higher dead

Harvard University Expelled 10 Gays In 1920 For ‘Homosexualism.’ Isn’t It Time to Let Them Graduate?

In August at the New York Fringe Festival, the New York City-based playwright Stan Richardson will unveil Vertias, a play about Harvard University’s gay witch hunt in 1920 that, ninety years ago, investigated 30 men and found guilty ten of them, including a recent graduate, of “homosexualism.” They were, Richardson writes, expelled from “not only the campus but also from Cambridge itself. Two of the then-students were later readmitted, but the other seven never had the opportunity to sit at their commencement and listen to an exegesis on the finer points of the interpretation of law.”

The decision was made by the Secret Court (“the actual label on the box of files that was discovered by a researcher for The Crimson in 2002”), which was composed of “three deans, a regent and a professor of hygiene.” Two of the men found guilty killed themselves.

There have been calls for the remaining ostracized victims to be awarded honorary degrees, but thus far the university’s most recent comments about the issue came in 2002 from then-president Lawrence Summers, who called the events “extremely disturbing.”

In the meantime, Harvard, under pressure from the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus on campus, has created the F.O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship of Gender and Sexuality; named after the gay Harvard professor, the position’s first recipient will be named next year.

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  • Chopsie

    The book, HARVARD’S SECRET COURT: THE SAVAGE 1920 PURGE OF CAMPUS HOMOSEXUALS by William Wright, covers this in detail. Fascinating reading.

  • Republican

    I second Chopsie’s recommendation of Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals. I didn’t care for the writing, but the facts and history made up for it. Just a reminder of how far we have come.

  • PopSnap

    I would love to go see that. the 1920’s are one of my favorite decades (The Great Gatsby ftw).

  • Dan T.

    It’s worth pointing out that the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus (HGLC) is an alumni group that has funded the Matthiessen Professorship, not an on-campus group.

  • GayCine

    The film PERKINS 28: Testimony from the Secret Court Files of 1920 takes a formal approach, reenacting nine testimonies before the court. It’s strictly the trials and brings to life each defendant in isolation, as it probably happened.

  • boredwell

    DADT and DOMA illustrate how institutions continue to be refractory when it comes to granting equal civil rights. In fact, the federal government and the armed forces have made witch-hunting law. If only we could hear the back story of those individuals persecuted by Harvard.

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