Archive for the ‘academics/professors’ Category

This week, LGBT history was ready for its close-up when the National Parks Service (NPS) of the Department of the Interior brought together 16 history scholars – myself included – for the launch of an LGBT initiative on June 10. This was a personal thrill for me, getting to hang with colleagues like pioneer gay historian John D’Emilio and to chat about same-sex marriage with the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

Two immediate goals of the LGBT initiative over the next 18 months are to increase the number of LGBT site listings on the National Register of Historic Places and to nominate sites for the more rigorous National Historic Landmarks program, or to amend current designations.

Currently, we have just one landmark – the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan – and four sites on the National Register: Frank Kameny’s home in Washington, DC; the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater on Fire Island; the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT; and the Carrington House on Fire Island.

Considering the richness and breadth of LGBT history in this country, that’s far too few. And in addition, these sites are all very heavily East Coast-centric and “G.” What about the L, B and T? Where are our sites in California, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Florida, and all the other states? Who are the people and what are the events that shaped LGBT history and civil rights in the Heartland or in the Deep South? Put your thinking caps on, folks!

The confab of scholars was a call to all of us to dig in and contribute. LGBT people don’t just live in New York City and San Francisco – we are, literally, everywhere and always have been. The NPS is looking for public input and comments on the initiative, which you can give by heading over to the dedicated website for this project or emailing lgbthistory@nps.gov.

Don’t be afraid to suggest sites that you think have a place on the National Register or to bring attention to LGBT local history projects in your town or city that may be interested in contributing to this historic drive for the visibility of our heritage. Or, if you prefer, email me at queerestplace [at] gmail.com and I’ll be happy to pass your suggestions along.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity. June 10 was a moving day and I am still on a “history high” realizing that the work queer historians have been doing for years is finally getting the spotlight and recognition it deserves.


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Bloomington, Ind.
Kinsey Institute

Indiana University


My partner was recently at a conference at Indiana University and took a tour of the awesome Kinsey Institute. Alfred C. Kinsey (1894-1956), a professor of biology at the university, initiated the now legendary Kinsey Report because is students were inundating him with questions about sex and sexuality. “They came to him,” the official report explained, “because they hoped that he as a scientist would provide factual information which they might consider in working out their patterns of sexual behavior.”

With the support of the university, the staff of the Institute for Sex Research (the Kinsey Institute) undertook a massive study of human sexual behavior, beginning in 1938. Their initial report, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” was published in 1948, and followed in 1953 by “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.” Kinsey researchers established a simple numerical scale from 1 to 6 to classify sexual behavior, with “1” indicating exclusive heterosexuality and “6” exclusive homosexuality.

Based on a survey of approximately 8,000 men, the Kinsey Report knocked everyone’s socks off with its finding that one in 10 identified as exclusively homosexual, a percentage that continues to be debated and contested. Even more shocking was Kinsey’s assertion that over one-third of the men surveyed had had at least one adult same-sex experience and that fully half admitted having erotic responses to other men. The figures for women were slightly lower but carried the same wallop.

Though not intended as such, the Kinsey Report — both studies were instant best-sellers — was a milestone in gay and lesbian history. For gay people, it gave scientific credence to the idea that “we are everywhere,” and for Americans in general, it paved the way for a more open discussion about human sexual desire.

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Washington, D.C.

Alain Locke home
1326 R Street NW

African-American scholar and intellectual Alain LeRoy Locke (1886-1954) defined his role in the Harlem Renaissance as that of “philosophical midwife to a generation of young Negro poets, writers, and artists.” His anthology, The New Negro, was the defining text of that artistic movement.

The Harvard- and Oxford-educated Locke was a professor of philosophy at Howard University for many years, and lived at this address near Logan Circle from 1912 until his death (it is marked with a historic plaque). At Howard, Locke encouraged the study of black culture and history along with the European classics, and founded The Stylus, the university’s literary journal, in which Zora Neale Hurston published her first story. His attention tended to focus on the brightest and most attractive male students, and he routinely warned female students that they could expect no better than C’s in his classes.

Locke shuttled back and forth between Washington and Harlem, where he mentored several queer young poets of the Harlem Renaissance. His protégé Countee Cullen introduced him to Langston Hughes. “You will like him,” Cullen told Locke of the elusive and sexually ambivalent Hughes; “I love him.” A romantic triangle formed and may have been the root of the mysterious rift between Cullen and Hughes from 1924 on.

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Evanston, Ill.

