Returned portrait sheds light on forgotten sexologist

3 July 2014

Dr Norman Haire left his estate, including this portrait, to the University of Sydney to "upset the wowsers". Cathleen Mann (1896 - 1959), Portrait of Dr Norman Haire, 1938, oil on canvas, University Art Collection.
Dr Norman Haire left his estate, including this portrait, to the University of Sydney to "upset the wowsers". Cathleen Mann (1896 - 1959), Portrait of Dr Norman Haire, 1938, oil on canvas, University Art Collection.

More than 60 years after the death of its subject, a portrait of renowned sexologist Dr Norman Haire has made its way back to the University of Sydney after having been "borrowed" in the 1960s.

The portrait of Dr Haire, an alumnus and benefactor of the University of Sydney and a leading figure in early sex research, came to light when a former colleague of the guilty party contacted the author of Dr Haire's biography to arrange its return.

The man told author Diana Wyndham that the portrait was taken during the move of materials from the University's library in MacLaurin Hall to the newly built Fisher Library in 1962. He believed that a number of items, including the portrait of Haire, were stolen during the move.

The portrait, by society portraitist Cathleen Mann, is now on display in the University's Fisher Library- its original intended home. The exhibition also includes a collection of the personal papers Dr Haire bequeathed to the University, including manuscripts, press clippings, photographs, correspondence, and related effects.

"We are delighted to have the Norman Haire portrait back in its rightful home," said the University of Sydney's Director of Museums, David Ellis.

"The portrait connects the University to an alumnus who went on to have an extraordinary career and change the face of sex research," Ellis said.

"Norman Haire was very much in advance of his time, and spent his life campaigning to free people from sexual oppression," said historian Diana Wyndham, also an alumna of the University of Sydney, who received a Norman Haire Fellowship and wrote his biography, 'Norman Haire and the Study of Sex' (Sydney University Press).

"He was a flamboyant, shy and outrageous hero, who battled against deception and religious conservatism in a bid to empower women and dispel sexual misery," she said.

Throughout his lifetime, Dr Haire campaigned for sexual rights, open access to contraception, abortion, sex education and morality reform.

After graduating, Dr Haire worked at Newcastle Hospital, but was unfairly blamed for the death of a patient during the influenza pandemic. As a result, he left Australia for 20 years and changed his name from Norman Zions to Norman Haire.

When he moved to London in the 1919, he was poor and unknown but established himself with help from well-known British physician Havelock Ellis, who introduced him to key figures in birth control and sexology. By 1930 he had a flourishing gynaecology practice in Harley Street, a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce and a country house.

"Haire's parties were attended by the medical, intellectual and cultural elite - the correct response to the question 'Do you know Norman Haire?' was 'Good Lord, who doesn't?'" said Wyndham.

Having returned to Australia in 1940, he began to write a sexual advice column in 1941 in the magazine Woman under the pseudonym Dr Wykeham Terriss, in which he wrote about issues as diverse as abortion, childcare, contraception, diet, divorce, birth, infertility, impotence, marriage, menopause, menstruation, pregnancy and prostitution. The columns were regarded as some of the most free-thinking articles ever published in a mass circulation magazine, and boosted magazine sales for a decade despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church.

Haire attracted loyal followers throughout the 1940s, but also enemies who hated his frank, inexpensive books on birth control and sex problems. He was hounded by the Security Service, and the ABC was censured in parliament for choosing him as the key speaker in a debate on population.

"Haire was always the sort of person that you either loved or hated, but he was actually very sane and sensible. His articles in Woman were the only sexual advice available for huge numbers of people.

"Norman Haire was around long before Cleo," Wyndham said.

"It is a tragedy that Dr Haire isn't more prominent, and I hope the exhibition of his portrait will go some way to restoring his reputation and creating awareness of his ground-breaking work.

"Before he died, Haire decided to leave his money and papers to the University of Sydney for the study of sex to 'upset the wowsers'. What's not to like about a man like that?"

According to Ellis, the greatest value of the portrait lies in the connection it highlights between the University and the sadly unacknowledged Dr Haire.

The 1938 portrait is a fine work by established society portraitist and costume designer Cathleen Mann, marchioness of Queensberry, and is typical of society portraits of that time. Mann studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and later in Paris, and her work is represented in many public collections including the V&A in London.

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