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Haire, Norman (1892–1952)

by Frank M. C. Forster

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Norman Haire (1892-1952), medical practitioner and sexologist, was born on 21 January 1892 at Paddington, Sydney, eleventh and last child of Henry Zions, gentleman, and his London-born wife Clara, née Cohen. Henry was a Jewish emigrant from Poland who had changed his surname from Zajac. Educated (on a scholarship) at Fort Street Model School, Norman won prizes for acting, elocution and debating. These loves and their pursuit remained throughout his life; acting was his chosen career, but parental pressure decided otherwise.

Having studied medicine at the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1915), Zions held six-month resident appointments at Sydney Hospital and the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington, where his interest in obstetrics and gynaecology was aroused. He worked briefly in Brisbane and then as superintendent at (Royal) Newcastle Hospital. From 1915 he served part time in the Militia as captain, Australian Army Medical Corps. In early 1919, as ship's surgeon, he visited China and other Eastern countries, and developed a love of Oriental art. Later that year he left for Europe, via Africa, again working his passage. He took what he regarded as a more acceptable surname, Haire, derived from the Polish word 'zając', meaning a hare. One would like to think that the insertion of an 'i' was a display of Norman's ego, for he always had plenty of that.

Arriving in London, Haire was house surgeon at the Hampstead General and North West London Hospital until December 1920. That year he attended a meeting of the Malthusian League. In 1921, when the league established one of the earliest birth-control clinics in Britain, the Walworth Women's Welfare Centre, he was appointed medical officer-in-charge and began working part time in the women's department of the London Lock Hospital. In 1920 Haire had visited Berlin. There he was involved with the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft and its director Dr Magnus Hirschfeld. Haire was later to say that Germany was his spiritual home. He quickly became fluent in the language and introduced a number of German publications on sexual science to the English-speaking world in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1920 Haire had also contacted Havelock Ellis who was something of a father-figure to him; they corresponded and met frequently, though Ellis endeavoured at times to distance himself from his protégé.

Haire rapidly became the most prominent sexologist in Britain. In the decades between the wars he was a dynamic figure with incredible involvement and output: he was a member of the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, the International Medical Group for the Investigation of Birth Control, and the Eugenics Education Society. As secretary of the World League for Sexual Reform, he organized its third congress (London, 1929), which was remarkable for the number attending, their diversity of country of origin and background, and the range of knowledge of those presenting papers. Haire edited the proceedings (published 1930), a massive 670-page volume. He was president of the league from 1930; following its demise in 1936 due to personal, political and national frictions, he accepted the presidency of the British off-shoot, the Sex Education Society. During these years he wrote several books—the most important of which was Hymen (1927)—and co-authored and edited others, including the Encyclopaedia of Sexual Knowledge (1934) written by 'Costler A' (Arthur Koestler) et al. Throughout this period Haire wrote for journals and newspapers, and was involved in sometimes fiery public debate.

In 1925 Haire had established a private practice in Harley Street; his combined residence and consulting rooms were strikingly decorated after the Chinese fashion. He was notoriously an expensive consultant. In the area of birth control he pioneered the Haire vaginal pessary and introduced into Britain an intra-uterine device (the Grafenberg 'silver' ring); in another clinical development, he promoted male sexual rejuvenation by the Steinach operation (bilateral vasectomy). In the mid-1930s he acquired a country estate at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. Physically a very large man, Haire did not drink, indeed he disapproved of alcohol, but he had an enormous appetite and joy in food. By the late 1930s he was diagnosed as being diabetic and nephritic. The outbreak of World War II and the real threat to Britain in 1940 led him to return to Australia. He pleaded health reasons, but there were those who thought he was 'ratting out'.

In Sydney in late 1940 Haire began practice in Macquarie Street. He rode in a chauffeur-driven limousine, lectured for the Workers' Educational Association and the New Education Fellowship, and spoke on the wireless. He reappeared as an actor—in 1944 his performance in Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma (Sydney University Dramatic Society) was acclaimed. His series of educational articles (from 1942) in the weekly magazine, Woman, written under the pseudonym 'Wykeham Terriss' (a Brisbane reminder), were a social breakthrough in Australia, openly presenting sex-education, pregnancy and childbirth issues, as well as matters relating to gynaecological disorders and venereal disease. Although much criticized, the articles were good publicity and a steady source of income; he continued them with few interruptions until 1951. Some were to be published in a book, Sex Talks (1946). His most renowned appearance, however, was in the Australian Broadcasting Commission's 'Nation's Forum of the Air' (23 August 1944): in a debate on 'Population Unlimited', he and Jessie Street supported the negative and were opposed by Dame Enid Lyons and Colin Clark, an economist. Haire was strongly attacked in the House of Representatives after the debate. By 1946 he was ready to return to England.

In London again, it was a battle. Many of his old associates had died and others did not wish to meet him. He tried to revive the Sex Education Society, and founded and partly financed the Journal of Sex Education (1948-52). In 1950 he visited America where he suffered a heart attack from which he never completely recovered. He died of ischaemic cardiac failure on 11 September 1952 in King's College Hospital, London. Haire had never married: some considered him homosexual, but he was never clearly active; others thought him a 'neuter'. Early on he had distanced himself from his religion and family, and in his will he bequeathed the bulk of his estate—sworn for probate in England at £29,988 and in New South Wales at £22,210—including his library and papers to the University of Sydney which founded the Norman Haire research fellowship.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Mannin, Confessions and Impressions (Lond, 1930)
  • E. Mannin, Young in the Twenties (Lond, 1971)
  • J. Weeks, Coming Out (Lond, 1977)
  • A. Thomas, Broadcast and be Damned (Melb, 1980)
  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 14 Sept 1944, p 805, 20 Sept 1944, p 1031, 27 Sept 1944, p 1473
  • Triad (Sydney), May 1927
  • Lancet, 20 Sept 1952
  • Journal of Sex Education (London), Nov 1952
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Aug, 21 Sept 1944, 4, 20, 25 Apr 1945, 24 Sept 1952, 24 Sept 1983
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 Sept 1952
  • Nation (Sydney), 23 Apr 1960
  • Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Library (Melbourne)
  • University of Sydney Library Archives.

Citation details

Frank M. C. Forster, 'Haire, Norman (1892–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/haire-norman-10390/text18409, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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