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Journal of the History of Sexuality 12.1 (2003) 1-15

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The World League for Sexual Reform:
Some Possible Approaches

Ralf Dose
Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft, Berlin

An Organizational Overview

THE WORLD LEAGUE FOR SEXUAL REFORM (WLSR) was the final organization founded by Magnus Hirschfeld following the Scientific Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee) in 1897 and the Institute for Sexual Science (Institut für Sexualwissenschaft) in 1919. It officially came into being on 3 July 1928 at the congress in Copenhagen; the groundwork for its establishment had already been laid in 1926-27 so that the invitation to the Copenhagen congress could already be sent out on the League's letterhead. Membership cards were also issued before the official foundation.

The League existed until 1935 and later counted the First International Congress for Sexual Reform on the Basis of Sexual Science (held from 15-20 September 1921 in Berlin) as its first congress, so that the four conferences that followed were considered the second to fifth meetings. These took place in Copenhagen, 1-5 July 1928; London, 8-14 September 1929; Vienna, 16-23 September 1930; and Brno, 20-26 September 1932. An invitation was issued for a conference in Moscow to be held in May 1931. The date was later changed to June 1932, but it, like the meetings planned for Paris (September 1933) and the United States, was not to take place.

There were a number of publications under the aegis of the League. There were proceedings of the congresses of 1921 (while not a publication [End Page 1] of the League, this volume belongs thematically in this context), 1928, 1929, and 1930. 1 The conference volume for which subscriptions were solicited in the 1932 program was apparently never published; all that exist are journal articles about the congress. 2 The League made two attempts at establishing an international journal entitled Sexus, but neither attempt got beyond the first edition. The editorial board for the 1931 issue of Sexus was based in Vienna. In early 1933 another attempt was made at the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin using the publishers Wilhelm Kauffmann. 3 There were also publications on the national level. In the Netherlands the WLSR had a publications series, Sexueele Hervorming. 4 Sexus, published in Spain, and Le Problème Sexuel, published in France, were journals put out by the League's national sections and associated with them. 5 [End Page 2]

By the end the League claimed 190,000 members worldwide, including 182 individual members (in 1930); the rest belonged to organizations. 6 The German National League for Birth Control and Sexual Hygiene (Deutscher Reichsverband für Geburtenregelung und Sexualhygiene) brought in 20,000 members. Other corporate members were the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, and the League for the Protection of Motherhood and Sex Reform (Bund für Mutterschutz und Sexualreform). Further member organizations can only be guessed at, since no membership lists have survived. Of the individual members in 1929-30 some 60, or one third, belonged to the British section alone. There were approximately 190 British members in 1932-33; in 1935 there were still at least 142 members in Britain, 68 of them active participants (figures extrapolated from the correspondence of the League's British section preserved in the papers of Dora Russell).

A Brief Review of the Literature

There is surprisingly little scholarly work on the WLSR, apart from the following studies. An (unpublished) Dutch skripsie by Leontine Bijleveld is devoted to the four constant themes of WLSR congresses: women, abortion, contraception, and homosexuality. There is an essay by the Danish sexologist Preben Hertoft on the demise of the WLSR, with the thesis that the main purpose in founding the WLSR had been mutual reinforcement for sex reformers, who tended to be marginalized in their home countries. A short essay by Annegret Klevenow on the eugenic positions represented within the WLSR is, unfortunately, remarkably vague in both documentation and argument. Richard Cleminson has endeavored to...


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