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Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice: an invaluable contribution to homophile scholarship

Homophile Studies in Theory and PracticeHomophile Studies in Theory and Practice

Edited by W. Dorr Legg 

with David C. Cameron, and Walter L. Williams

Published by GLBT Press / ONE Institute Press

Published January 5, 1994

Nonfiction: LGBT history
464 pages; index, appendix, topical guide

Hardcover or paperback available through

Summary Review by C. Todd White

Submitted Spring 2005

Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice is a valuable contribution to gay and lesbian scholarship. It stands in testament against the current myth that the LGBT movement began with the Stonewall rebellion through documenting in detail the history of ONE Institute, founded by a handful of visionaries in Los Angeles in the early 1950s.

The introduction to this history discusses the Knights of the Clock, founded by Merton Bird, and emphasizes the importance in the early movement of including people of mixed sexuality and “races.” Women, though present and active, were not actively recruited at this time. The history of the Mattachine Society follows, especially regarding the history of Dale Jennings and the famous 1952 court case in which he was acquitted of a lewd conduct charge levied by a zealously anti-gay Los Angeles police department.

Also in 1952, several of the members of Knights of the Clock and Mattachine formed a third organization for homophiles: ONE, Incorporated. Mattachine members Martin Block and Dale Jennings became the first President and Vice President, respectively. Don Slater assumed the office of Secretary. Knights of the Clocks founders Merton Bird and W. Dorr Legg were founding members, with Tony Reyes and Bailey Whitaker, a.k.a. “Guy Rousseau.”

Bailey Whitaker’s idea of calling the group ONE was unanimously accepted at an early meeting, held at the home of Fred Frisbee, known as George Mortenson. The name was inspired by a line from an essay by Thomas Carlyle: “A mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one.” According to Jim Kepner, the name also served as a double entendre that had become popular as a joke during the second world war, when an effete Private is said to have answered to his Sergeant at roll call, “Are you one, too?”

Legg’s book is divided into four primary divisions:

  1. Transitions from General Education Purposes to Graduate School
  2. Homophile Studies: An Overview
  3. ONE Institute Today
  4. Appendix: Index and Topical Guide.


Part one consists of four chapters: “How ONE Institute Began,” “Educational Methods and Curriculum,” “Supplementary, Educational Projects,” and “The Graduate School.” Part two, comprising the bulk of the volume, contains nine chapters. The first two cover “Homosexuality in History” and “Homosexuals in American Society: The Sociology of a Sub-Culture.” The remaining seven are each devoted to a specific cultural or academic discipline pertinent to lesbian and gay history and sensibility: Psychology, Law, Religion, Biology, Anthropology, Literature and the Arts, and Philosophy. Part three contains two chapters, “Homophile Studies: Summary” and “What of the Future”; and part four is the Appendix and Index and Topical Guide. A brief summary of each chapter follows.

Part One

Chapter One: ONE, Incorporated

The first chapter relates the preliminary history of ONE, Incorporated, establishing a link through the immigration to Los Angeles of physicians and psychiatrists versed in the German research in sexuality, especially the works of Krafft-Ebbing, Magnus Hirschfeld, and Freud.

When ONE, Inc. was founded, the purposes of the society were to create an accredited community college for gays and lesbians and to publish ONE magazine, which premiered in 1953. The magazine was a rapid success, through the talent of editors Don Slater, Bill Lamber (aka W.Dorr Legg), Irma Wolf, and Art Director Joan Corbin.

Legg writes of the involvement of California psychiatrists Blanche M. Baker and Evelyn Hooker. The enthusiasms and tensions of these pioneers in the early meetings of ONE Inc. shines in Legg’s prose. Respect is paid to Merritt M. Thompson, emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Southern California, whom Legg credits as the key figure in developing ONE Institute of Homophile Studies, a separate division of ONE. Thompson’s role as such is made clear in the twelfth chapter, on Philosophy.

Chapter Two: Terminology

Chapter two begins with an interesting discussion of the problems inherent in the terminology used in gay and lesbian studies. Legg illustrates how “A veritable Babel of religious, nationalistic, historical, occupational, mythological, literary, bawdy, and other sources has contributed to the confusion.” He traces the word “homosexual” to a physician in 1867, noting that there have been problems with the word since its invention. Some have called it “a barbarously hybrid word” being half Latin and half Greek. The term “homophile” was finally accepted, around 1950, by many as a term combining the Greek word homos, meaning the same, and philos, meaning to have love for. The term placed emphasis on the emotional aspect of same sex or same gender relations rather than the sexual aspect. Legg lauds the adoption of the word as

a Declaration of Independence empowering a hitherto stigmatized segment of society to define itself in its own terms. The word homophile lifted discussion out of the age-old grip of medical, psychological and theological obloquy onto the levels of philosophical, moral, and ethical discussions, properly befitting full-fledged members of society. (26–27)

The founders of ONE Inc. were smitten enough with the word to include it in the title of ONE’s educational division: ONE Institute of Homophile Studies, and the first course offered was “An Introduction to Homophile Studies” (27). The term was intermixed with its persistent counterpart, as in the description of a second session concerned with the place of the “homosexual” in history.

