Henry Havelock Ellis was a British physician, author, essayist, and social reformer who studied human sexuality. He was co-author of the first medical textbook in English on homosexuality in 1897 and also published works on a variety of sexual practices and inclinations, including transgender psychology.
The works of Havelock Ellis catalyzed the revolution against repressive Victorian views of sexuality. He was practicing and writing during a period in which attitudes about sex were beginning to change thanks to the activism of several key players in the fight for sexual equality and controlled reproduction.
Henry Havelock Ellis was born at Croydon in Surrey, England, to Susannah Wheatley Ellis and Edward Peppen Ellis, a sea captain. He spent much of his childhood sailing with his father, taking the first of two trips around the world at the age of seven.
After being educated at private schools in South London, he traveled to Australia at the age of sixteen, where he taught at a few schools and as a private tutor over a span of four years before returning to England in 1879.
In 1881 Havelock Ellis entered St. Thomas’s Hospital in London to study medicine, but after a brief term practicing general medicine, he turned his attention to literary, then scientific pursuits.
Ellis wrote throughout his life, publishing everything from literary reviews and articles to the books on sexuality that defined his career. He is credited with introducing the notions of narcissism and autoeroticism, later adopted by psychoanalysis.
His debut book, The Criminal, was published in 1890. The book is a comprehensive English summary of the main results of criminal anthropology, a field of study which was scarcely known at the time of the publication of the volume. The Criminal helped the author establish his reputation in the scientific world.
His growing interest in sexual behavior ultimately led him to pen Studies in the Psychology of Sex, a comprehensive seven-volume series on a broad range of topics within human sexuality for which he is best known. The seven volumes of the encyclopedia were published over a span of more than thirty years, from 1897–1928, and discussed numerous aspects of sexuality including homosexuality, masturbation, and the physiology of sexuality and sexual arousal.
The publication and dissemination of the first volume, Sexual Inversion, incited much resistance in Britain. The firestorm even led to a court case against George Bedborough, owner of a bookstore from which a disguised detective bought a copy, on the grounds that he had participated in the dissemination of obscene material. As a result of the controversy raised in Britain, the remaining six volumes were published in the United States.
Some stigma followed the books across the Atlantic, however, and even in the US availability was restricted to members of the medical profession until changes in the obscenity laws in 1935 permitted its sale to the general public.
Though Studies was his most well-known publication, other notable titles include Man and Woman (1894), The Task of Social Hygiene (1912), and Psychology of Sex: A Manual for Students (1933).
Ellis maintained prolific correspondence with many well-known people throughout his life, including several female activists and historical figures like Sigmund Freud, Francis Galton, Bertrand Russell, and George Bernard Shaw.
Havelock Ellis served as president of the Galton Institute and, like many intellectuals of his generation, supported eugenics. He served as one of 16 vice presidents of the Eugenics Society from 1909 to 1912.
Havelock Ellis spent the last year of his life in Hintlesham, Suffolk, where he died of an apparent heart attack in July 1939. His autobiography My Life was published posthumously in 1939.
Fun fact, Havelock 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.