Ellen W. Halle, a pioneering sex therapist with what became the Johns Hopkins Sex and Gender Clinic who was defined by her varied and many friendships and salonlike dinner parties, died of Alzheimer’s disease April 21 at the Brightwood Retirement Community in Lutherville. The former Roland Park resident was 95.
“Ellen was wonderful, kind and unique, and we met her very early on in our tenure in Baltimore through Lois Feinblatt,” said Fred Lazarus IV, who headed the Maryland Institute College of Art from 1978 to 2014.
“She was such a wonderful character, and much of what made Ellen such a wonderful character can‘t be mentioned in a newspaper,” said Mr. Lazarus, with a laugh. “She had a great sense of humor and contempt for anything practical. For instance, if she was in a restaurant and her bra was giving her trouble, she’d go into the restroom, take it off, come back out carrying it and would tell her husband to put it in his pocket.”
The former Ellen Stuart Weiler, daughter of Stuart Max Weiler, president of J. Schoeneman Co., a Baltimore garment manufacturer that made ready-to-wear men’s suits, and Josepha Schoeneman Weiler, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Slade Avenue in Pikesville.
During her teenage years, Mrs. Halle was a competitive tennis player, and with her neighbor, Ellen Levy Patz, won the Mid-Atlantic doubles championships three times, in 1938, 1940 and 1942, taking the under 15s twice and the under 18s once.
Mrs. Halle played the backhand and Mrs. Patz the forehand.
“Ellen Halle was a shot making artist, when she bared down she was incredible,” according to a biographical profile submitted by her family. “Ellen Patz said they were a good team because ‘they liked to win and her partner Ellen Halle liked beating older players.’”
After graduating in 1944 from the Park School, which was then on Liberty Heights Avenue, Mrs. Halle earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948 from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
In 1948, she married Edward A. Halle Sr., a childhood friend and a 1939 Park School and Johns Hopkins University graduate and World War II veteran, who worked for the Muskin Shoe Co., a family business. The couple initially lived in Pikesville and later moved to Roland Park, where they raised their four children.
Mr. Halle later worked for 23 years until retiring in 1993 as senior vice president for administration at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and was known for planning the acquisition and renovation of the old City Hospitals in East Baltimore, which later became today’s Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He died in 2004.
In 1966, Mrs. Halle, responded to a “Hopkins to Train Housewives as Psychotherapists” ad in The Sun. Requirements for the job included at least being 35 years old, college-educated and “happily” married.
At the time, the program, which eventually became the Johns Hopkins Sex and Gender Clinic, was known as the Johns Hopkins Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit. It was modeled on the work of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, pioneering sex researchers whose public approach and direct discussions of sex, orgasms and other sexual issues, was considered bold at the time.
Also in that first training class at Hopkins was her close friend Lois H. Feinblatt, who became a therapist in the clinic alongside Mrs. Halleand died earlier this month at 100.
“Ellen was one of my best friends for 50 years. She was an amazing and unique person who was kind and generous,” said Mary Jane Blaustein, a nurse practitioner and assistant professor of psychiatry who was co-director of the clinic.
“She was very smart and an incredible therapist, and she was an incredible therapist because she was so inquisitive. She had been well trained and could relate to the patients and could get to the heart of the matter,” Mrs. Blaustein said. “It was not just empathy; she had the ability to solve problems and sort through extraneous stuff.”
In a 1979 interview in The Evening Sun, Mrs. Halle explained the effects of the women’s movement on men and their marriages.
“I have found that men are struggling,” she explained. “They’re doing things now to understand women and the changing roles of both men and women. For some men, it’s a very painful experience.”
What Mrs. Halle discovered through her work was that, by and large, men were friendless, and did not have close friends they could confide in. They had trouble being open and discussing their marriages or sexual issues, and kept things inside.
“We are seeing more men who are bewildered and hurt,” she told the newspaper. “They perceive woman’s individuation as a threat to the homeostasis of their marriage, and there is a confusion of roles and tasks as the couple struggles with change.”
On the other hand, the wives of these men “felt stifled and not listened to,” and because of the women’s movement, “didn’t have to tolerate that kind of a relationship.”
It was only after their wives terminated the marriage, and with the aid of therapy, did these men, who had been raised witnessing their parents’ traditional marriages, began to appreciate them as individuals.
And when they began dating again, they became “more desirable partners,” and they were flexible and more open to different situations. She told The Evening Sun that the 1980s will be “the years of the men.”
“They are already discovering themselves. Because their wives have changed, they are forced to deal with their feelings,” she said. “As a result, marriages will be better.”
Mrs. Halle, who also had a private practice, retired about 15 years ago, and “worked until she couldn’t,” according to the biographical profile.
“Ellen had an incredible curiosity and was a ferocious reader of books and newspapers. She was a great questioner and did it in such a wonderful way and was also a great storyteller,” Mr. Lazarus said. “She enjoyed bringing people into her life, artists, writers and intellectuals, because she had a great capacity for friendship, and her dinner parties were like salons.”
Suzy B. Katzenberg, a longtime family friend, said: “Her house was always full of people and you could always count on getting lunch there. It was a home away from home, and you never knew who you’d find there.”
The Morning Sun
Mrs. Halle enjoyed writing poems, skits and stories, and playing the piano. She was an inveterate gardener and loved art and the theater, and especially liked taking her children and grandchildren to New York City.
“She’d be at a party and would sit down and start playing the piano for everybody,” Mrs. Katzenberg said.
She liked decorating her home with “comfortable cozy furniture with fabulous fabrics,” said a son, James Stuart Halle of Roland Park and Telluride, Colorado. “She was the first person we knew that combined the kitchen and living room.”
“Ellen had impeccable taste and her house was full of exquisite objects, but she lived very casually,” Mrs. Katzenberg said. “It was always a lot of fun being around her.”
The irrepressible Mrs. Halle was in her 40s when she decided to take up skiing. She enjoyed spending summers in Rangeley, Maine, and in 1972, she and her late sister, Anne Weiler Miller, jointly purchased a condominium in Vail, Colorado.
Graveside services were held Monday at Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery.
In addition to her son, Mrs. Halle is survived by another son, Edward A. “Ned” Halle Jr. of Upperco; a daughter, Dr. Jan Stuart Halle of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Another son, Michael W. Halle, died in 1993.