Fence For The Trees

On 11 November 1918, the final armistice which ended the First World War was signed between the Allied Powers and Germany. Germany’s loss, which was the result of outside forces as well as revolutionary discontent inside Germany, was detrimental to the nation. On 28 June 1919, five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, formally ending the war between the Allied Powers and Germany (there were other treaties signed formally ending the war with all Central Powers). Among other things, the Treaty of Versailles placed blame on Germany (Article 231, the War Guilt Clause), forced Germany to disarm, took away a vast amount of German territory, and required reparations from Germany (roughly £285 billion/$442 billion in today’s currency). Germany was also in the midst of its own revolution, which would entirely restructure the German government. Germany was not included in the treaty negotiations, and in fact the three most prominent members of the negotiation team were French PM Georges Clemenceau, British PM David Lloyd George, and US President Woodrow Wilson. The Treaty of Versailles’ impact would be felt for the next two decades.

The social impact of the First World War felt throughout all Europe and the US. the First World War had been detrimental to moral, to psyches and most importantly to populations. Towns throughout Europe felt the impact, as the men who returned home number far less than those who had left. Soldiers returning were quickly expected to resume duties of hearth and home, including replenishing the population. In small towns throughout Europe, men who showed no interest in marriage, or procreation, were labelled homosexual and ostracised, some prosecuted. This resulted in a movement of actual homosexuals to larger urban areas, where subcultures had been established prior to the war, and where they were safer. This movement would become increasingly important as the 20th century wore on.

In the United States, the involvement of the US in WWI, and Wilson’s involvement in the treaty, became increasingly unpopular. The US Congress passed laws which attempted to constrict US involvement in any future wars to pure neutrality. Of course, no one honestly thought there’d be another war, not one to the size and scope of the one that had just ended. US public opinion of their involvement in WWI, and the loss of life, increased social morality clamouring. Although the 1920s is often considered a time of reverie, increased wealth, and increased social moments it was also a time of keep reins on ‘unsovarouability.’ As with any time people that causes immense change very quickly, the 1920s saw the downside of social change and economic prosperity: the increasing stagnation of moral laws.

Although homosexual rights would take a beating in the upcoming decades, woman’s rights saw vast improvement. On 18 August 1920, the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed, which forbid voter discrimination based on gender. The amendment passed Congress on 4 June 1919, and the final 36th state necessary to ratify it (TN) did so on 18 August 1920. In 1922, in Lester v. Garnett, the United States Supreme Court rejected the claim that amendment was unconstitutionally adopted, ended all legal attempts to overturn the amendment. Although the last state (MS) didn’t ratify the 19th Amendment until 1984, it showed that social re-stratisification was possible. Politicians were so concerned with the impact the 19th Amendment would have on creating a woman’s voting bloc that they passed the Sheppard-Towner Act in 1921, which expanded maternity care. In Britain, full suffrage was given to woman over 21 in 1928. Although both the US and the UK showed their ability to re-think social norms when it came to woman’s suffrage, woman’s groups, particularly in the US, would lead the charge against immorality in society.

In 1919, the first sexology institute was opened in Germany. The Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, which was a private sexology research institute, was founded by Magnus Hirschfeld. In February of the same year, reports of homosexual activity amongst sailors stationed in Newport, Rhode Island were investigated. The outcome of the investigation was a series of arrests, both military and civilian, which led to courts-martial and criminal trials. The trials led to some political embarrassment for the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Franklin Roosevelt. These trials only seemed to solidify the temperance league and Christian women’s groups outspoken campaigns against immorality and its impact on society.

In the US, the Women’s Christian Temperance League had lobbied, and marched, and protested in favour of prohibition for over a decade. The Temperance League argued that alcohol caused men to waste money, created immoral vice (excess and prostitution) and pulled men away from their families. The temperance movement was successful. Several US states had already enacted state-wide prohibition, but on 17 January 1920 selling, transpiration, importation and exportation of alcohol began illegal throughout all 48 states. The era of prohibition in the US is one of underground saloons, corrupt law enforcement. and increasing mob activity. Although it became a means of excitement to find the latest speak-easy, and the best way to outsmart prohibition enforcement officers, it also lead to the increased persecution of homosexuals. In order for one illegal activity to exist in the dusk, another had to be sent toward the light. The same christian morality behind the temperance league was used against all other immoral pursuits. The 1920s saw the beginnings of what would become, in the US, the christian conservative movement.

This social influence of the 1920s, along with various political motivations, caused the establishment of a committee to investigate homosexual activities at Harvard University. A Harvard undergraduate had committed suicide on 13 May 1920, having confessed to his older brother of having an affair with an older Boston man. The brother, who was himself a graduate of Harvard, approached the Dean about an undiscovered homosexual network at the university. After several weeks of inquiry and investigation, 8 undergraduate students, a graduate student and an assistant professor were expelled.

In 1921, the UK Parliament attempted to pass an amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which would have made “acts of gross indecency” between women illegal. It passed in the House of Commons, but did not pass the House of Lords. The sections of the Criminal Law Amendment Act which outlawed sodomy and “acts of gross indecency” between men were reinforced.

10 December 1924 saw the creation of the first LGBT rights organisation in the United States. The Society for Human Rights was founded by Henry Gerber in Illinois. The society only existed for a few months, but managed to publish Friendship and Freedom first. Shortly after the publication, Gerber and several other members of the society were arrested. In 1924, the first laws which banned any discussion of homosexuality on a public stage were passed in the state of New York. The NYS Assembly amended its obscenity code and banned any discussion of, or appearance of discussion of, homosexuality in public.

On 27 July 1928, The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall was published, in England, by Jonathan Cape. It created an immediate frenzy, which ended in a legal battle. After the Sunday Express called for the suppression of the book, and publisher Jonathan Cape became worried. He sent a copy of the book to the Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, who immediately declared it “grave detriment to public interest” and demanded Cape withdraw the book from publication, or criminal charges would be filed. Cape did not immediately comply, and on 9 November 1923, an obscenity trial began. On 16 November, the Chief Magistrate declared the book deprave and obscene, and Cape was ordered to cease publication. After only two edition, The Well of Loneliness was withdrawn from publication.

In 1929, Cyprus enacted a new criminal code which criminalised sodomy and gross indecency between men. A few months later, the German Reichstag voted to repeal Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, which criminalised sodomy. The vote never made it to full session. On 29 October 1929 the word defended into the Great Depression, which would influence politics and social movements for the next decade.

Part XIII: Homosexuality, Morality, and the Great Depression


[History Note: It may seem as if I went into a babble session about the after effects of the First World War, but I promise there’s a point. It will become glaringly obvious how these things affected society, and by association, homosexual rights. ALSO: I point out the 18th and 19th amendments (and the 21st amendment next post) as a point of fact, which will be become more obvious once we hit modern day politics. Unfortunately, that means that my hereunto non-opinionated posts will be gaining some opinion. I’ll be as neutral as I can, but seriously, opinions will be bleed through. You’ve been warned.]

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