Today is Veterans Day, the day set aside to honor all armed forces veterans — all of them, including LGBT veterans. The chosen date, November 11, marks the date and time of the armistice which ended the Great War, 11/11 at 11:00 a.m. The date was originally known as Armistice day in 1919 when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed:
To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.
In 1938, Congress made Armistice day a permanent annual holiday as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.” After the end of the Second World War, Armistice day was expanded to honor all veterans, not just those of World War I. Congress officially changed the name of Armistice day in 1954 to Veterans Day.
Many other countries continue to observe this date as either Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, where observances combine the recognition of living veterans with commemorations of those who died (more akin to our observance of Memorial Day in late May). In many British Commonwealth countries, Remembrance Day is also known as Poppies Day, after the red poppies in the poem “In Flanders Fields” which bloomed on some of the worst battlefields of Flanders. The poppies’ brilliant red color is symbolic of the blood that was spilled.
Katherine Vosbaugh, who for sixty years posed as a man, wearing male garb, living the rough life of the pioneers in the Southwest and who even “married” another woman, died yesterday morning at the San Raphael Hospital in this city, where she had been a county charge since he secret of her life was discovered by Dr. T.J. Forham, of this city two years ago.
Born nearly four-score years ago in France of a good family, this remarkable woman donned male garb when but a slip of a girl, came to America and worked as a bank clerk, bookkeeper, restauranteur, cook, and sheep herder for over half a century without her sex being known.
In July, two years ago, “Frenchy,” a cook and sheep herder on the Sam Brown ranch, near this city, was taken with pneumonia and brought to the hospital where her secret was revealed. Even then, this strange woman refused to wear skirts. Clad in regulation man’s attire, she has since worked about the hospital and was known by the nickname of “Grandpa.”
Katherine Vosbaugh was left an orphan at the age of twenty years. Her father, a well educated man of considerable means, gave her an excellent business education. At her death she was an expert accountant and spoke her native tongue, English, German, and Hungarian. Her only motive in assuming the disguise at first seems to have been to enable her more easily to secure employment.
She worked in several cities all over the country before settling at Joplin, Mo., where she worked for fifteen years as a bank clerk, and it was in this city where she married. The name of her “wife” was never learned, but the ceremony seems to have taken place for the purpose of saving the woman’s good name. A few months after the marriage a child was born to the wife, which died after a few months.
Shortly after the death of the child the two women came to this city and opened a restaurant on Commercial street. Here she was known as “Frenchy” and the establishment was one of the most popular restaurants in the Southwest.
What became of “Frenchy’s” wife is not known. She drifted away and her “husband” refused until the time of her death to reveal the woman’s name.
After leaving here the woman secured a position as cook on a big sheep ranch near Trinche ranch. The eccentricities of youth became more pronounced as she grew older and more and more she came to look like a man. For years she lived with men on the ranch, cooking for them, assisting them in the ranch work, and sleeping in the same rooms, but her secret was never suspected.
Two years and four months ago she was stricken with pneumonia, and it was then that her secret was discovered. Since then she failed rapidly in body and mind and her death was due to a general breakdown.
Two days later, another story appeared in local papers:
Woman Laid to Rest in Attire of Man
Trinidad, Colo., Nov 13 — In compliance with a request made a few days before her death, the remains of Katherine Vosbaugh, who for sixty years wore male attire without her sex being discovered, were laid to rest yesterday in the Catholic cemetery garbed in male attire. Two sisters of charity and two strange women were the only attendants at the simple services held i the chapel of the undertaking company.
[Source: Jonathan Ned Katz. Gay/Lesbian Almanac (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), pages 323-324.]
First Meeting of the “Society of Fools” (Mattachine Foundation): 1950. Harry Hay (see Apr 7) had been kicking around the idea for several years. In 1948, he attended a party near the University of Southern California attended by gay men who supported the presidential campaign of Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace. Sometime during the evening, a discussion ensued of Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which had been published earlier that year (see Jan 5). Someone brought up the Kinsey statistic that said that 37% had experienced at least one homosexual encounter and that 10% were more or less gay. To Harry, who had cut his teeth as a Communist and labor organizer, this seemed like an extraordinarily large number of people just waiting to be organized. That night, he he began drafting a five-page proposal, “The Call,” which envisioned an organization for the “androgynes of the world.” His first effort, Bachelors for Wallace, didn’t get anywhere. His second attempt, to form a Kinsey discussion group, also fizzled.
