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Martin Duberman

Committee Members

David Nasaw

Thomas Kessner

Blanche Wiesen Cook

Lisa Duggan

Subject Categories



From the mid-1890s through the 1920s activists in the American, English-language anarchist movement carried on a spirited debate on the ethical, social, and cultural status of same-sex desire. Among Americans they were alone in doing so; no other political movement or notable public figure of the period dealt with this issue. By making same-sex desire a topic of political discourse the anarchist sex radicals helped shift the sexual, cultural, and political landscape within which all Americans operated. While the contemporary homosexual rights movement is not the lineal descendant of the turn-of-the-century anarchist movement, the activists examined in this dissertation addressed many of the questions that continue to be at the heart of American sexual politics.

The politics of homosexuality articulated by the anarchist sex radicals was greatly influenced by the efforts of European sex radicals. In their travels overseas anarchists met with their European counterparts, providing a conduit through which the politics being produced in Europe reached an American audience. The anarchist sex radicals were eager participants in a transatlantic sexual politics that sought to end the legal and social oppression of homosexuals and create new forms of scientific and cultural knowledge. The anarchists brought to this transatlantic reform movement their own passionate belief in the desirability of revolutionary social and cultural transformation.

My dissertation documents and analyzes the specific ways in which the anarchist sex radicals dealt with the question of same-sex love, giving texture and depth to the largely anecdotal evidence that currently constitutes our understanding of the relationship between anarchism and the politics of homosexuality. I pay special attention to the way in which the activists drew on the work of literary figures like Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde as well as the ideas of European sexologists and sex radicals in formulating their sexual politics. My dissertation alters the current periodization of the politics of homosexuality, illustrates the transatlantic context for the development of those politics, and illuminates a phase of American history that has been little appreciated.


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