Ellen Phyllis Hellmann, social anthropologist and executive member of the SAIRR, dies in Johannesburg


Ellen Phyllis Hellmann.Ellen Phyllis Hellmann. Source: Source:

Saturday, 6 November 1982

Ellen Phyllis Hellmann was born in Johannesburg in 1908. Her father had immigrated to South Africa from Germany in 1894. She studied Social Anthropology at the University of Witwatersrand. For her Master’s degree Hellman decided to do research into the lives of urban African slum dwellers and it was this exposure to their living conditions that made Hellmann want to get involved in ways to improve their situation.

As a result she became involved with the struggles of slum dwellers resisting numerous attempts by the Johannesburg municipality to remove them from inner city settlements condemned as slums in the 1920s and early 1930s. One of the slum yards known to have been very active in resisting slum clearance was Rooiyardin Doornfontein, currently site of one of the University of Johannesburg’s campuses. It is Rooiyard that Hellman used as a case study in describing the living conditions of Africans in the city, also depicted as the incubator of early Johannesburg’s urban African culture, Marabi. 

Hellmann became an executive member of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR). This position helped her make an impact in terms of influencing government policies and bring to light the situations that Urban Africans lived under. She ventured more into politics when she co-founded the Liberal Progressive Party. Hellmann was awarded an honorary doctorate in law by Wits University in 1968. She died in Johannesburg in November 1982.

• Shain M. and Pimstone M (2011). Ellen Phyllis Hellmann’ from Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia [online]. Available at https://jwa.org(Accessed on 25 October 2011)
•  South African History Online (2001). ‘Ellen Phyllis Hellman’ from South African History Online. Available at www.sahistory.org.za(Accessed on 25 October 2011)

Last updated : 04-Nov-2011

This article was produced by South African History Online on 04-Nov-2011

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