Britain, he was
always careful to mention the race of the subject and the health of
the person’s 'stock', which included their neuropathic conditions
and the health of their parents. However, Ellis was clear to assert
that he did not feel that homosexuality was an issue that eugenics
needed to actively deal with, as he felt that once the practice was
accepted in society, those with homosexual tendencies would
comfortably choose not to marry, and thus would cease to pass the
‘homosexual heredity’ along.
In a debate the Sociological Society, Ellis corresponded with noted
eugenicist Francis Galton, who was presenting a paper in support of
marriage restrictions. While Galton analogized eugenics to breeding
domesticated animals, Ellis felt that a greater sense of caution was
needed before applying the eugenic regulations to populations, as
“we have scarcely yet realized how subtle and far-reaching
hereditary influences are.” Instead, because unlike domesticated
animals, humans were in charge of who they mated with, Ellis argued
that a greater emphasis was needed on public education about how vital
this issue was. Ellis thus held much more moderate views than many
contemporary eugenicists. In fact, Ellis also fundamentally disagreed
with Galton’s leading ideas that procreation restrictions were the
same as marriage restrictions. Ellis believed that those who
should not procreate should still be able to gain all the other
benefits of marriage, and to not allow that was an intolerable burden.
This, in his mind, was what led to eugenics being “misunderstood,
ridiculed, and regarded as a fad.”
Throughout his life, Ellis was both a member and later a council
member of the
Eugenics Society. Moreover, he played a role on the
General Committee of the First International
Sexual impulse in youth
Dr. Havelock Ellis’ 1933 book, Psychology of Sex, is one of the many
manifestations of his interest in human sexuality. In this book, he
goes into vivid detail of how children can experience sexuality
differently in terms of time and intensity. He mentions that it was
previously believed that, in childhood, humans had no sex impulse at
all. “If it is possible to maintain that the sex impulse has no
normal existence in early life, then every manifestation of it at that
period must be ‘perverse,’” he adds. He continues by stating
that, even in the early development and lower function levels of the
genitalia, there is a wide range of variation in terms of sexual
stimulation. He claims that the ability of some infants producing
genital reactions, seen as “reflex signs of irritation” are
typically not vividly remembered. Since the details of these
manifestations are not remembered, there is no possible way to
determine them as pleasurable. However, Ellis claims that many people
of both sexes can recall having agreeable sensations with the
genitalia as a child. “They are not (as is sometimes imagined)
repressed.” They are, however, not usually mentioned to adults.
Ellis argues that they typically stand out and are remembered for the
sole contrast of the intense encounter to any other ordinary
Ellis claims that sexual self-excitement is known to happen at an
early age. He references authors like Marc, Fonssagrives, and Perez in
France who published their findings in the nineteenth century. These
early ages are not strictly limited to ages close to puberty as can be
seen in their findings. These authors provide cases for children of
both sexes who have masturbated from the age of three or four. Ellis
references Robie’s findings that boys’ first sex feelings appear
between the ages of five and fourteen. For girls, this age ranges from
eight to nineteen. For both sexes, these first sexual experiences
arise more frequently during the later years as opposed to the earlier
years. Ellis then references Hamilton’s studies that found
twenty percent of males and fourteen percent of females have
pleasurable experiences with their sex organs before the age of six.
This is only supplemented by Ellis’ reference to Katharine Davis’
studies, which found that twenty to twenty-nine percent of boys and
forty-nine to fifty-one percent were masturbating by the age of
eleven. However, in the next three years after, boys’ percentages
exceeded that of girls.
Dr. Ellis also contributed to the idea of varying levels of sexual
excitation. He asserts it is a mistake to assume all children
experience are able to experience genital arousal or pleasurable
erotic sensations. He proposes cases where an innocent child is led to
believe that stimulation of the genitalia will result in a pleasurable
erection. Some of these children may fail and not be able to
experience this either pleasure or an erection until puberty. Ellis
concludes, then, that children are capable of a “wide range of
genital and sexual aptitude.” Ellis even considers ancestry as
contributions to different sexual excitation levels, stating that
children of “more unsound heredity” and/or hypersexual parents are
“more precociously excitable.”
