Harold Blackham Archive

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection contains:

  • articles
  • correspondence
  • lectures
  • organisational files
  • personal papers

Administrative / Biographical History

Harold Blackham (1903-2009) is described as the 'architect of the British Humanist Movement'. He attended Birmingham University before moving to London and became involved in organised humanism in 1933 as assistant to Stanton Coit at the West London Ethical Society. In 1934 Blackham became chairman of the British Union of Ethical Societies and it was this organisation that became the British Humanist Association (BHA) in 1934, with Blackham as its first director.

With almost 70 years of publishing articles and books, he is one of the most significant figures in twentieth century Humanism. Blackham's published works include the epilogue to J.B. Bury's classic History of Freedom of Thought, Living as a Humanist, Objections to Humanism, The Fable as Literature and Blackham's own favourite, The Human Tradition, published in 1953.

During the Second Word War he worked in the London Fire Service, driving a fire engine throughout the Blitz, and was involved with bringing Jewish refugee children to Britain from Austria. After the war he worked as Secretary to the Ethical Union and called a London conference of the World Union of Freethinkers to discuss the challenge of Humanism. He went on to found the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and received the International Humanist Award in 1974. He worked closely with leading Humanists such as Julian Huxley, Barbara Wootton, A.J. Ayer and Jacob Bronowski, leading him to co-found the British Association of Counselling.

Education, in particular moral education, was one of his lifelong interests and he co-founded the Journal of Moral Education in 1975. This led to the formation of the Social Morality Council and his work with Dr James Hemming, fellow Humanist and educationist. Harold Blackham retired in 1968 and joined the advisory council of the BHA, to which he recruited figures such as Karl Popper and E.M. Forster. He was President of the BHA between 1974 and 1977, as well as lecturer at London's South Place Ethical Society from 1965 until his death.

Harold Blackham eventually retired to the Wye Valley, where he grew vegetables and continued writing and lecturing until his death in 2009 at the age of 106.

Conditions Governing Access

Contact library@ethicalsoc.org.uk to make an appointment.

Acquisition Information

Bequeathed to the Humanist Reference Library and Archives by Harold Blackham.

Subjects