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British Humanist Association

British Humanist Association logoADMINISTRATIVE/BIOGRAPHICAL HISTORY: The British Humanist Association has its initial origins in the ethical movement established by Felix Adler in America in 1876. Ten years later, it was brought to Britain by Stanton Coit who formed the London Ethical Society. The aim of the ethical societies was to 'disentangle moral ideals from religious doctrines, metaphysical systems and ethical theories'. The societies were also involved with moral education, penal reform and neighbourhood community work, along with assisting the women's movement and drawing attention to racial, colonial and international problems by initiating and supporting effective action. In 1896, the Union of Ethical Societies was formed and this was incorporated in 1928 as the Ethical Union.

The immediate origins of the BHA stem from the 1962 annual conference of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), when British representatives realised that Britain had no organisation entitled 'Humanist' even though there were many local and university humanist groups. The main point of contact and unity remained to be the Ethical Union. A Humanist Council had been established in 1950 loosely linking freethought and secularist groups, although collaboration was put on a firmer footing when the Rationalist Press Association (RPA) and Ethical Union allied and formed the Humanist Association in 1957. This organisation was formalised in 1963 and, although both organisations retained their individual identities: the EU in West London was concerned with public relations, and the RPA, in Drury Lane, with publishing, both also promoted the BHA.

The inaugural dinner of the BHA was held at the House of Commons in May 1963 with the first president, Sir Julian Huxley, in the chair. there was an immediate rise in membership, local group activity and university humanist groups were brought together and instituted the Humanist University Federation. Shortly after, A.J.Ayer took over the presidency from Huxley, Baroness Wootton took over the Vice-Presidency and H.J.Blackham bacame Director, a position he remained in for many years. However, in 1965 organisation of the BHA by the EU and the RPA was to end. Due to the charity laws, the EU was removed from the register on a technical point and this necessitated the RPA, because of its own charitable status, pulling out of the joint running of the BHA. The EU continued until 1967 when it was subsumed withing the BHA. The battle for charitable status continued and was eventually won in 1983.

From its origins the BHA's activities have been wide and varied. These have included the publication of pamphlets, books and periodicals, arranging conferences, promoting campaigns and organising local groups. The Association also calls for and promotes new thinking, research and experimentation in moral and religious education, along with helping Humanist parents and teachers. It also seeks a fuller and fairer representation of Humanist views in broadcasting and the press. The BHA is linked internationally with the IHEU and has been affiliated to the United Nations Association and supported Freedom from Hunger and similar campaigns. It was also involved in establishing the Humanist Housing Association, the Agnostics Adoption Society and a counselling service to help people with personal problems. Education continues to be a priority and many books, newsletters and literature are produced. Humanity, the bi-monthly newsletter, was replaced by Humanist News when New Humanist (RPA) was issued to BHA members from 2001.


  • Minutes and papers of the Executive Committee of the British Humanist Association, 1967-2003.
  • Minutes and papers of miscellaneous British Humanist Association committees, including General Purposes Committee, Political Committee, Education Committee, Finance Committee, Publicity and Information Services Committee, Youth and Development Committee, Ceremonies Committee, Broadcasting Committee and the Working Party on Social Action, 1967-2001.
  • Papers regarding 13 Prince of Wales Terrace, London, 1969-1994.
  • Papers from British Humanist Association conferences, 1964-1971.
  • Accounts and financial papers of the British Humanist Association, 1982-2001.
  • Miscellaneous papers, ephemera, correspondence and press cuttings collected by the British Humanist Association on various subjects, including AIDS, funerals, cults, gender, counselling in the army, prisons and hospitals, freedom of information, abortion, blasphemy, pre-embryos, religion, church, reproduction, immigration, Islam, asylum, science, pseudo-science, religious and moral education and religious schools, 1952-2007.
  • Annual reports of the British Humanist Association, 1967-1987.
  • British Humanist Association photographs of individuals, conferences and events, 1967-2005.
  • Minidiscs, CDs, audio tapes of Humanist lectures, contributions to radio and television programmes and British Humanist Association promotional material, 1980-2007.
  • General, membership and ceremony correspondence of the British Humanist Association, 1965-2002.
  • Correspondence and papers regarding international humanism and international humanist organisations, 1992-2002.
  • British Humanist Association press releases, newsletters and circulars, 1967-2001.
  • Papers regarding British Humanist Association educational activities, 1966-2005.
  • Papers regarding British Humanist Association membership and membership questionnaires, 1992-1998.
  • Minutes of the Ethical Union, 1923-1967.
  • Minutes and papers of miscellaneous Ethical Union committees, including General Purposes Committee, Development Committee and Publications and Publicity Committee, 1954-1967.
  • Cash book, press cuttings and correspondence concerning the Ethical Union, 1944-1967.
  • Minutes, correspondence, accounts and property papers of the Humanist Trust/Voltaire Lectures Fund, 1958-1996.
  • Minutes of the Union of Ethical Societies, 1904-1946.
  • Minutes and papers of the West London Ethical Society, 1892-1965.
  • Minutes of the Women's Group of the Ethical Movement, 1920-1945.
  • Minutes, papers and photographs of the Ethical Church, 1909-1940.
  • Minutes, papers and correspondence of the Secular Education League, 1907-1964.
  • Minutes of the Sheffield Ethical Society, 1903-1934.
  • Minutes of the Young People's Group of the Ethical Movement, 1925-1933.
  • Minutes of the Humanist Counselling Service, 1965-1968.
  • Papers and correspondence concerning the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, 1999-2001.
  • Balance sheets and papers of the Pemberton Publishing Company, 1994-1997.
  • Papers and correspondence of the Humanist Broadcasting Council, 1959-1963.
  • Minutes of the London Young Humanists, 1969-1976.
  • Minutes of the Hampstead Ethical Institute, 1906-1926.
  • Minutes of the South London Ethical Society, 1924-1935.
  • Minutes of the City and University of York Humanist Society, 1965-1968.
  • Papers regarding the Lewisham Humanist Group Partnership Scheme, 1993-2001.
  • Papers and minutes of the Humanist Philosopher's Group, 2000-2006.
  • Scrapbook regarding Stanton Coit, 1888-1900.
  • Scrapbook and papers concerning George Edward O'Dell, 1906-1956.

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