COMING TO TERMS:

FROM PASSIONATE FRIENDSHIP TO GAY LIBERATION AT STANFORD (1891-1974)


Text for an Exhibit at Green Library, Stanford University, July-October 1994
By Gerard Koskovich, Guest Curator

Introduction by David Sullivan
Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Green Library

Copyright © 1995 by Ray Gerard Koskovich; all rights reserved.
May not be reproduced, quoted or cited without written permission.
Contact: P.O. Box 14301, San Francisco, CA 94114-0301.
Email: DAlembert@AOL.com.

Introduction copyright © 1994 by David Sullivan
Email: dsulliva@sulmail.stanford.edu


  1. INTRODUCTION
  2. THE GREAT DIVIDE: Before World War I
  3. ANXIOUS BOUNDARIES: World War I to World War II
  4. MENACE IN THE SHADOWS: The 1950s and 1960s
  5. ORGANIZING FOR CHANGE: 1965 - 1974


INTRODUCTION

Twenty-five years ago in the summer of 1969, a series of riots erupted when a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar, was met with unexpected resistance first from its patrons, then from a widening circle of gays and lesbians who joined to fight against oppression based on their sexuality.

The shock wave of these events was not long in spreading. The gay liberation movement gave a jump start to the tentative pre-Stonewall organizing for homosexual rights at Stanford, resulting in the founding of an enduring gay student group on campus in 1970. (Fittingly, in 1984, the Stanford campus became home to sculptor George Segal's "Gay Liberation." Originally intended for installation near the scene of the riots, it was at that time the only public monument to the lesbian and gay liberation movement.)

"Stonewall," writes historian Martin Duberman, "is the emblematic event of modern lesbian and gay history." Yet as he also points out, historical emblems have a way of making both what precedes and what follows them monolithic, of assigning permanent validity to one moment in the continuous shifting of social terms, of boundaries, of possibilities. In short, they obscure what the Stonewall riots directly embodied, that the conditions of human sexuality are permanent sites of conflict, negotiation, and reinvention. We may come to terms, but never to a terminus.

Guest curator Gerard Koskovich's lucid text sets gay liberation in the much larger context of the changes that sex and gender roles in American society have undergone during the first (and, perhaps, the only) hundred years of "homosexuality." Like other modern Western sexualities, the queer varieties were shaped by and responded to multiple contingencies: the increasing role of women in public life, the widening of the separation between sex and procreation, the rise of the modern city, and ultimately the creation of identifiable gay subcultures.

Drawing on his own unparalleled knowledge of the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people at Stanford, and with the expert assistance of Archives Specialist Patricia White, Koskovich has assembled from the University Archives and other collections a glimpse of how these upheavals were lived on campus. Becky Fishbach has worked her usual wonders with the design and mounting of the exhibit, and it has been my pleasure to have had a small part in a highly collaborative exhibit.

David Sullivan, Department of Special Collections and University Archives -- dsulliva@leland

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THE GREAT DIVIDE:
Friendship, Gender, and Sex before World War I

In the years before World War I, college students spent the great majority of their social time with others of their own gender -- even at coeducational institutions like Stanford. This situation was a result of two factors: institutional imperatives and the values of student culture itself. The university regulated, supervised and restrained interactions between the sexes to protect the virtue of women students and to encourage a focus on studies rather than courting: student housing was strictly sex-segregated, dances and similar events were limited in number and closely chaperoned, and women's social lives were monitored and restricted by house matrons.

This division of the sexes was not simply imposed from above. Middle class young people in this period faced sharply differing expectations depending on their gender: most young men were choosing an occupation and learning skills to compete in the marketplace with other men, while the majority of young women were acquiring the personal refinement, moral development, and practical training expected of future wives and mothers. Dealing with such distinct challenges and goals, young people turned overwhelmingly to peers of their own sex for support during the transition from childhood to adulthood which included their college years.

Given this separation of the sexes, same sex friendships among students often were ardent affairs. For women, crushes and "romantic couples" were an ordinary feature of dormitory and sorority life; for men, easy physical affection grew out of such dominant cultural practices as the routine bodily contact and intense loyalties of team sports. Clearly divided gender roles also contributed to another feature of undergraduate culture in this period: the ubiquitous use of cross-dressing in initiations, theatrical presentations, rallies, parties, and pranks. By parodying signifiers expected of the "opposite" sex -- and by burlesquing relations between the sexes -- young people reinforced their sense of the inevitability of gender roles.

