Her work exposed a false correlation between homosexuality and mental illness that had formed the basis of scientific classification of homosexuality as a disorder, by avoiding the use of a sample group that contained homosexual men with a history of treatment for mental illness. It is of critical importance in refuting cultural heterosexism because it shows that homosexuality is not developmentally inferior to heterosexuality. As homosexuality is not an illness, bias against it is irrational from a scientific point of view.
Hooker was born Evelyn Gentry in North Platte, Nebraska, and grew up with eight brothers and sisters in the Colorado Plains. When she was 13, her family moved to Sterling, Colorado.
In 1924 she became a student at the University of Colorado while working as a maid for a rich Boulder family. Her mentor, Dr Karl Munzinger, guided her in her challenge of the then prevalent psychological theory of behaviourism. He invited her to write her own case history. After receiving her Masters degree, she became one of 11 women involved in the PhD program in psychology at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, having been refused referral to Yale. She was awarded her PhD in 1932.
In her early career, she wasn't especially interested in the psychology of homosexual people. After teaching for only one year at the Maryland College for Women, she contracted tuberculosis and spent the next year in a sanatorium in Arizona. In 1937 Hooker received a fellowship to the Berlin Institute of Psychotherapy. She witnessed mass hysteria on the triumphant return of Hitler to Berlin after the Anschluss.
However, during the 1940s, she first became interested in what would turn out to be her life's work. In 1942 while a teacher at UCLA, Evelyn married writer Don Caldwell. She became close to one of her students, Sam From (twin brother of Isadore From, both brothers were gay), who introduced her to the gay and lesbian subculture, in 1943. He challenged her to scientifically study "people like him." Despite the social, moral and scientific climate of the post-war period, Hooker became increasingly convinced that most gay men were perfectly socially adjusted and that this could be proven through scientific tests.
Over the next two decades she became established professionally. In 1948 she divorced her husband and moved to a guest cottage at the Salter Avenue home of Edward Hooker, professor of English at UCLA and poetry scholar. They married in London in 1951. In the mid-fifties Christopher Isherwood became their neighbor and they became friends. Sam From died in a car accident in 1956, just before her ground-breaking research was published. Hooker's husband died in January 1957 of a cardiac arrest.
The 1960s saw her work find a wider audience, and her conclusions were taken up by the gay rights movement. In 1961 Hooker was invited to lecture in Europe and in 1967, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) asked her to produce a report on what the institution should do about homosexual men. Richard Nixon's election in 1969 delayed the publication of the report, which was published by a magazine, without authorization, in 1970. The report recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality and the provision of similar rights to both homosexual and heterosexual people. The burgeoning gay rights movement seized on this.
She retired from her research at the age of 63 and started a private practice. Most of her clients were gay men and lesbians.
Hooker died at her home in Santa Monica, California in 1996, at the age of 89.
Although Hooker had collected data about her homosexual friends since 1954, she felt this was of little value because of the lack of scientific rigor attached to the gathering of this data. She applied for a grant from the NIMH, which she received.
She gathered two groups of men: one group would be exclusively homosexual, the other exclusively heterosexual. She contacted the Mattachine Society to find homosexual men. She had greater difficulty finding heterosexual men for the study. She also had to use her home to conduct the interview to protect the participants' anonymity.
Hooker used three different psychological tests for her study: the TAT, the Make-a-Picture-Story test (MAPS test), and the Rorschach inkblot test.
After a year of work, Hooker presented a team of 3 expert evaluators with 60 unmarked psychological profiles. She decided to leave the interpretation of her results to other people, to avoid any possible bias.
First, she contacted Bruno Klopfer, an expert on Rorschach tests to see if he would be able to identify the sexual orientation of people through their results at those tests. His ability to differentiate between the two groups was no better than chance.
Then Edwin Shneidman, creator of the MAPS test, also analyzed the 60 profiles. It took him six months and he too found that both groups were highly similar in their psychological make-up.
The third expert was Dr Mortimer Mayer, who was so certain he would be able to tell the two groups apart that he went through the process twice.
The three evaluators concluded that in terms of adjustment, there were no differences between the members of each group.
In 1956, Hooker presented the results of her research in a paper at the American Psychological Association's convention in Chicago.
Her studies contributed to a change in the attitudes of the psychological community towards homosexuality and to the American Psychiatric Association's decision to remove homosexuality from its handbook of disorders in 1973. This in turn helped change the attitude of society at large.
In 2010, actor/playwright Jade Esteban Estrada portrayed Hooker in the solo musical, "ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 4."
Departing from Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America by Henry L. Minton
Paperback: 355 pages
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (December 15, 2001)
Amazon: Departing from Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America
The struggle to remove the stigma of sickness surrounding same-sex love has a long history. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its diagnostic classification of mental illness, but the groundwork for this pivotal decision was laid decades earlier. In this new study, Henry L. Minton looks back at the struggle of the American gay and lesbian activists who chose scientific research as a path for advancing homosexual rights. He traces the history of gay and lesbian emancipatory research from its early beginnings in the late nineteenth century to its role in challenging the illness model in the 1970s. By examining archival sources and unpublished manuscripts, Minton reveals the substantial accomplishments made by key researchers and relates their life stories. He also considers the contributions of mainstream sexologists such as Alfred C. Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker, who supported the cause of homosexual rights through the advancement of scientific knowledge. By uncovering this hidden chapter in the story of gay liberation, Departing from Deviance makes an important contribution to both the history of science and the history of sexuality.
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