From the discussion of etymology, the chapter proceeds through a history of the ONE Institute curriculum and the growing success of ONE magazine, circulating to 3,000 subscribers by spring of 1957. Also discussed are the successes and failures of the annual Midwinter Institutes, their many speakers, and notable attendees.

Chapter Three: ONE Institute Quarterly

The third chapter continues the history of ONE Institute Quarterly of Homophile Studies and the creation in the early ’60s of the extensive work, An Annotated Bibliography of Homosexuality (Garland Publishing, 1976). In a section that could perhaps have been a chapter in itself, “ONE Institute Overseas,” Legg relates an interesting discussion of how ONE Institute began to expand its influence internationally. Legg himself participated in many Overseas Tours organized for ONE members, the first in 1964. Nations visited and discussed by Legg include Denmark, Switzerland (home of the famous Gay publication Der Kreis, first published in 1933), France, Holland, England and Scotland, Germany and Austria, Greece, Morocco, Turkey, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Columbia and Ecuador, Brazil, the Philippines, Argentina, Paraguay, and Peru. I read with great interest the adventures of ONE Institute members abroad, as Legg related both successes and failures of his experiences as ONE expanded its network into other nations. ONE was indeed becoming an institution of global renown.

Chapter Four: ONE Institute

Chapter four focuses on ONE Institute’s Graduate School, made possible through the assistance of the Institute for the Study of Human Resources, [ISHR] a non-profit association in league with ONE since its founding in 1964 “at the urging of Louisiana philanthropist Reed Erickson” (41). ISHR, unlike ONE Institute’s parent organization ONE, Inc., had been successful at establishing non-profit status, and was therefore better able to raise funds, which, to date, they continue to channel into ONE Institute as the ISHR board deems appropriate.

It took months for David Moore and Dorr Legg to steer the ONE Institute staff through the bureaucracy of the California State Board of Education, but on August 11, 1981, they announced that “the Office of Private Postsecondary Education, California State Department of Education, had authorized ONE Institute Graduate School to offer a program of courses leading to the Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Homophile Studies” (75). As reported in the ONE Newsletter that month, no such institution had existed before. “Until [then it had] not seemed intellectually possible to consider Homophile phenomena and the millions of men and women around the world who have Homophile inclination as warranting scholarly attention or comprising a discrete population and specific patterns of behavior” (75). At last, the homophile movement had a place where it could research its own kind, in other places and times, and educate others as to their heritage in culture and history.

Part Two

Part two of the volume is an overview of the courses offered by the ONE Institute Graduate School. This section is composed of nine chapters, each of which corresponds to a field of study addressed by the graduate school, “selected as being most likely to provide approaches for the study of homosexuality” (238), including in order presented: History, Sociology, Psychology, Law, Religion, Anthropology, Literature and the Arts, and Philosophy.

Chapter Five: History

The first course offered regarded Homosexuality in History. Chapter five includes various student papers and dissertations, and course syllabi. Of particular interest are the abstracts from a 1984 ONE Institute doctoral dissertation by Michael H. Lombardi (now Michael H. Lombardi-Nash), The Writings of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Lombardi-Nash has recently published a translation into English of Hirshfeld’s book Transvestites and is currently at work translating the Ulrich’s complete corpus. Also of interest is the excerpt from Deborah A .Coates’ work, “Pink Triangles and the Lavender Menace: Lesbianism in the Birkenau Concentration Camp.” While many have heard of the Pink Triangles gay men were forced to wear by the Nazi troops, few perhaps know of the “black triangles” worn by the camp whores, “all of whom were evidently lesbians” (107).

Chapter Six: Sociology

Chapter six involves “Homosexuals in American Society: the sociology of a sub-culture.” Legg here asserts that the early gay rights movement paralleled “the emerging culture of our fellow minorities — the Negro, Mexican, and Jewish peoples” (117). “The proposition that homosexuals constitute a minority with a distinctive culture” was a prime topic for debate (117).

The works summarized in this chapter were written in a day when sociological research into homosexuality was scant. Legg reminds us that at the time, “the sociological classification of homosexual behavior [was] under the heading of social deviation, along with drug addiction, alcoholism, crime and other forms of delinquent behavior” (123). At this time, many were ready to abandon this philosophy, but few knew where to turn for new conceptions of behavior or identity.

In 1961, Primatologists Washburn and DeVore published a paper on “The Social Life of Baboons,” and an excerpt of that article is reprinted here, useful in its indication that the heterosexual pair bond was not likely to be integral to our primate heritage.