Ellis' views of auto-eroticism were very comprehensive, including much
more than masturbation. Auto-eroticism, according to Ellis, includes a
wide range of phenomena. Dr. Ellis states in his 1897 book Studies in
the Psychology of Sex, that auto-eroticism ranges from erotic
day-dreams, marked by a passivity shown by the subject, to “unshamed
efforts at sexual self-manipulation witnessed among the insane.”
Ellis also argues that auto-erotic impulses can be heightened by
bodily processes like menstrual flow. During this time, he says,
women, who would otherwise not feel a strong propensity for
auto-eroticism, increase their masturbation patterns. This trend is
absent, however, in women without a conscious acceptance of their
sexual feelings and in a small percentage of women suffering from a
sexual or general ailment which result in a significant amount of
Ellis also raises social concern of how auto-erotic tendencies are
affecting marriages. He goes on to tying auto-eroticism to declining
marriage rates. As these rates decline, he concludes that
auto-eroticism will only increase in both amount and intensity for
both men and women. Therefore, he states, this is an important issue
to both the moralist and physician to investigate psychological
underpinnings of these experiences and determine an attitude toward
Dr. Ellis believed that the sense of smell, although ineffective at
long ranges, still contributes to sexual attraction, and therefore, to
mate selection. In his 1905 book, Sexual selection in man, Dr. Ellis
makes a claim for the sense of smell in the role of sexual
selection. He asserts that while, we have evolved out of a great
necessity for the sense of smell, we still rely on our sense of smell
with sexual selection. The contributions that smell makes in sexual
attraction can even be heightened with certain climates. Ellis states
that with warmer climes come a heightened sensitivity to sexual and
other positive feelings of smell among normal populations. Because of
this, he believes people are often delighted by odors in the East,
particularly in India, in “Hebrew and Mohammedan lands.” Ellis
then continues by describing the distinct odors in various races,
noting that the Japanese race has the least intense of bodily
odors. Ellis concludes his argument by stating, “On the whole,
"it may be said that in the usual life of man odors play a not
inconsiderable part and raise problems which are not without interest,
but that their demonstrable part in actual sexual selection is
Views on women and birth control
Ellis favored feminism from a eugenic perspective, feeling that the
enhanced social, economic, and sexual choices that feminism provided
for women would result in women choosing partners who were more
eugenically sound. In his view, intelligent women would not
choose, nor be forced to marry and procreate with feeble-minded men.
Ellis viewed birth control as merely the continuation of an
evolutionary progression, noting that natural progress has always
consisted of increasing impediments to reproduction, which lead to a
lower quantity of offspring, but a much higher quality of them.
From a eugenic perspective, birth control was an invaluable instrument
for the elevation of the race. However, Ellis noted that birth
control could not be used randomly in a way that could have a
detrimental impact by reducing conception, but rather needed to be
used in a targeted manner to improve the qualities of certain
‘stocks.’ He observed that it was unfortunately the ‘superior
stocks’ who had knowledge of and used birth control while the
‘inferior stocks’ propagated without checks. Ellis’ solution
to this was a focus on contraceptives in education, as this would
disseminate the knowledge in the populations that he felt needed them
the most. Ellis argued that birth control was the only available way
of making eugenic selection practicable, as the only other option was
wide-scale abstention from intercourse for those who were
Views on sterilization
Ellis was strongly opposed to the idea of castration for eugenic
purposes. In 1909, regulations were introduced at the Cantonal Asylum
in Bern, which allowed those deemed ‘unfit’ and with strong sexual
inclinations to be mandatorily sterilized. In a particular
instance, several men and women, including epileptics and pedophiles
were castrated, some of whom voluntarily requested it. While the
results were positive, in that none of the subjects were found guilty
of any more sexual offences, Ellis remained staunchly opposed to the
practice. His view on the origin of these inclinations was that
sexual impulses do not reside in the sexual organs, but rather they
persist in the brain. Moreover, he posited that the sexual glands
provided an important source of internal secretions vital for the
functioning of the organism, and thus their removal could greatly
injure the patient.
