Gustav Spiller

(1864 – 1940)

Gustav Spiller was a member of the Ethical Societies that preceded the modern Humanist movement. He wrote a number of secular hymns and books including a history of these Societies, and on psychology.

Spiller was a Jew born in Budapest, Hungary but later naturalised as English.

By the late 1880’s Spiller worked for the Labour Office of the League of Nations at Geneva. In 1889 he was part of a meeting (along with F. J. Gould) in Hackney, London to plan an Ethical Society.

In 1908 he organised the First International Moral Education Congress in held in London.


In 1911 Spiller was lead organiser of the First Universal Races Congress which met in London at the University of London. This was an early effort of anti-racism, at which distinguished speakers from over 50 countries for four days discussed race problems and ways to counter the work of the budding eugenics movement and improve interracial relations. Among the prominent scientists and scholars in attendance are Americans W.E.B. DuBois and anthropologist Franz Boas. Spiller summed up the group’s findings:

We are then under the necessity of concluding that an impartial investigator would be inclined to look upon the various important peoples of the world as, to all intents and purposes, essentially equal in intellect, enterprise, morality and physique.

However, their work fell on deaf ears and had little impact.

Spiller edited the papers from the proceedings of these two symposia. He also wrote numerous books including: The Mind of Man (1902); Faith in Man: the religion of the twentieth century (1908); Hymns of Love and Duty for the Young (1910); The Training of the Child: A Parent’s Manual (1912); A New System of Scientific Procedure (1921); The Ethical Movement in Great Britain (1934); The Origin and Nature of Man (1935). He was author alternative words to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

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