When members of the conservative movement in the US advocate subjecting gay and lesbian people to a putatively psychotherapeutic process that will “convert” them to heterosexuality, they often cite studies published by the renowned sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. The “conversion” procedure was outlined in their 1979 book, Homosexuality in Perspective, in which it was reported that of 67 patients suffering from “homosexual dissatisfaction,” just 14 failed to be “converted” by the two-week treatment.
Now, however, there is suspicion that the cases never existed, that they were essentially “made up” by Masters without the knowledge of Johnson or his other colleagues. The allegations are published in an article in the April 22 issue of Scientific American. According to the article’s author, Thomas Maier, who has just published a book on Masters and Johnson called Masters of Sex, Continue reading “Homosexuality Conversion” classics fraudulent?
Angus McLaren has written books about the emergence of the serial killer, medical ethics, abortion, and the history of contraception and eugenics. But it is his most recent works — Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History (Harvard, 2002) and Impotence: A Cultural History (Chicago, 2007) — that led him to be profiled in this month’s issue of University Affairs, 50(3).
“I am always fascinated with the question, why? Why should that custom arise? What function did that form of sympathetic magic serve in society? Why was it believed?” And many times, the questions cannot be answered or understood by us in the modern day without the context of the societal relationships and power structures of the earlier time. “I am always saying the past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”
It is this approach, and his prodigious publishing record, that led to his winning the prestigious $50,000 Canada Council/Molson Prize. But how did he do it? Continue reading Sex Historian profiled in University Affairs
In a recent issue of History of Education Quarterly, 48(3), David S. Churchill examined the effects of Social Darwinian ideas on the educational policies of the Chicago Public School Board.
In February 1899, the Committee of Physical Culture of the Chicago Public School Board approved an intensive “anthropometric” study of all children enrolled in the city’s public schools. The study was a detailed attempt to measure the height, weight, strength, lung capacity, hearing, and general fitness of Chicago’s student population. Through 1899 and 1900, thousands of Chicago’s primary, grammar, and high school students had their bodies closely scrutinized, measured, weighed, tested, and, in a few cases, diagrammed. What the School Board members wanted to know was the “fitness” of the student body. Were Chicago public school students — many recently arrived immigrants from eastern and southern Europe — vital and vigorous children who could become energetic modern workers and citizens? (p. 341)
The results of this study had social and political implications.
Reassuringly, the authors stated that the students in the Chicago schools… showed “superiority” in “both size and physical development” when compared with children in other cities. Implicit in the social scientists’ comments was a desire to achieve an ideal type of body—an ideal that many Social Darwinist and eugenicists feared was disappearing. For some social reformers in the late 1890s loss of the ideal type was resulting in “a biological deterioration,” a deterioration caused by waves of immigration and resulting in social and economic degeneracy. (p. 343)
The response was a turn toward body-building, but couched specifically in gendered terms. Continue reading The rise of body-building in Chicago, 1890-1920
In the latest issue of Social History of Medicine, 21(2), Elizabeth Siegel Watkins explores why “male menopause” vanished from medical discourse in the 1950s.
This disappearance offers an interesting case study of how and why diagnoses and therapies fall in and out of favour. For this particular set of symptoms, psychiatry replaced endocrinology as the explanatory framework, and tranquilisers replaced hormones as the preferred therapy. But medical fashion was not the only factor determining diagnosis and treatment. In the 1950s, when the dominant model of masculinity clearly differentiated men from women, male patients and their male physicians alike balked at the idea that men could suffer from what seemed like a woman’s problem, namely, menopause. The diagnosis of a stress-induced condition fitted better with the image of the hardworking breadwinning male, especially among middle-aged men who might also have worried about becoming superannuated. Cultural conceptions of masculinity and ageing figured significantly in the framing of this condition. (Free PDF here.)
This article builds on Watkins’ previous work on the continued popularity of “male menopause” as a folk psychological notion despite its disappearance from the medical literature. (Free PDF here.)
Havelock Ellis is often regarded as the virtual founder of the scholarly study of sex. The problem with “giants” of this sort, however, is that the tend to block out whatever is standing behind them. The matter of what stood behind Ellis is addressed in an article by Ivan Crozier (U. Edinburgh) titled, “Nineteenth-Century British Psychiatric Writing about Homosexuality before Havelock Ellis: The Missing Story,” published in the latest issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (2008, 63(1), 65-102). According to the abstract: Continue reading Sexology Before Havelock Ellis