David Dietcher, Guest Curator
page 4

Unidentified photographer
Portrait of two men, c. 1860
Collection of Roberto L. Ceriani

During the war, Walt Whitman served as a volunteer nurse, comforting wounded and dying soldiers in military hospitals around Washington, D.C. There, in gratitude for his aid and friendship, many of those under his care presented Whitman with small card photographs, or cartes-de-visite, sometimes with affectionate inscriptions. "Our affection is quite an affair," wrote Whitman of one such relationship, "quite romantic - sometimes when I lean over to say I am going, he puts his arm, &c., quite a scene for the New Bowery." In another instance, Whitman described his ardent feelings for a soldier named Lewis K. Brown: "Lew is so good, so affectionate - when I came away, he reached up his face, I put my arm around him, and we gave each other a long kiss, half a minute long."

H. H. Hill
Four men in athletic clothing, 1890
Cabinet card
Collection of Harry Weintraub

Unidentified photographer
Portrait of two sailors, c. 1905
Gelatin silver print, postcard
Collection of Harry Weintraub

The all-male rigors of the military and of war had often driven men into each other's arms. But in 1916, for the first time in a century, the U.S. Articles of War were amended to declare assault with the intent to commit sodomy a felony crime. Three years later, the Articles were changed yet again to name sodomy itself a felony. With the crime no longer assault, but the sex act itself, sailors and soldiers were now receiving prison terms of from five to twenty years for engaging in consensual sex. The policy of screening - and of employing entrapment - to purge gay recruits from the ranks of the American military also dates from World War I.

After the Armistice, in 1919 and 1920, an especially pernicious campaign to eliminate "perverts" from the naval base in Newport, Rhode Island, became a national scandal, receiving front-page coverage in newspapers across the country. Zealots in the so-called "Section A" of the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy - then young Franklin D. Roosevelt - coordinated the purge. They recruited enlisted men to lure other sailors and civilians into having sex with them in an effort to gather evidence that might lead to their discharge and incarceration. By this time, hatred of "perverts" had become so thoroughly acceptable that when members of Congress joined journalists and members of the clergy in expressing outrage at the activities of Section A, it was not because they trampled on the constitutional rights of American citizens but because they recruited enlisted men to have sex with other men.

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, the word "homosexual"- and the concept it represents - did not exist. The words "homosexual" and "homosexuality" first appeared in German in 1869 in a pair of anonymous pamphlets, apparently written by an Austro-Hungarian littérateur named Karl Maria Kertbeny. At the same time, Dr. Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal coined the synonymous "contrary sexual feeling." The first appearance of "homo-sexual" in English dates from Charles Gilbert Chaddockís 1892 translation of Richard von Krafft-Ebbingís classic Psychopathia sexualis, which was published in German in 1886. The emergence of these strange new words reflected a seismic shift in the conceptualization of human sexuality. According to this explicitly modern order of things, men and women would henceforth be classified as normal or abnormal as a product of their sexual orientation, rather than their ability to adhere to socially prescribed gender roles. The pathologization and criminalization of same-sex sexuality would have a chilling effect on the fluid expression of romantic feeling, as well as on its commemorative photographic legacy.

Unidentified photographer
Henry Schelberger and Arthure Anderson sitting on a Paper Moon, c. 1915
Geletin silver print, postcard
Collection of Peter Miller
McPherson & Oliver
"John and Frank," portrait of two civil war soldiers
Collection of Peter Miller
March 29 through June 10, 2001
Showtime Networks, Inc is proud sponsor of this exhibition. Additional support is provided by Adam R. Rose and Peter R. McQuillan.