Margaret Charmoli

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Margaret Charmoli, a practicing psychologist, has also been a host of the monthly cable television show BiCities since its inception in 2002. BiCities is a play on “Twin Cities,” the nickname of its hosting location, the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area of Minnesota, and it features interviews with members of the bisexual community. Charmoli herself has been the subject of at least one interview in which she shares her expertise on the American Psychological Association and its evolving views on queer identity. As of the time of this posting she is also the Bisexual Representative with the board of directors at Reconciling Works, an organization dedicated to bettering the inclusion of the queer community within the Lutheran Church, and was part of the push for legalized same-sex marriage in Minnesota through her membership with the Minnesota Psychological Association.

 

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Virginia Prince

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Although sources crediting her with inventing the term ‘transgender’ may be mistaken, Virginia Prince was a pivotal figure in 20th century American trans and crossdressing circles. Following her arrest for transvestisism, Prince – a pharmacologist with access to rare for the time medical documents on gender variance – founded the first club for male transvestites, followed by a journal that lasted twenty years and a number of other branching societies. Her advice on gender variance was taken by Dr. Harry Benjamin, among others, and became a source of conflict between her and the transgender community because her works did not include heterosexual trans women and denounced gender reassignment surgery, which she herself declined to get.

Although Prince refused the label of transsexual, she lived as a woman and used female pronouns from her mid-50s to her death; for that reason, she is categorized here as both a transvestite (her preference) and transgender.

Magnus Hirschfeld

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German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld was lucky enough to begin his work shortly before the Weimar Republic years, but unlucky enough to see much of it destroyed in a Nazi conflagration. His motto, “Per Scientiam ad Justitiam” (“through science to justice”), drove him to approach queer activism from a researcher’s perspective, with the hope that education – including a film he co-wrote and acted in – would help end homophobia. He postulated that there were numerous varieties of sexual intermediacy, categorized by what would now be called sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity; for a time, he classified homosexuals as a “third sex”. Hirschfeld himself was a private person, but later biographies suggest he was gay or bisexual, and certainly had at least two male lovers.

Hirschfeld was a pop culture figure in life who inspired everything from caricatures, to Ireland’s first LGBT center, to a decades-long hunt for his personal belongings. Germany issued funding in the early 2000s to establish the Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld (Magnus Hirschfeld National Foundation)

 

Historiography Saturday: Jane Addams

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Jane Addams, the woman who would go on to earn the nickname Saint Jane and the Nobel Peace Prize, began her work after a period of despondency at the prospect of never contributing anything of worth to society. Originally from a rich family, she attempted to attend medical school but dropped out due to health complications, and seized on the fledgling settling house movement as a way to make a difference. The result of her hard work was Hull House, a national model for settlement houses and the home base for Addams’ studies and social reforms. When she wasn’t helping run the House’s programs (music school, a gymnasium, clubs, etc.), Addams was active in Progressive politics, pacifism, American Pragmatism, anti-sex slavery, and suffrage work.

Recently, Addams has become a controversial addition to the LGBT historical canon. Hull House itself now advertises programming that paints Addams as a vital part of Chicago’s LGBT history, billing it as “The Queerest House in Chicago?” She shared a lifelong romantic friendship with Ellen Gates Starr, who slept in her bed and encouraged her in her work. However, romantic friendships existed in a context where high degrees of affection between women were looked upon as normal, making it difficult to pin down lesbian relationships: physical contact and even displays of undying devotion were commonplace. Researchers can find no definitive evidence one way or another of a sexual relationship between Addams and Starr, but also disagree on whether that would be necessary to establish that Addams was a lesbian given the length and exclusivity of their partnership.

Florence Nightingale

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While it would be misleading to refer to Nightingale as a nurse – he ceased practicing altogether after the Crimean war due to ill health, and his accomplishments there may have been exaggerated for propaganda purposes – he can certainly claim credit as a public health theoretician and statistician, as well as a legal reformer targeting overly restrictive prostitution laws and the founder of the world’s first secular nursing school. He invented the polar area diagram, charted the course for sanitation improvement in India, and wrote extensively on feminism and theology. (This obituary offers an additional summary, though it has the disadvantage of being somewhat melodramatic.) Nightingale also has a museum named after him in London, along with numerous other honors.

Nightingale’s place on this blog is somewhat controversial. While GayHeroes.com claims he was a lesbian, all the evidence presented is circumstantial, and at least one biographer believes the rumor is entirely without historical backing. While it is true that Nightingale never married, that may have been due to any number of causes: some permutation of asexuality; an overpowering passion for his work; incapacitating pain; religious motivation; or, perhaps, an exclusive attraction to women. However, as per a book cited on Wikipedia, Nightingale allegedly preferred male pronouns, which is enough to – with the usual disclaimers about ambiguity – qualify him for a position here. While it is impossible to know for sure how he saw himself and whether that identity would map onto a contemporary understanding of transgenderism, it is at least a possibility, and seems to be backed by more evidence than the lesbianism conjecture.

Margaret Todd

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In chemistry the word isotope (Greek for “in the same place”) refers to radioactive elements that can have more than one atomic mass despite their identical chemical properties. Although the phenomenon was discovered by chemist Frederick Soddy, it was his friend the Scottish physician Margaret Todd who suggested its name, leaving a small but important mark on scientific history.

Todd’s medical schooling took double the expected four years due to her secondary career as an author; she published several books over her lifetime (including the semi-autobiographical Mona Maclean, Medical Student), gradually transitioning away from a male pseudonym, and completing the process just in time to publish a biography of the love of her life: Dr. Sophia Jex-Blake, the head of Todd’s university. Jex-Blake also had a hand in Todd’s literary career, working as an intermediary between the author and her publishing company so her secret identity wouldn’t be discovered.

Sara Josephine Baker

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In 1908 the infant mortality rate in New York City was 144 per 1000 live births, ranking it above today’s Afghanistan (187.5) but below Mali (106.49) and Somalia (101.91); by 1918, it had dropped to 88 per 1000, a nearly 50% decrease. Credit for all of those surviving children is largely owed to the efforts of Dr. S. Josephine Baker, a physician and public health worker.

At the time, the concept of combating disease by eliminating risk factors was still a novel one – the London cholera epidemic that led to the establishment of epidemiology was a mere few decades earlier, and its importance was still largely unacknowledged, while Ignaz Semmelweis‘s career had been destroyed by his insistence on washing hands between patients. Baker, concerned with high infant and child morbidity and mortality, became one of public health’s great pioneers. Many of what are now considered basic components of children’s healthcare and preventative medicine were Baker’s innovations. Pushing for doctors and nurses to be on school staff and to inspect children for lice and trachoma; educating parents in how to feed, clean, and clothe children; engineering safe containers for infant eye drops meant to combat blindness from maternal gonorrhea infections; creating a licensing system for midwives; developing a safe synthetic breast milk formula; and starring in her own Hark! a Vagrant strip. She had a flair for the dramatic, gaining recognition for her cause by pointing out that babies in the US died at a rate three times that of World War I soldiers.

Among Baker’s other numerous accomplishments: becoming the first female professional representative to the League of Nations; founding the Federal Children’s Bureau and Public Health Services (later known as the Department of Health and Human Services); catching “Typhoid” Mary Mallon twice; and writing five books, including her autobiography. In her spare time, she lived with an out lesbian screenwriter whose most famous work became a film with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn; later in life they moved in with a third woman, possibly forming a lesbian poly triad.