Women's Health Collection: Marriage, Sexuality and Birth Control 1918-1950

The first part of the collection (some 500 items) was purchased by Curtin University Library in March 1983 from CC Kohler Antiquarian Booksellers in England for approximately $9,200. The majority of the works were published in the period between the two world wars, but 19th century and earlier publications were also well represented. Some of the titles in the collection were not on the topic of women's health but were part of the collection as offered the bookseller. Many of these were from the personal library of the original owner, Havelock Ellis, renowned British physician, psychologist and sexologist.

In September 1984, a further 110 items were purchased from the same source at a cost of $1,000. This second purchase concentrated on works published in the 1960s and 1970s which complemented and added to the earlier acquisitions. The new purchase was made possible through the generosity of 32 donors who supported the Library's efforts to build this research collection. The 32 donors were:

Pat Barblett, Jo Barker, Roma Bell, Carol Bolton, Olive Buckett, Jean Callander, Robyn de Laeter, Beth Duncan, Mildred Dolin, Dorothy Dufty, Marie Ewers, Bridget Faye, Annemie Gilbert, Bea Girvan-Brown, Louise Hegvold, Lillian Henderson, Terri James, Jill Lawson, Pat Layzell Ward, Leonie Liveris, Judith MacDonald, Billie Nash, Ailsa Neal, Barbara O'Sullivan, Joanne Samson, Jacquelyn Sharpham, Anne Sloan, Erica Underwood, Jean Verschuer, Michelle Watts, Mildred Williams and Anne Winkler.

In 1989, Librarian Helen Dawes compiled a Catalogue of the Special Collection on Women's Health. This provides an alphabetical listing of all titles (including the books from Ellis's library not related to women's health) and a subject index based on Library of Congress subject headings. The listing also includes information about annotations and other features where these are present within particular works. For example, 'The Questing Heart' by Olaf Baker contains a letter from Baker to Ellis.

In 2008, the Library reviewed the collection, which had been housed in the Closed Collection of the Robertson Library, with the aim of raising the collection's profile, making the works more accessible and increasing their use by researchers. As a result of the review

  • The Women's Health Collection website was created and launched in May 2009.
  • Works were assessed and where appropriate, moved to the main collection of the Library where they are available for loan.
  • Works not related to women's health were identified and recatalogued. While these no longer form a part of the Women's Health Collection, they have been retained by the Library and made available for loan where appropriate.
  • Works purchased by the Library separate to the acquisition of the Women's Health Collection in 1983 and 1984, but relevant to the collection themes, will be identified and included in the collection.
  • Where there is freely available electronic access to the work, a link to this access will be added to the record. Where there is electronic access to the work but it is a different edition to what is held in the Robertson Library, a new electronic only record will be created.
  • A project commenced (2009-10) to digitise as many out of copyright items from the collection as possible and make them accessible through the Library catalogue. Additionally, where digital versions of books are available via sites such as the Project Gutenberg online book catalogue, these are being identified and links to the works are being progressively added to the catalogue records.

Havelock Ellis portrait and signature
Havelock Ellis portrait and signature from Impressions and comments, Havelock Ellis, 1941.

Sex, Kenneth Walker, 1950
Kenneth Walker, 1950


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