However, already in his time, Ellis was witness to the rise of
vasectomies and ligatures of the Fallopian tubes, which performed the
same sterilization without removing the whole organ. In these cases,
Ellis was much more favorable, yet still maintaining that
“sterilization of the unfit, if it is to be a practical and humane
measure commanding general approval, must be voluntary on the part of
the person undergoing it, and never compulsory.” His opposition
to such a system was not only rooted in morality. Rather, Ellis also
considered the practicality of the situation, hypothesizing that if an
already mentally unfit man is forced to undergo sterilization, he
would only become more ill-balanced, and would end up committing more
Though Ellis was never at ease with the idea of forced sterilizations,
he was willing to find ways to circumvent that restriction. His focus
was on the social ends of eugenics, and as a means to it, Ellis was in
no way against 'persuading' 'volunteers' to undergo sterilization by
withdrawing Poor Relief from them. While he preferred to convince
those he deemed unfit using education, Ellis supported coercion as a
tool. Furthermore, he supported adding ideas about eugenics and birth
control to the education system in order to restructure society, and
to promote social hygiene. For Ellis, sterilization seemed to be
the only eugenic instrument that could be used on the mentally unfit.
In fact, in his publication The Sterilization of the Unfit, Ellis
argued that even institutionalization could not guarantee the complete
prevention of procreation between the unfit, and thus, “the burdens
of society, to say nothing of the race, are being multiplied. It is
not possible to view sterilization with enthusiasm when applied to any
class of people…but what, I ask myself, is the practical
Ellis was among the pioneering investigators of psychedelic drugs and
the author of one of the first written reports to the public about an
experience with mescaline, which he conducted on himself in 1896. He
consumed a brew made of 3 Echinocacti (peyote) in the afternoon of
Good Friday alone in his apartment in Temple, London. During the
experience, lasting for about 24 hours, he noted a plethora of
extremely vivid, complex, colourful, pleasantly smelling
hallucinations, consisting both of abstract geometrical patterns and
definite objects such as butterflies and other insects. He published
the account of the experience in
The Contemporary Review in 1898
(Mescal: A New Artificial Paradise). The title of the article
alludes to an earlier work on the effects of mind-altering substances,
an 1860 book
Les Paradis artificiels
Les Paradis artificiels by French poet Charles Baudelaire
(containing descriptions of experiments with opium and hashish).
Ellis was so impressed with the aesthetic quality of the experience
that he gave some specimens of peyote to an Irish poet W. B. Yeats, a
member of Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an organisation of which
another mescaline researcher, Aleister Crowley, was also a member.
Later life and death
Ellis resigned from his position of Fellow of the
over their stance on sterilization in January 1931.
Ellis spent the last year of his life at Hintlesham, Suffolk, where he
died in July 1939. He is buried at Golders Green Crematorium,
Elmira Reformatory showing four views of head The Criminal
The Criminal (1890)
The New Spirit (1890)
The Nationalisation of Health (1892)
Man and Woman: A Study of Secondary and Tertiary Sexual
Characteristics (1894) (revised 1929)
Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1897–1928) six volumes (listed
translator: Germinal (by Zola) (1895) (reissued 1933)
Das konträre Geschlechtsgefühl (in German). Leipzig: Wigand.
1896. with J.A. Symons
Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol 2 Sexual Inversion. 1897.
"Mescal: A New Artificial Paradise". The Contemporary Review. LXXIII.
Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol 1 The Evolution of Modesty, The
Phenomena of Sexual Periodicity, Auto-Erotism. 1900.
The Nineteenth Century (1900)
Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol 3 Analysis of the Sexual
Impulse, Love and Pain, The Sexual Impulse in Women. 1903.
A Study of British Genius (1904)
Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol 4 Sexual Selection in Man.
Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol 5 Erotic Symbolism, The
Mechanism of Detumescence, The Psychic State in Pregnancy. 1906.
The Soul of Spain (1908)
"The sterilisation of the unfit". The
Eugenics Review. 1 (3): 203.
1909. PMC 2986668 . PMID 21259474.
Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol 6 Sex in Relation to Society.
The Problem of Race-Regeneration (1911)
The task of social hygiene. New York. 1912. p. 10.
"Birth control and eugenics". The
Eugenics Review. 9 (1): 35. 1917.
PMC 2942166 . PMID 21259632.
The World of Dreams (1911) (new edition 1926)
The Task of Social Hygiene (1912)
Impressions and Comments. in 3 volumes. 1924.
Essays in War-Time.
The Philosophy of Conflict (1919)
On Life and Sex: Essays of Love and Virtue (1921)
Kanga Creek: an Australian Idyll. The Golden Cockerel press.
