Early LGBTQIA+ Publishing and Civil Liberties During America’s “Lavender Scare”

Documentation of LGBTQIA+ communities prior to the Stonewall riots of 1969 can be sparse. During the immediate post-World War II period, all manifestations of non-heterosexuality were under deliberate government attack within the era’s overall attempt to find and root out all “un-American activities.” Through a series of measures—the U.S. State Department purging employees with “homosexual proclivities,” the FBI maintaining lists of known or suspected homosexuals, and Dwight D. Eisenhower issuing an order barring non-heterosexual people from federal employment—those who fell outside the established norms were driven underground as perceived threats to national security.

The U.S. Post Office participated in the “Lavender Scare” by keeping track of addresses where any material related to homosexuality was mailed. They frequently seized items said to be “obscene.” In many cases, any reference to homosexuality whatsoever rendered a publication “obscene.” Trying to run a magazine for LGBTQIA+ people in the mid-20th century was thus a significant challenge, and preserving the record of the existence of such magazines was sometimes difficult.

Legal challenges to this oppression quickly mounted. In One, Inc. v. Oleson, the first Supreme Court case to deal with homosexuality, the justices examined lower court rulings that had supported Los Angeles Postmaster Otto Oleson in his claims that the October 1954 issue of ONE: The Homosexual Magazine could not be mailed under the Comstock Act’s prohibition on the postal service delivering obscene material. Oleson’s rationale was as follows: the magazine contained a story about a lesbian’s feelings for another woman that might be “lustfully stimulating to the homosexual reader,” a poem about gay cruising that used “filthy language,” and an advertisement for another magazine that might lead readers to other “obscene matter.” The justices’ unanimous ruling on January 13, 1958 reversed the decisions of two lower courts and eased—although it did not eliminate—the official suppression of LGBTQIA+ publications. In essence, it rejected the claim that any mention of homosexuality was automatically obscene. A series of other high court rulings on obscenity cases gradually chipped away at restrictions on similar materials.

ONE Magazine, June 1955. Arthur C. Warner Papers (MC219), Box 29.

Continue reading

“Wear ’Em”: Princeton University’s First Gay Jeans Day

The events of October 11, 1989, Princeton’s first “Gay Jeans Day,” reverberated far beyond the confines of a 24-hour period. Both then and much later, the day highlighted attitudes among students and alumni toward the LGBTQIA+ community as they existed in the late 1980s. The Princeton LGBTQIA+ Oral History Project (AC465) further gives us insight into the long-term impact, as well as a glimpse into the lives of closeted Princetonians we can’t see in the records made at the time.

With pink flyers stenciled in black letters, organizers of Princeton’s first Gay Jeans Day urged the campus to “wear ’em” without further details. Many took it to mean that wearing jeans would be a declaration of their own homosexuality. The idea wasn’t well-received. As quickly as they could put them up, organizers reported, their flyers would be torn down.

Gay Jeans Day flyer, 1989. Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance Records (AC037), Box 1, Folder 5.

Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for October 12-18

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a rally mourns the death of Matthew Shepard, controversy surrounds an advertisement in the Daily Princetonian, and more.

October 13, 1998—About 100 Princeton University students rally to mourn the loss of Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured and murdered in an anti-gay hate crime. Caroline Baker ’02, co-president of Princeton’s Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alliance, says she is particularly affected by Shepard’s death because he “had just been doing what we had been doing—planning the LGB awareness week.”

Clipping from the Daily Princetonian. Caption reads: “Students sing at the candlelight vigil held Monday night in memory of hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard, who died earlier that day.”

Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for June 4-10

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, ABC features the campus in a documentary about gay activism, a train passes through advertising the benefits of living in Florida, and more.

June 7, 1977—A discussion between gay activists and Princeton students is featured in a documentary on ABC.

June 8, 1990—DeNunzio Pool is set to be dedicated, but does not open on schedule. It will open in September 1990.

June 9, 1890—“Florida on Wheels,” a special train car, demonstrates what life in Florida might have to offer to Princeton residents.

Advertisement from Daily Princetonian.

Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for April 2-8

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Judicial Committee makes its first disciplinary decisions, the campus debates housing policies for same sex couples, and more.

April 2, 1917—Senator Henry Cabot Lodge attacks Alexander Bannwart, Class of 1906, in the only known case of a U.S. Senator physically attacking a constituent. Bannwart and two others visited the Massachusetts senator to protest President Woodrow Wilson’s request for a Congressional declaration of war against Germany.

Alexander Bannwart, ca. 1906. Historical Photograph Collection, Student Photograph Albums Series (AC061), Box 116.

Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for March 12-18

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Women Oriented Women are leaving stickers around campus to increase awareness of lesbianism, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter asks professors for advice, and more.

March 12, 1969—About 500 disgruntled alumni calling themselves Alumni Committee to Involve Ourselves Now (ACTION) announce a campaign to attempt to overturn the Board of Trustees’ decision to make Princeton coeducational.

Although a significant number of alumni opposed coeducation, not all were on the same page. Henry Lyttleton Savage of the Class of 1915 sent this postcard to ACTION, saying, “The Charter gives no support to any who oppose co-education. Its allusions are to ‘students’ and ‘youth.’ Those terms cover any change to co-education.” Alumni Association Records (AC048), Box 20.