Neither the students involved, nor their peers, nor the adults who guided their education, viewed same sex affection or ritualized cross-dressing as evidence of sexual irregularity. Such concerns arose only if a friendship crossed a somewhat indistinct line into "excessive" passion, or in particular if individuals displayed signs of "inversion" -- gender inappropriate dress and manner -- in their everyday behavior. These attitudes made it possible for young people to discreetly pursue same sex erotic relations or to explore drag as a form of serious self expression, providing that they managed their activities carefully.

An undergraduate couple in 1911-12 offers an example. Lucille Hart and Eva Cushman came to Stanford as junior transfers from Albany College in Oregon, where their peers had teased them about their highly visible romantic friendship. In private, they were in fact lovers at Albany and as roommates in the old Roble Hall at Stanford. As Hart recounted in a psychiatric case study published in 1920, the two women conceived of their roles as paralleling the gender duality that structured all sexual meaning in their era: Hart recognized her desires as masculine and assertive, while Cushman accepted Hart's attentions in a conventionally feminine and receptive manner.

Hart's and Cushman's experiences also provide evidence of the boundaries of the normal and the abnormal in this period. Hart enjoyed attending costume parties dressed as a man. For her fellow students, this no doubt appeared to be ordinary joshing; but for Hart, it carried a private meaning, reinforcing a growing awareness that she preferred the male role. When indications of this preference extended into her daily life, it became problematic: adopting a tailored style of dress bordering on the masculine and taking on vigorous physical tasks without male assistance, Hart drew rebukes from Cushman, who likely perceived such pursuits as publicly hinting at inversion.

The subsequent lives of the two women suggest how homosexual expression could be subsumed by issues of gender identity. Graduating from Stanford in 1914, Cushman went on to marry a man and become a mother. She thus moved into a male/female relationship, while continuing to inhabit the feminine role she had enacted in her youthful same sex affair. By contrast, Hart continued deepening her sense of gender inversion while pursuing relationships with feminine women after her single year at Stanford. After psychiatric treatment for homosexuality in 1918, Hart chose to live as a man under the name Alan L. Hart. Hart twice married women and lead a successful career as an author and physician, retaining a male identity until his death in 1962.

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ANXIOUS BOUNDARIES:
The Homosocial and the Homosexual World
World War I to World War II

In the years from World War I to World War II, boundaries distinguishing the homosocial from the homosexual on campus underwent a marked shift as part of a wider transformation in the structures of student life and of American society as a whole. Romantic friendships and physical affection between young people of the same sex -- previously viewed as beneficial forms of non-sexual camaraderie -- began to arouse concern as possible signifiers of homosexual desire. Photographs of students from the Quad and other sources document the consequences: by the early 1930's, men or women in coupled poses largely disappear and close physical intimacy between members of the same sex decreases significantly.

Similarly, the undergraduate institution of cross-dressing vanished in the decade after World War I -- a period when vaudeville acts drew criticism in the press for replacing wholesome impersonations of women with "fairy" style performers. At Stanford, anxiety about the significance of cross-dressing is evident in the Quad's nervous insistence that a star female impersonator in the 1922 Ram's Head show provided no "suggestion of effeminacy". Three years later, the campus tradition of male drag revues came to an end. When cross-dressing briefly reappeared on stage in 1945, a Quad caption used what was still a double entendre to hint how far the meaning had shifted toward homosexuality: "Gaieties are getting gayer every year."

One factor driving these changes was the increasing popularization of medical models of homosexuality. These models advanced the notion that gender inappropriate behavior -- including cross-dressing -- was a primary symptom marking homosexuals as an abnormal class; this analysis cast into doubt all uses of drag. Psychiatric thinking also brought passionate same sex friendships under growing critical scrutiny. The work of Lewis Madison Terman, professor of education and psychology, and his student Catherine Cox Miles, presented in publications such as Sex and Personality (1936) contributed to the spread of these ideas, as did the efforts in the 1920's and 1930's of the American Student Health Association, an organization in which Stanford faculty and staff were centrally involved.