Little Essays of Love and Virtue (1922)
The Dance of Life. 1923.
Sonnets, with Folk Songs from the Spanish (1925)
Eonism and Other Supplementary Studies (1928)
The Art of Life (1929) (selected and arranged by Mrs. S. Herbert)
More Essays of Love and Virtue (1931)
ed.: James Hinton: Life in Nature (1931)
Views and Reviews. 1932.
Psychology of Sex. 1933.
Imaginary Conversations and Poems: A Selection, by Walter Savage
My Confessional (1934)
Questions of Our Day (1934)
From Rousseau to Proust (1935)
Selected Essays (1936)
Poems (1937) (selected by John Gawsworth; pseudonym of T. Fytton
Love and Marriage (1938) (with others)
My life. Houghton Mufflin. 1939.
Sex Compatibility in Marriage (1939)
From Marlowe to Shaw (1950) (ed. by J. Gawsworth)
The Genius of Europe (1950)
Sex and Marriage (1951) (ed. by J. Gawsworth)
The Unpublished Letters of
Havelock Ellis to Joseph Ishill (1954)
^ Grosskurth 1980, p. 412.
^ But compare Past Presidents - The Galton Institute
^ Ellis 1939, p. 139.
^ a b Thomson 1968, p. 210.
^ Ellis & Symonds 1896.
^ White 1999, p. 66.
^ Online Etymology Dictionary at www.etymonline.com
^ Laplanche & Pontalis 1988, p. 45.
^ Souhami 1998, p. 197.
^ Ekins & King 2006, pp. 61-64.
^ a b Ellis, Albert. Psychology of Sex.
^ a b c d e Crozier 2008.
^ a b c d e f g Ellis 1917, p. 35.
^ Ellis 1933, pp. 70-71.
^ a b Ellis 1933, p. 71.
^ Ellis 1897, pp. 98-99.
^ Ellis 1897, p. 64.
^ Ellis 1897, p. 99.
^ Ellis 1905, p. 110.
^ Ellis 1905, p. 111.
^ Ellis 1905, p. 112.
^ a b c d e f Ellis 1909, p. 203.
^ Ellis 1912, p. 10.
^ Ellis 1898.
^ Rudgley 1993.
^ Wyndham 2012, p. 242.
^ "ELLIS, AUTHOR OF SEX BOOKS, IS DEAD AT 80". The Times. Hammond,
Indiana. p. 35 col A.
^ Wilson 2016, p. 225.
Crozier, Ivan (2008). "Havelock Ellis, eugenicist". Studies in History
and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of
Biological and Biomedical Sciences. 39 (2): 187–194.
doi:10.1016/j.shpsc.2008.03.002. ISSN 1369-8486.
Ekins, Richard; King, Dave (2006). The
Transgender Phenomenon. SAGE
Publications. ISBN 978-0-7619-7163-4.
Grosskurth, Phyllis (1980). Havelock Ellis: A Biography. Allen Lane.
Laplanche, Jean; Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand (1988). The Language of
Psycho-analysis. Karnac Books. ISBN 978-0-946439-49-2.
Rudgley, Richard (1993). The alchemy of culture: intoxicants in
society. British Museum Press.
ISBN 978-0-7141-1736-2. Rudgley, Richard (1993). The alchemy
of culture: intoxicants in society. British Museum Press.
Souhami, Diana (1998). The Trials of Radclyffe Hall. Weidenfeld &
Nicholson. ISBN 978-0-297-81825-0.
Thomson, Robert (1968). The Pelican History of Psychology (First ed.).
Pelican]]. p. 463. ISBN 0-14-020904-2.
White, Chris (1999). Nineteenth-Century Writings on Homosexuality. CRC
Press. p. 66.
Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than
14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland.
Wyndham, Diana (2012).
Norman Haire and the Study of Sex. Sydney
University Press. ISBN 978-1-74332-006-8.
Serle, Percival (1949). "Ellis, Henry Havelock". Dictionary of
Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
Hale, Nathan G. (1971). Freud and the Americans: the beginnings of
psychoanalysis in the United States, 1876-1917. Oxford University
Calder-Marshall, Arthur (1959). Havelock Ellis: a biography.
Hart-Davis. The Sage of Sex: A Life of Havelock Ellis. New York:
G.P. Putnam's Sons. 1960. (U.S. title)
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