Desirous of a fresh look at the causes and demographics of homosexuality, ONE Institute, under the guidance of John Burnside, created and distributed a questionnaire, which they mailed to 5,000 people from all around the country and overseas. (The questionnaire is reprinted in the appendix of this book.) Over 1,000 were returned, many including “essay-styled personal communications ranging from handwritten little notes to typewritten manuscripts 100 pages long” (129).

After a whittling down, a study of 388 North American Homosexual Males was published. Legg’s book includes a breakdown of objective data, such as age, level of education, career, income, etc., and non-objective data, indcluding sex-role preference, gender identification, heath, and religious attitudes. Legg’s conclusions “cover only the statistics contained from ONE’s sample” (141) and certainly left this reader interested in hearing more! While many of the correlations described were of great interest, many of the conclusions boiled down to the need for further research.

Chapter Seven: Psychology

The seventh chapter, on psychology, relates how scores of persons had reported to the faculty of ONE how the therapies of psychologists had not been effective for them. “By default ONE magazine’s writers and editor found themselves cast as counselors practicing peer counseling, a phrase not widely in use at the time” (155).

The influence of UCLA Professor of Clinical Psychology Dr. Evelyn Hooker was of particular importance to ONE at this time — and likewise, Hooker’s revolutionary work was largely inspired by members of ONE. Legg writes:

Staff member of ONE first met Dr. Evelyn Hooker in 1953 when she contacted the Mattachine Society to find subjects for her projected testing of psychological differences between overt male homosexuals and heterosexuals. Intense personal bias had colored most previous studies of homosexuality, studies which assumed basic personality differences, which had not been proven. We have since followed Dr. Hooker’s work with interest and admiration. (158)

Dr. Hooker’s influence in psychology has had profound ramifications. No longer was homosexuality considered a pathological illness to be cured. Homosexuality in psychology had been legitimated as a valid personal identity and a field of study. As Hooker reported in the conclusion of her report, “Homosexuality as a clinical entity does not exist. Its forms are as varied as are those of heterosexuality. Homosexuality may be a deviation in sexual pattern which is within the normal range, psychologically” (160). An interview of Dr. Hooker by Professor Laud Humphreys is included in this chapter.

Chapter Eight: Law

The following chapter on Law first relates the realities of being gay in the 1950s. Police harassment was commonplace and considered a service to society. In August of 1953, an issue of ONE that had focused on homosexual marriage was confiscated by the Postmaster of Los Angeles. ONE attorney Eric Julber secured release for the issue, but in October, 1954, another issue was withheld as “lewd and unmailable” (17) by Los Angeles Postmaster Otto K. Oleson. Finally, on January 13. 1958, the United States Supreme Court reversed the decisions that had been made in two lower courts. Legg is jubilant when he writes:

This ruling became at once a landmark in the freedom to publish. For the first time in American history the right to publish serious literature about homosexuality and to disseminate it through the mails had attained legal status in the United States. Eric Julber became an instant celebrity. ONE Magazine began receiving more mail and visitors than ever before. (184)

Chapter Nine: Religion

The focus of chapter nine is on religion. Legg clearly thought that organized religion has outlasted its usefulness, and he strongly believed that science could and would come to the aid of the homosexual. The first few pages of this chapter offer a cursory and fascinating history in support of this premise. This short chapter includes as well essays by Julian Underwood, Jim Kepner, and Legg himself, and an essay regarding the attitudes toward sex by the founders of Christianity, by Monwell Boyfrank.

Chapter Ten: Biology

Chapter ten involves Biology, and includes a delightful, humorous article by ONE Archives founder Jim Kepner titled “It Just Isn’t Natural.” Other articles address “Biological Factors in Male Homosexuality,” by Ray Evans, and works by D. B. Vest, who preferred the term “Isophyl” to “homophile” and proposed that there were many advantages conferred by biology in belonging to an “intergrade” between masculinity and femininity.

Chapter Eleven: Anthropology

The next chapter, on Anthropology, provides excerpts from articles written for ONE by Harry Hay, Dorr Legg, Paul Hardman, and Elmer Gage. Hay’s article addresses the importance of cross-cultural comparisons to homophile studies, evoking the work of Ruth Benedict and Ford and Beach. He writes of the “the Berdache minorities of Europe and America,” (240), a topic also taken up by Legg in his article, “The Berdache and Theories of Sexual Inversion.” Legg’s article addresses the etymology of the word “berdache” and cites at length an incident reported by one travelling with Balboa in the early 16th century that documents the brutality of the Spaniards toward the native population on Panama, especially the forty “effeminately decked” men that he “commanded to be given for prey to his dogs.” This well researched article, published in ONE Institute Quarterly in Spring of 1959, addresses berdache in many Native American cultures and helped to inspire the more recent fieldwork of Walter L. Williams and other anthropologists. Hardman’s article documents “sex habits among Zapotecas, Mextecas, and Chatinos of Mexico.” This article also deals with “Berdaches” and reports on their role within certain South American cultures.