Shifting boundaries in this period also resulted from changes in gender relations. Women gained access to extracurricular activities such as academic societies and campus publications that had been exclusively or largely the province of men. In addition, a higher percentage of women were pursuing career studies, giving the two sexes further common interests. As a result, the primacy of same sex friendships among students gave way to a more complex pattern of relationships between women and men. This development probably contributed to the decline of cross-dressing, as well: because they were not so clearly divided into rival camps, men and women students had less need to parody one another.

While public conceptions of same sex erotic activity continued to focus on gender inversion, a distinctly different form of homosexuality was emerging in the 1920's and 1930's. Many middle class homosexuals were beginning to experience their gender identity as consonant with their biological sex and to perceive their same sex desires as a matter of mutual object choice. Rather than echoing the male/female sexual meanings of the dominant culture by seeking partners perceived as "normal" while they were themselves "inverted", they sought relationships with other homosexuals whose desires and sense of self matched their own.

The experiences of Harry Hay, an undergraduate in 1930-32, reflect this newer construction of homosexuality. Hay paid little attention to men who indulged in transitory same sex liaisons while conceiving of themselves as normal and planning for marriage and children; he was looking for mutual passion. Hay succeeded at the end of his freshman year, maintaining a discreet romance with junior Smith Dawless. In private, the young men plied each other with caresses and frank love letters. In public, both published guarded poems about the affair in the Yearbook of Stanford Writing; Dawless's verse, "Discovery", won a campus poetry prize, which included publication in book form by the Stanford University Press.

In one significant respect, Hay's experience appears markedly atypical. While he was effective at leading the double life required of homosexuals in this era, he was exceptionally uncomfortable doing so. As a sophomore living in Branner Hall in 1931, Hay decided to announce his homosexuality systematically to other students. None reacted with horror, yet he found many beyond his closest friends politely avoiding his company. Hay left Stanford early in 1932 for health and financial reasons. In subsequent years, he continued to dream of a more open social life. This ultimately lead him to take a historic step: In 1950, he founded the Mattachine Society, the first enduring homosexual rights group in the United States.

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MENACE IN THE SHADOWS:
Cultural Fantasy and Homosexual Experience in the 1950's and 1960's

In the years following World War II, an anti-homosexual panic swept the nation. The origins of this phenomenon are complex, but several factors played significant roles. Pressures to "return to normal" after the social disruptions caused by the war produced widespread anxiety about family structures, gender roles, and sexual behavior in general; this situation undoubtedly magnified the concerns about homosexuality evident in the 1920's and 1930's. In addition, the construction of homosexual expression as a mutual object choice was now widely established among the middle class, leading to concerns that sexual irregularity was no longer readily identifiable -- and safely contained -- by gender inversion.

In this context, homosexuals came to be viewed not as a third sex, but as a fifth column -- a hidden menace to home and family equivalent to the national security threat secretive communists were believed to pose. Countless cultural products of the era portray homosexual women and men as shadowy, unstable, and predatory figures of evil. An early Stanford example is the May 1947 presentation of Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit. The Daily described the character of Ines as a "vicious, hard, biting homosexual" (probably one of the first uses of the term in the campus press), while the Palo Alto Times added that she was a "death mask of cruelty and greed".

Junior Dennis Murphy's short story "A Camp in the Meadow" -- and its subsequent incarnations -- offers an even clearer case. Published in the Stanford literary quarterly Sequoia in May 1956, the story centers on a nameless Army cook who furtively seeks homosexual contact with unsuspecting enlisted men. In The Sergeant, a 1958 novel based on this story, Murphy transforms the cook into a hypermasculine commanding officer -- the very model of American manhood -- whose interest in a young recruit is gradually revealed as a violent sexual obsession. When the officer is finally exposed, he kills himself. A 1968 Warner Brothers feature based on the novel reprises this narrative.

Students experiencing same sex erotic feelings in this period faced a complex situation: the post-war panic helped solidify the sense in society at large and in gay people themselves that homosexuals constituted a distinct cultural minority, yet made entering that minority a fearful and difficult enterprise. For many young people, the result was a period of confusion and isolation as they attempted to establish personal identities and social networks. Novelist Jane Rule, for instance, recalled finding no other lesbians, no support from peers or professors, and disapproval regarding homosexual themes in her writing during her one quarter as a graduate student in 1953.