Frances Willard home
“Rest Cottage”
1730 Chicago Avenue

Frances Willard (1839-1898) left her hometown in Wisconsin to attend Evanston College for Ladies. After a teaching career at various women’s colleges, she became president of her alma mater in 1871 and then dean of women at Northwestern University when the schools merged two years later. In 1874, with the founding of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Willard resigned from her post to become the WCTU’s corresponding secretary. Five years later, as WCTU president, she led a national movement for “Home Protection.” Her temperance campaign was a direct reaction against the violence (both physical and emotional) perpetrated on women and children by alcohol-abusing men, and it eventually led to the enactment of Prohibition in 1919.

In her autobiography, Glimpses of Fifty Years, Willard included a chapter titled “Companionships,” in which she outlined her passionate friendships with women over the years. One was with a woman in Evanston she calls “Mary B., for whom my attachment was so great that when she properly preferred my brother… the loss of her was nothing less than a bereavement, a piteous sorrow for a year or more, as my journals testify, one of the keenest of my life.” She referred to her relationships with women as “attachments, so much less restful than friendships.”

For 33 years, Willard’s live-in private secretary was Anna Gordon, also a devoted temperance worker. Willard called Gordon “the rarest of intimate friends” and by the pet name “Little Heart’s-ease.” Gordon stayed on in the house after Willard’s death, becoming president of the WCTU herself in 1914.

Willard and Gordon’s restored home in Evanston, a National Historic Landmark, is open to the public, appearing much as it did when they lived there. On exhibit are many memorabilia of Willard’s years as a temperance warrior.

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America the Beautiful Plaque

Colorado Springs, Colo.

“America, the Beautiful” plaque
Pikes Peak

With a height of 14,110 feet, Pikes Peak is a formidable challenge for any climber, but in 1893, a young Wellesley College English professor named Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) made it to the top. That summer, Bates had taken a teaching position at Colorado College to supplement her income, even though it meant lonely months apart from her life partner, Katherine Coman. Bates and Coman were part of a community of “Wellesley marriages,” and were a couple for 20 years.

After scaling Pikes Peak and admiring the breathtaking view of “spacious skies” and “purple mountains’ majesty,” Bates was inspired to write the poem “America the Beautiful” in just one day, penciling four verses quickly into her notebook. Bates once recalled that she was “disheartened” with the poem. But when it was published in 1895, it became an instant public hit and was later set to music. With the royalties, Bates built “a dear little house” in Wellesley for herself and Coman. Today, a plaque at the summit of Pikes Peak memorializes Bates’ poem.

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Washington, D.C.

Edith Hamilton home
2448 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.

For the last 20 years of her life, classical scholar Edith Hamilton (1867-1963) lived at this address, which is near Rock Creek Park. A Latin and Greek major at Bryn Mawr College, Hamilton became the popular headmistress of Bryn Mawr Preparatory School for Girls, a girls’ academy in Baltimore, when she was just 29, and remained in that position for 26 years. (In 1954, the school named a building after her.)

After retiring, Hamilton embarked on a second successful career as a writer, almost single-handedly popularizing the study of ancient civilizations with such books as The Greek Way (1930), The Roman Way (1932), and Mythology (1942).

From the 1920s until her death, Hamilton’s life partner was Doris Fielding Reid, a stockbroker and former student of Hamilton’s, who eventually became her biographer. The two women cohabited in Maine, on Park Avenue in New York City, and finally in Washington, D.C. Together, they raised Reid’s nephew, Dorian. Astonishingly, Hamilton, the woman who introduced most of us to the ancient Greeks, did not visit Greece herself until she was 90 years old.

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Washington, D.C.

Lucy Diggs Slowe window
Howard University chapel
Sixth Street & 
Howard Place, N.W.

Lucy Diggs Slowe (1883-1937) was the first dean of women at Howard University, a position she held from 1922 until her death. A window in the university chapel (see above) honors her memory. As dean, Slowe worked for empowerment of women, urging female students into the social sciences and other (at that time) nontraditional fields. Concerned for the safety of young women in the “big city,” Slowe expanded the university’s dorm facilities so women could live on campus. Outspoken and headstrong, Slowe often locked horns with the university president over the welfare of the female students.

Slowe shared a home at 1256 Kearney Street, N.E., with her life partner, writer and teacher Mary Powell Burrill, who had earlier been involved with Angelina Weld Grimke. Their residence was an informal gathering place for young Howard women, many of whom idolized their intrepid dean. In a bid to curb her power, Howard’s president once suggested that Slowe herself live in a dorm – a seemingly homophobic attempt to break up the household that had become a source of strength for her.

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