Walter Waltrip relates the life story of Elmer Gage, a Mojave living on the Colorado river Indian Reservation. This article tells through the story of Gage how attitudes among the Mojave have changed from the younger days of Gage’s elderly aunt, whom he called Grandmother, and Elmer’s own generation where many of the traditional ways had gone by the wayside. Elmer was credited as being “one of the last remaining maker of genuine Mohave artifacts” (253). He was a Bird Dancer who had “danced before statesmen, movie stars, and foreign dignitaries,” yet the meaning of the dance had been lost upon them: “[i]n plain, unpleasant truth, no one cares anymore” (253).

Of the four articles in this chapter, Waltrip’s is the most ethnographic, being the only one that relates experiences from fieldwork. Waltrip documents an interview he had with the Gantry family on December 26, 1964. It is interesting to hear of the relation between “Grandma” and Elmer. She taught him how to make dolls and cradle boards in the traditional ways. Later, Waltrip questions Gantry about what it is like to be Gay and Mojave, and Gantry answers with humble wisdom that it is hard being gay, but it is also hard being human. “I guess I’m just on my own persona little warpath,” he states, “not against whites but against heterosexuals who think everyone should be like them” (258).

Chapter Twelve: Literature and the Arts

The twelfth chapter discusses Literature and the Arts. First mentioned are the ONE Institute Players, “outgrowth of the ONE Institute Drama Workshop that met for two semesters in 1962 and 1963 as conducted by noted actor of the New York and London stage, Morgan Farley” (265). The chapter continues with excerpts from papers by A. E. Smith, on Walt Whitman’s Sexuality; on Gertrude Stein (this article is rudely truncated and mistakenly is combined with another paper, pertaining to the homosexuality of Tchaikovsky); and Jim Wurth on gay Ludwig II. These articles are informative and very well written, though it is unfortunate that the Stein article has been cut short.

Chapter Thirteen: Philosophy

Chapter 13, the last chapter of the second section, involves philosophy. Prominent in this collection are contributions by ONE founder Merritt M. Thompson, philosopher and Educational Theorist who had studied under John Dewey. Thompson’s first article, “Reminiscence of a Friend of ONE,” tells of his experiences as a gay man in the 20th century and how exciting it had been for him to be a part of the developing gay “ideology.” Thompson’s next article proposes an Encyclopedic Dictionary be created in order to clarify the muddy vocabulary that existed regarding discussing homophile issues. Indeed, the problem of semantics still plagues us today, as we continue to bicker over the appropriateness of terms such as “gay,” “homosexual,” and “queer.” Agreed-upon labels are hard to come by, and the best such a dictionary could do would be to list the many and various ways these terms are and have been used.

The third Thompson article addresses “Philosophy for the Homophile” and champions the pragmatism of William James and John Dewey. This is followed by a fascinating paper on Ethics. Thompson’s conclusions are revolutionary for his age, such as when he writes:

Moral standards and attitudes are accepted because they manifest values in the social situations. There are no absolute and permanent standards other than these. There are no eternal ideas of good and evil. Each person, unless he has a yen for martyrdom, is likely to conform to the point at least of survival, but, from that point on, he would seem to have a moral obligation to do what he can to create more rational attitudes and norms in the society where he finds himself. (303)

Thompson calls for a grounding in experience, in the science of metaphysics rather than the pseudo science of theology.

Thompson’s articles are followed by a commentary on redefining the family, by Monwell Boyfrank, an editorial by Legg, and a particularly provocative essay by Mario Palmieri on “Boy Love.”

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter 14 begins the final section of the book, “ONE Institute Today” [1993]. It serves as a summary of the nine chapters which came before and briefly discusses why these nine fields were selected by the organizers of the graduate college. The 15th chapter asks, “What of the future?” and iterates much of what had been said previously, such as the need for a more concrete lexicon.

Section Three

The final section of the book is a detailed Appendix, Index, and Topical Guide. The Appendix includes photocopies of many interesting documents from the early days of ONE and truncated tables of contents from ONE Magazine. Also included are syllabi from the ONE Institute Graduate School that will be of interest to those teaching Gay and lesbian history today, and the Basic Percentage Tables from the survey discussed in chapter six.

Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice covers many important aspects of the Lesbian and Gay civil rights movement forgotten or overlooked by many, making it a valuable resource for scholars. What this volume lacks in eloquence, it makes up for in the information provided. Legg’s volume provides a grounding for current scholarship while inspiring new queries and investigations. And though women and lesbians may be frustrated at their glaring omission from the pages of this history, the various articles herein will appeal to all at some level of interest.

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