Some individuals from the University did find their way to an emerging institution: the gay bar. Such establishments provided an important territory for developing friendships and making sexual contacts, but they were not without risk. Throughout the 1950's and into the 1960's, police descended on the bars for periodic raids. Stanford students were arrested in at least two crackdowns: at Hazel's tavern near Pacifica in 1956 and at The Carriage in Menlo Park in 1962. In each instance, local newspapers portrayed gay social spaces as intrinsically detrimental to the good order of society, labeled the patrons "sex deviates", and published the names -- and in some cases home addresses -- of the arrested men.

Perceiving themselves as members of a persecuted minority, a few gay men and women in this period responded by forming organizations to provide mutual aid and to advocate equal rights for homosexuals. The most significant early groups, Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society, were headquartered in San Francisco. While their efforts remained limited in scope, they laid the initial groundwork for a social and political movement on a wider scale. Mattachine's occasional effort at outreach to universities was relatively successful at Stanford: In 1958, the Daily accepted a display ad; in 1962, the society's president addressed a voluntary group organized by sociology graduate students; and in 1964, members assisted a class in producing a campus radio series on homosexuality.

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ORGANIZING FOR CHANGE:
The Gay Rights Movement On Campus (1965 - 1974)

The 1960's and early 1970's were a period of profound conflict over political authority, racial equality, the status of women, self-expression and related issues in American society. The emergence of a broad movement for homosexuals rights was one result of this ferment. In 1966, there were approximately 15 gay organizations in the United States; three years later, some 50 groups were in existence. By the mid-1970's, the tally stood at around 1,000. Basing itself on the experience of homosexuals as a minority and drawing on models from African American and feminist organizing, this movement sought to establish public space, cultural acceptance, and political power for gay men and women.

At Stanford, homosexual rights advocacy initially appeared as part of a wider critique of the University's regulation of student life. The Stanford Sexual Rights Forum (SSRF), a registered student group active from December 1965 to June 1966, promoted a platform asserting that "private sexual activities of consenting adults are sacrosanct and are not the concern of governments, churches [or] schools." As a principled extension of this analysis, members listed repeal of sodomy laws and adoption of job protections for homosexuals among their demands. In practice, the group focused on issues of greater concern to heterosexual students: establishment of coed dorms and unrestricted access to birth control at the student health service.

The Stanford administration initially reacted to SSRF with consternation, with the Dean of Student Affairs Office, the President's office, and the Board of Trustees, anxiously reviewing the drawbacks of granting student organization status. After considerable debate, the University formulated a response: since the SSRF's purpose was not to organize sexual activities but to discuss and promote legal and social change, First Amendment principles and academic freedom required that the group be given the same recognition as any other student organization. This policy analysis undoubtedly eased the subsequent efforts of gay student organizers, as they appear to have inspired no significant administrative opposition.

The first Stanford group founded specifically to advocate social change for homosexuals registered with the Dean of Student Affairs office for Winter and Spring Quarters 1968: The Student Homophile League of Stanford University (SHL) sponsored three public meetings on campus in February of that year. As the second gay student group in the country, SHL moved circumspectly during its brief existence, seeking legitimacy by claiming heterosexual members, emphasizing abstract discussion, and denying any role in facilitating sexual contact. Like SSRF, it emulated the discourse of established groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union in an effort to place itself in the progressive mainstream.

A year and a half after this abortive effort, the gay movement finally established an enduring presence on the Stanford campus. Founded on November 10, 1970, the Stanford Gay Students Union (GSU) moved beyond the civil libertarian stance of the SHL, emulating instead the gay liberation groups that had achieved widespread visibility in the previous year. GSU focused its efforts in two areas: creating social space for gay and lesbian students and promoting "consciousness raising" -- challenging negative attitudes about homosexuality in gay people themselves through discussion groups and guest speakers, and on the campus at large by sending members into the dorms to address non-gay student groups.

Late in 1971, GSU registered as a student organization, changing its name to the Gay Peoples Union; meetings moved on campus in 1972. In 1973, the group took part in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade and in 1974 organized its first gay pride week; these activities have become annual traditions. 1974 also saw the University provide the second floor of the Old Firehouse (now known as the Fire Truck House) for office and meeting space. Campus gay organizations have continued offering services from this location for more than 20 years. With the founding of GSU, lesbian, gay and bisexual students at Stanford entered a new era of mutual support, community development, and social visibility -- an era which continues today.

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Author's note: This text was slightly revised in December 1995 for publication on the Stanford Queer Resources web page. Web design by Scott B. Stocker

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