Remembering Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

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Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, an engraving taken from “Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen, (“Yearbook of sexual intermediates”), vol. 1″, 1899 | Geschichtswerkstatt | 15031

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was a German writer and lawyer who played key roles both in defining homosexuality and establishing the movement for gay rights.

Hans Rollman, reviewing the book “Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity” by Robert Beachy, explains.

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A homosexual himself, his promising legal career was cut short when rumours began to spread about his sexual activities with other men. Shut out of the legal profession, he gradually rebuilt himself a career in journalism and writing. But as Beachy points out, he was a true product of the Protestant Reformation (his family were ardent Lutherans), with its drive to question accepted traditions in the search for truth. No matter which way he looked at it, he couldn’t find anything wrong with his sexual attraction to other men, and concluded that it was normal behaviour, and that some people are simply born homosexual.

All this was, of course, highly revolutionary for his time, as was his decision to begin campaigning for an end to the existing anti-sodomy laws and moral persecution which accompanied them. He first opened up a remarkable correspondence with his own family in what was essentially the first documented coming-out in history. He tested his own theories on them, and while they clearly disapproved and urged him to change, they didn’t reject him and even re-affirmed their love and support for him.

Thus bolstered, he began issuing a series of anonymous pamphlets, arguing that homosexuality, or ‘Urning’, as he called it, was natural behaviour. In 1867 he ratcheted things up a notch, giving an address to the Association of German Jurists where he presented his views and argued for revision of the sodomy laws. He was shouted down and unable to finish his speech, but he had opened the dialogue, and at the same time emerged as its public spokesperson. As he continued his courageous campaign, he also refined his theories of sexuality to embrace a diversity of sexual and gender identities.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was born on 28 August 1825 and died on 14 July 1895.

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The Mary Travers libel case

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Mary Travers | Somerville Press | 14477

It is only loosely gay history, but the Irish Times reminds us of the fascinating Mary Travers libel case that engulfed Oscar Wilde’s parents when he was a 10 year old boy.

On December 12th, 1864, the Mary Travers libel trial opened in Dublin. This case, which The Irish Times called extraordinary, soon mesmerised Irelandwith accusations of sexual assault and hints of illicit affairs. It all began when Travers, an angry young woman, sued Jane Wilde, mother of 10-year-old Oscar, for libel because of an intemperate letter that Wilde had written. On May 6th that year she had sent it to Dr Robert Travers, assistant keeper of manuscripts at Marsh’s Library in Dublin, complaining about his daughter Mary’s behaviour.

Mrs Wilde’s letter claimed that Travers was well known at Bray “where she consorts with all the low newspaper boys in the place” and Travers was now trying to blackmail Mr and Mrs Wilde.

The case at the Four Courts lasted a week. Nationalist MP Isaac Butt was counsel for Mary Travers and all of the Irish media were in rapt attendance, as Jane Wilde was a much-loved figure.

The case quickly got juicy when Butt raised an alleged assault by William Wilde, in his surgery, on Travers – William Wilde and Travers had been lovers – with Jane’s compliance! – and that the letter came in the angry aftermath of the ending of the affair.

Travers took the stand on December 14th but contradicticting herself, turned the tide of public sympathy against her, and the Wilde’s counsel alleging Travers was a laundanu addict, and revealing the letters demanding money from William Wilde.

On December 19th the jury took only 80 minutes to find in Travers’s favour – but awarded her a paltry farthing damages.

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Albert Cashier

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Albert Cashier | 1864 | Unknown photographer | Public domain | 14403

Jennie Irene Hodgers (December 25, 1843 – October 10, 1915), was an Irish-born soldier in the Union Army during the American Civil War. She was female assigned at birth, but lived as a man under the name of Albert D. J. Cashier. Other soldiers thought that Cashier was just small and preferred to be alone, which was not that uncommon. Cashier was once captured in battle but escaped back to Union lines after overpowering a prison guard. Cashier fought with the regiment through the war until August 17, 1865, when all the soldiers were mustered in and out.

After the civil war Cashier had a number of different jobs. In November 1910 Cashier was hit by a vehicle and broke his leg. A physician discovered his secret in the hospital, but agreed to remain quiet. On May 5, 1911, Cashier was moved to the Soldier and Sailors home in Quincy, Illinois where he lived until his mind deteriorated and he was moved to the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane in March 1913 where a couple of attendants discovered that he was female assigned at birth when they tried to give him a bath, and he was forced to wear a dress.


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Edward Carpenter

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Edward Carpenter | Unknown photographer | Public domain | 14404

A group in Sheffield is campaigning for a permanent public tribute to Edward Carpenter which recognises his historical and social importance as a writer and political campaigner.

Edward Carpenter, 29 August 1844 – 28 June 1929, was a significant cultural and political activist who is remembered now as a pioneer of gay rights campaigning, living openly with his lover George Merrill (1866 – 1928) and writing bravely about it as the same time that Oscar Wilde was imprisoned.

One of the many editions of “Towards Democracy” | 14405

He was a friend and possibly lover of Walt Whitman, and imitated him in his own long poetry cycle Towards Democracy (1883 – 1902), which became a foundation stone of socialism. He encouraged EM Forster to ‘come out’ and write.

Edward Carpenter and George Merrill | Unknown photographer | 14406


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