Gay History – November 11th, 1950: The Mattachine Society Holds It’s First Meeting In Los Angeles

A rare rare group photograph of the Mattachine Society . Pictured are Harry Hay (upper left), then (l–r) Konrad Stevens, Dale Jennings, Rudi Gernreich, Stan Witt, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland (in glasses), Paul Bernard. Photo by James Gruber.

A rare rare group photograph of the Mattachine Society . Pictured are Harry Hay (upper left), then (l–r) Konrad Stevens, Dale Jennings, Rudi Gernreich, Stan Witt, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland (in glasses), Paul Bernard. Photo by James Gruber.

 

On November 11th, 1950 Harry Hay and a group of Los Angeles friends formed The Mattachine Society, a group to protect and improve the rights of gay men.

Harry Hay conceived of the idea of a “homosexual” activist group in 1948. After signing a petition for Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace. Hay had planned to call this organization “Bachelors Anonymous” and envisioned it serving a similar function and purpose as Alcoholics Anonymous. , Hay wrote the organizing principles that night, a document he referred to as “The Call”.  Hay met Rudi Gernreich in July 1950. The two became lovers, and Hay showed Gernreich The Call.  Gernreich, declared that the document “the most dangerous thing [he had] ever read”, and became an enthusiastic financial supporter of the venture, although he did not lend his name to it going instead by the initial “R”.

Finally on November 11th, 1950, Hay, along with Gernreich and friends Dale Jennings and lovers Bob Hull and Chuck Rowland, held the first meeting of the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles, at Hay’s apartment under the name Society of Fools. James Gruber and Konrad Stevens joined the Society in April 1951 and are generally considered to be original members. 

The Mattachine Society was named by Harry Hay at the suggestion of James Gruber, inspired by a French medieval and renaissance masque group he had studied while preparing a course on the history of popular music for a workers’ education project. In a 1976 interview with Jonathan Ned Katz, Hay was asked the origin of the name Mattachine. He mentioned the medieval-Renaissance French Sociétés Joyeuses:

One masque group was known as the “Société Mattachine.” These societies, lifelong secret fraternities of unmarried townsmen who never performed in public unmasked, were dedicated to going out into the countryside and conducting dances and rituals during the Feast of Fools, at the Vernal Equinox. Sometimes these dance rituals, or masques, were peasant protests against oppression—with the maskers, in the people’s name, receiving the brunt of a given lord’s vicious retaliation. So we took the name Mattachine because we felt that we 1950s Gays were also a masked people, unknown and anonymous, who might become engaged in morale building and helping ourselves and others, through struggle, to move toward total redress and change.

The Mattachine Society existed as a single national organization headquartered first in Los Angeles and then, beginning around 1956, in San Francisco. Outside of Los Angeles and San Francisco, chapters were established in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and other locales.

The primary goals of the society were to

  1. “Unify homosexuals isolated from their own kind”;
  2. “Educate homosexuals and heterosexuals toward an ethical homosexual culture paralleling the cultures of the Negro, Mexican and Jewish peoples”;
  3. “Lead the more socially conscious homosexual to provide leadership to the whole mass of social variants”; and
  4. “Assist gays who are victimized daily as a result of oppression”

In 1963 Congressman John Dowdy introduced a bill which resulted in congressional hearings to revoke the license for solicitation of funds of the Mattachine Society of Washington; the license was not revoked.

During the 1960s, the various unaffiliated Mattachine Societies, especially the Mattachine Society in San Francisco and the Mattachine Society of New York, were among the foremost gay rights groups in the United States, but beginning in the middle 1960s and, especially, following the Stonewall riots of 1969, they began increasingly to be seen as too traditional, and not willing enough to be confrontational.

Learn more about The Mattachine Society by CLICKING HERE.

 

 

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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1 Response

  1. John Festa says:

    This is so fascinating. Thank you for this. Rudi Gernreich was a huge designer of the time. The 2011 TV show The Playboy Club was beginning to run a storyline on the Mattachine Society. Made the show so interesting.

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