But the third time was the charm. Hay continued revising “The Call,” which by 1950 envisioned an International Bachelors Fraternal orders for Peace and Social Dignity:
We, the androgynes of the world, have formed this responsible corporate body to demonstrate by our efforts that our psychology and psychological handicaps need be no deterrent in integrating 10 percent of the world’s population toward the constructive social progress of mankind.
In July, 1950, Hay met Rudi Gernreich, a professional dancer from Austria, who read “The Call” and told Hay, “It’s the most dangerous thing I’ve ever seen and I’m with you one hundred percent.” After another organizing failure when they distributed sixty copies of “The Call” at a gay beach below the Palisades, Gernreich encouraged Hay to approach Bob Hull (see May 31), a student in Gernreich’s music class, and Hull’s friend and former lover, Chuck Rowland (see Aug 24). Hull also shared the idea with his then-current boyfriend, Dale Jennings (see Oct 21).
On November 11, the five met at Hay’s home on Red Hill in Silver Lake and formed the “Society of Fools,” with lofty ambitions. Hay’s forward-thinking contribution was to envision the group as a means of unifying “an oppressed cultural minority.” To Hay, being gay was more than just having sex. It was a way of life, with unique cultural aspects akin to an ethnic minority. Not everyone saw things that way. Jennings, for example, opposed the idea, contending that gay people were just exactly like everyone else except for who they wanted to have sex with. There was nothing special about being gay itself, and the issue wasn’t cultural liberation for gay people. For him, the real issue was sexual freedom for everyone regardless of whether they were gay or straight. This controversy would carry on for much of the next two decades. But the real underlying importance of the new group, as Rowland later explained, went much deeper.
“To me, the gay culture idea was the cornerstone of the Mattachine. …we wanted to change the laws, and that was and is a worthy objective. But changing laws laws is almost meaningless unless one changes the hearts of men, both homosexual and heterosexual, and the heart change is, to me, what the Mattachine was all about.”
The new society, initially, was in danger of going the way of the earlier attempts at organizing as they struggled to find new members. People would show up for a meeting but fail to return. April of 1951 would bring a turnabout in the young group’s fortunes when Konrad Stevens and James Gruber (see Aug 21) joined and brought with them a new sense of urgency. Gruber also suggested the group rename itself the Mattachine Foundation, in honor of the medieval masque troops known as “matachines” (originally spelled with one “t”), whose role it was to stand up and speak truth to power without regard to direct consequences. Hay loved the idea, Jennings scoffed and thought it was silly, but the group decided to accept Gruber’s suggestion, and for the next three years, they were the Mattachine Foundation.
[Sources: James T. Sears: Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2006): 113-120.
C. Todd White. Pre-Gay L.A.: A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2009): 16-19.]
Six Year Old Child Has An Odd Trait: 1960. That headline was given for a column titled “Child Care” by Dr. Milton I. Levine and Jean H. Seligmann, in which a mother writes in about her cross-dressing son. Naturally, it’s the parents’ fault:
(Q) “My son is 6 year old and has a peculiar trait which has me very worried. He likes to dress up on girls’ or women’s clothing. I have two older daughters aged 9½ and 11 and he loves to wear their clothes whenever he gets the chance. He says theirs are much nicer than his. One day I found him in one of my dresses walking around in my high-heeled shoes. I am terribly frightened that he may be abnormal when he is older. What can I do? He seems normal otherwise and plays equally well with both boys and girls. He sees his father a little in the evenings and his father is home every weekend.”
(A) The desire to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex is fairly common in young children, but is a tendency which should not be encouraged. Sometimes this activity continues on into adult life when it becomes more and more difficult to change.
Although a child or adult prefers the clothes of the opposite sex, this does not necessarily mean that the person is a homosexual. As a mater of fact, in the vast majority of cases studied these children grew up with normal sex desires. But undoubtedly there are some who do become homosexual.
We do not know enough about your home environment or the manner in which your son has been brought up to say just why he likes to dress in female attire, but there are a number of possible causes. Sometimes boys feel their parents really wanted a girl and they try to act or look like one. Boys who live in a home atmosphere which is largely feminine may want to dress like women. (We know of instances where boys have been allowed to dress like girls without any objection from their parents.) If a boy is too close to his mother, or if he hasn’t enough contact with his father, he may want to dress like a woman to be like his mother.
Be sure your son feels the importance of being a boy. He should know that both you and his father wanted a son and are happy he is a boy. He should be discouraged from wearing girls’ clothes but not teased or laughed at. He should get a great deal more attention from his father who should encourage him in male interests. He should look more and more to his father as his model.
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