The Institute for Sexual Science

The institute was housed in a lovely building (right) that had belonged to Prince Hatzfeld prior to the revolution. It was one of the finest palaces in Berlin. Hirschfeld purchased it with his own money and endowed it with his considerable collection of scientific material.

In his speech to the scholars, doctors, and politicians who attended the opening in July 1919, Hirschfeld called it "a child of the revolution" -- not only of the uprising that swept Berlin on November 9, 1918, but also of the "great spiritual revolution" that had begun decades earlier with the first stirrings of the homosexual rights movement.

The Institute fo Sexual Science was a repository for all kinds of biological, anthropological, statistical, and ethnological data and documentation relating to sexology. It became a kind of university for sex science, with regular classes on a variety of relevant subjects. It was the first institute of his kind anywhere in the world. It was truly a forerunner of the Kinsey Intitute for Sex Research.

The Scientific Humanitarian Committee, while remaining organizationally independent of the Institute, set up offices in two rooms on the second floor. The building thus became an international center not only for sexual science but for the gay liberation movement.

Medical advice at the Institute was free and lectures by the Institute's specialists were open to the public. In 1919, a marriage counseling bureau was also opened at the Institute. It was consulted by thousands of people, and was so successful that it served as a pattern for similar endeavors in many other countries.

The procession of scientists and politicians who visited the Institute was long and numerous. Scores of persons at a time, representing various political groups, including a number of socialist youth groups and parties, would seek it out as a way of informing themselves on the subject of homosexuality and related questions. Every German who crossed its threshold was given an opportunity to sign the petition against Paragraph 175.

One such delegation to visit the Institute arrived on January 21, 1923. It consisted of Russian doctors, and was headed by the people's commissar of health. Here is what the Committee had to say about their visit in the 1923 issue of its Yearbook:

"On January 21, 1923, the film "Anders als die Andern" was shown to the Russian doctors after they especially requested it. After seeing it, these gentlemen expressed their surprise that a film of such serious and decent content should arouse any scandal at all and that it could be banned. The Herr Minister of Health in conclusion stated how pleased he was that in the new Russia, the former penalty against homosexuals had been completely abolished. He also explained that no unhappy consequences of any kind whatsoever have resulted from the elimination of the offending paragraph, nor has the wish that the penlaty in question be reintroduced been raised in any quarter." (The tsarist antihomosexual law was abolished by decree in December 1917. A decade after this visit by the people's commissar of health, Stalin reintroduced it.)

For fourteen years, the Institute's unique collection of exhibits, its research work, its archives, and its library won for it an international reputation that attracted many foreign scientists and writers. Its brief life came to an abrupt end with the rise of Nazism.

Source: The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935), John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, Times Change Press, New York, 1974.

Pictures: (top) The Institute in Berlin ; (middle) Magnus Hirschfeld ; (bottom) Rooms at the Institute.

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