Norman Haire and the study of sex

3 December 2012

Cartoon by George Molnar, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 December, 1952. Reproduced with permission of Katie Molnar.
Cartoon by George Molnar, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 December, 1952. Reproduced with permission of Katie Molnar.

A biography of the Australian sexologist Norman Haire, entitled Norman Haire and the study of sex by Diana Wyndham, has been launched by the Hon Michael Kirby at the University of Sydney.

The late Norman Haire graduated from the Sydney Medical School in 1915 after which he became a prominent sexologist and a campaigner for birth control, taking a leading role in first international conference for the World League on Sexual Reform in London in 1929.

Upon his death in 1952, Haire bequeathed his books, records and correspondence (including correspondence with Havelock Ellis) and a sizeable portion of the proceeds of the sale of his home in England to the University, directing that it should be applied for the study of sexology.

His collection is currently undergoing preservation through digitisation by the University of Sydney Library's eScholarship division, and is housed in the Rare Books and Special Collections Library. And as a result of his financial bequest, the Norman Haire Research Fellowship in the Sydney Medical School was founded.

Haire has been described as one of Australia's most famous freethinkers and sex reformers. After graduating from medical school, he moved to London in 1919, arriving as a poor Jewish outsider from Australia. But by 1930 he had a flourishing gynaecology practice in Harley Street, a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce and a country house, in which he threw parties attended by the medical, intellectual and cultural elite.

Among his greatest achievements was the organisation, together with feminist campaigner Dora Russell, of the World League for Sexual Reform's highly successful 1929 Congress in London. He also lectured in America, Germany, France and Spain, and wrote and edited many accessible books on sex education.

In 1940 Haire returned to Australia where he attracted a loyal following, but was also hounded by the security service. The ABC Board was censured in parliament for choosing him as the key speaker in a population debate, and his weekly advice column in the magazine Woman was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church.

Norman Haire and the study of sex, by Diana Wyndham, pays a tribute to this tenacious, humane, witty, innovative and brave man's contribution to birth control, sexology and human rights history.

Diana Wyndham was awarded a Norman Haire Fellowship from the University's Faculty of Medicine in 1998 after completing a PhD in history from the University of Sydney. Her books include Populate and perish: Australian women's fight for birth control (written with Stephania Siedlecky, 1990) and Eugenics in Australia: striving for national fitness (2003).

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