World League for Sexual Reform

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World League for Sexual Reform conference

The World League for Sexual Reform was a League for coordinating knowledge about the enhancement of sexual function.[1] In 1921 Magnus Hirschfeld organised the First Congress for Sexual Reform, which led to the formation of the League. Ralf Dose has written an overview of the League.[2] Congresses were held in Copenhagen (1928), London (1929), Vienna (1930), and Brno (1932). Congress speakers included: Magnus Hirschfeld, Norman Haire, Vera Brittain, Dora Russell,[3] Charles Vickery Drysdale (from the Malthusian League), Stella Browne, Ernst Gräfenberg, Marie Stopes, M. D. Eder (a pioneer psychiatrist), Laurence Housman, George Ives, Eden Paul, Felix Abraham (who with Dr Levy-Lenz performed the world’s first sex-change operation in 1931 at Hirschfeld’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin), Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Ethel Mannin,[3] Harry Benjamin, Peter Schmidt, William J. Robinson (an American contraception crusader) and Jack Flügel, a Freudian psychologist who assisted Norman Haire and Dora Russell organize the Congress and also led the Men's Dress Reform Party[4] Although not a speaker, Albert Einstein was in contact with the Congress.[5]

In 1928 Francis Turville-Petre, British archaeologist and friend of Christopher Isherwood, stayed at Hirschfeld's Institute of Sexual Research in Weimar Berlin. Whilst based in Berlin, Turville-Petre was an active member of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, which campaigned for gay legal reform and tolerance, and attended the 2nd Congress in Copenhagen in 1928.

In 1929 Magnus Hirschfeld presided over the third international congress held at Wigmore Hall, London.[6] Harley Street sexologist, Norman Haire as secretary and Dora Russell as treasurer,[7] jointly organized the event.[8] Magnus Hirschfeld's speech praised British scientists as "distinguished pioneers in eugenics".[6] A number of British feminists attended the 1929 conference, including Naomi Mitchison (whose paper was "Some Comment on the Use of Contraceptives by Intelligent Persons"), Dora Russell ("Marriage and Freedom"), Janet Chance, a pioneer of abortion-law reform ("A Marriage Education Centre in London"), Vera Brittain, a writer and pacifist ("The Failure of Monogamy") and Stella Browne ("The Right to Abortion").[9]

The WLSR dissolved after its meeting in 1932; a planned meeting in Moscow never took place.[10] Many of the WLSR's books and records were destroyed by the Nazis during a raid in Berlin on the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in May 1933.[10][11]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ralf Dose, "The World League for Sexual Reform: Some Possible Approaches", Journal for the History of Sexuality 12:1, pp. 1–15.
  3. ^ a b Jonathan Croall, Neill of Summerhill: The Permanent Rebel. Taylor & Francis, 1983 ISBN 0710093004, (p. 173).
  4. ^ Barbara Burman, "Better and Brighter Clothes; The Men's Dress Reform Party, 1929–1940". Journal of Design History, vol 8, no 4, 1995, pp. 275–290.
  5. ^ Alice Calaprice, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein. Princeton University Press, 2011, (p. 413) ISBN 0691138176.
  6. ^ a b The Times, League For Sexual Reform International Congress Opened, 9 September 1929.
  7. ^ Diana, Wyndham, "Norman Haire and the Study of Sex", Foreword by Michael Kirby. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2012 [1].
  8. ^ Ivan Crozier, "All the World's a Stage": Dora Russell, Norman Haire, and the 1929 London World League for Sexual Reform Congress, Journal for the History of Sexuality 12:1 (Jan. 2003).
  9. ^ Lesley A. Hall, The Life and Times of Stella Browne: Feminist and Free Spirit. I. B. Tauris, 2011, ISBN 1848855834, (p. 153, 173–74).
  10. ^ a b Britta McEwen, Sexual Knowledge: Feeling, Fact, and Social Reform in Vienna, 1900–1934. Berghahn Books, 2012, ISBN 0857453386, (pp. 175–177, 193).
  11. ^ Alison Blunt, Jane Wills Dissident Geographies: An Introduction to Radical Ideas and Practice. Pearson Education, 2000 ISBN 0582294894, (pp. 140–141).