Continue reading

“We Envision a World Where the Night Belongs to No One”: Intersectionality and Take Back the Night

By Mario Garcia ’18

“I’m white, I’m male, I’m middle class,” he said. “This isn’t supposed to happen to me.” On the evening of April 26, 1989, hundreds of students listened to their peer’s testimony as a part of Princeton University’s third annual Take Back the Night march. As one of many speakers throughout the night sharing their experiences with sexual harassment and sexual assault, the student related to the crowd that he had been raped by his stepfather as a child. Echoing the sentiments of many female students at Princeton, he added that he no longer felt safe in his own home.

During the 1991 march, a speaker argued that women of color face this threat of sexual violence systemically as a manifestation of racism: “Rape is the crudest and most direct form of racism. You can’t separate it from the culture of domination, violence and exploitation and women of color are stuck at the bottom of that culture.” Her words concerning sexual violence serve as a testament to his: in a culture of domination over marginalized peoples, privileged individuals are not supposed to face the threat of sexual violence to the extent that marginalized individuals do. Feminist theorist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to describe the ways different kinds of oppression come together and compound the experience of marginalization. Multiple types of oppression involving multiple marginalized identities interact with sexual violence.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Flyers, 1990-1993, Women’s Center Records (AC248), Box 13.

Continue reading

“The Future Princeton Is Whatever Emerges from the Battle Now Joined”: The Concerned Alumni of Princeton, 1972-1986

By Mario Garcia ’18

In the aftermath of various social movements that transformed the United States throughout the 1960s, the late 1960s and early 1970s served as its own transformative era for Princeton University: with the introduction of undergraduate coeducation, increased enrollment of racial minorities, and formation of the first recognized student group for gay rights (Gay Alliance of Princeton (GAP)), the community began to expand in a way that challenged historical notions of who belonged at Princeton. In opposition to such momentous changes, a particularly vocal group called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) arose in 1972 with the goal of influencing an administration that they thought—by moving the student body in a direction that had neglected many alumni’s vision of what it meant to be a Princetonian—had led the University to its decline. CAP hoped to vocalize alumni dissent to the administration’s actions through the publication of Prospect, a magazine that the organization would periodically send to alumni. Reflecting CAP’s disapproval of Princeton’s efforts to alter its demographic makeup, Prospect would often reify structural sexism, racism, and homophobia. As CAP founder T. Harding Jones ’72 declared to the student body in the Daily Princetonian:

alumni are concerned, upset, enraged, sickened, or doubtful about some or all of the following: admissions policy, coeducation, athletics, radicals on campus, the Gay Alliance of Princeton, the refusal to allow alumni trustee candidates to speak out on the issues, the abolishment of almost all rules, the oneness of mind of the Board of Trustees and their apparent failure to act independently of President Bowen, the Alumni Council’s ties with the administration rather than its existence as an independent entity, the Alumni Weekly, and the failure of the administration to take the leadership in the moral and spiritual development of undergraduates.

As reflected in a Prospect article detailing the organization’s main objectives published on April 11, 1977, many members of CAP judged that the administration lacked “an understanding of and respect for what it has meant to be a Princeton scholar and a Princeton gentleman”: they believed that administration had lost sight of who made Princeton a world-class institution and had ignored those alumni who had retained this understanding and respect.

Summer 1981 cover of Prospect. Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), Box 16.

Continue reading

“A Haven for Radicalism, Intolerance, and Lesbianism”: The Ongoing Struggle for an LGBTQ+-Inclusive Princeton

Mudd Library’s University Administrative Fellow for the fall 2016-2017 semester curated an online HistoryPin exhibit to document the history of minority sexualities at Princeton University. In this post, she provides broader context for the materials she chose to highlight.

By Ariana Natalie Myers GS

For much of its history, Princeton University students who experienced attraction toward their own gender kept it secret. Some alumni were later outed as homosexuals, such as Alan Turing ’38 (GS), famed World War II cryptographer who was the victim of brutal punishment by the British government once his sexuality was uncovered. Kirk LeMoyne Lem” Billings ’39, onetime roommate of President John F. Kennedy at Princeton and close associate of the Kennedy family, was outed by friends after his death in 1981.

Princeton University opened its doors to female undergraduates in 1969, and the first 130 women moved in for the fall semester. The decision-making process and its aftermath was fraught with controversy, with concerns ranging from the presumed “unproductivity” of female alumni to the costs of campus expansion to the anticipated loss of Princeton’s “unique charisma” and “manly dedication.” Many of those opposed to coeducation coalesced into the organization Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP). Proponents of coeducation argued that the proximity of women would decrease homosexuality. This latter position was tacitly supported by Dr. Louis E. Reik ‘33, University Director of Mental Health, and his associate Dr. Willard Dalrymple, Director of University Health Services, in an interview with the Daily Princetonian in 1966 in which Reik stated that a “tendency which was latent before might well be strengthened here” (on a single-gender campus). In a subsequent interview with Dr. Reik in 1969, he contradicted his prior statements and argued that coeducation would not have a notable effect on homosexuality, since he considered that it developed before the age students typically attended college.

Photo from Daily Princetonian.

Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for February 15-21

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, reports of a strange creature living in the lake captivate imaginations on campus, a banner is stolen, and more.

February 16, 1758—The Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) vote to repeal a rule requiring students to wear caps and gowns (“peculiar habits”). This rule will be reinstated in 1768.

Peculiar habits

Minutes of the meeting of the Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), February 16, 1758. Board of Trustees Records (AC120), Vol. 1.

Continue reading