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  Alfred Charles Kinsey (1894-1956)
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Alfred Kinsey in boy scout uniform, 1910 The man who would become known as the greatest chronicler of America's sexual experiences was born in the gritty, waterfront tenement town of Hoboken, New Jersey, on June 23, 1894. Alfred Charles Kinsey was the first of three children born to Alfred Seguine Kinsey, an instructor of shop practice at Hoboken's Stevens Institute of Technology, and his wife Sarah Charles Kinsey. Alfred Seguine was a domestic autocrat, an ardent prohibitionist, and a devout Methodist who took his family to church at every possible opportunity: three times on Sundays, plus assorted midweek services and social gatherings. Sarah Charles, in the words of Kinsey's biographer James H. Jones, was "shy and soft-spoken, possessed of a personality at once retiring and diffident." If this does not seem like a formula for domestic tranquility, indeed it was not, for Kinsey's parents' marriage would end in divorce in 1931.

Sex Shy
Yet this was the household in which one of America's most influential sexual revolutionaries grew up, a man who championed sexual freedom for men and women alike, whether heterosexual or homosexual; who believed both that sex was good and that a good sex life was the surest guarantor of a happy marriage. The roots of Kinsey's interest in sex, which was to propel him to controversial stardom in the 1940s and 1950s, are to be found here. By all accounts, the Kinsey household was asexual, with parents displaying little affection for each other. Kinsey had little interaction with girls outside the schoolroom. His adolescent explorations of sexuality left him deeply troubled, obsessed with masochism and unsure of his own sexual orientation. When Kinsey met his future wife in 1920, still grappling with his repressed childhood, he had never once been on a date with a woman or had sexual intercourse.

Nature and Camping
young Alfred Kinsey with friends, 1910 Alfred was a delicate and unhealthy child with neither interest in nor aptitude for sports, but he did excel in the classroom. An influential high school biology teacher stirred his interest in nature and science. Young Kinsey took to spending his afternoons and weekends rambling through the hills and marshes that surrounded South Orange, New Jersey, where his family had moved in 1904. In 1908 he started summering at the YMCA camp at Lake Wawayanda in rural northwestern New Jersey, where he studied nature and learned wilderness survival skills in the company of boys his own age. Kinsey's attachment to camping was so deep that he was to continue as a camper, and later a counselor, into the early years of his marriage. In 1911 he joined the Boy Scouts, becoming an Eagle Scout in 1913.

A "Second Darwin"
In 1912 Kinsey graduated from high school as valedictorian of his class. His interest in biology was well known to his classmates, whose official "class prophecy" dubbed him the "second Darwin," but at his father's behest he applied to only one college, the Stevens Institute of Technology. Despite what appears to have been a deliberate attempt to fail the entrance examination, Kinsey entered Stevens that fall, but he neither liked Stevens nor did particularly well there. In June of 1914 he withdrew and, severing all ties with his father, transferred to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, which had a fine reputation in biology. Kinsey flourished at Bowdoin and graduated in June 1916, winning a prestigious competition to give the college's commencement address. None of his family attended his graduation.

A Specialty in Bugs
That fall Kinsey arrived in Boston at the Bussey Institute, Harvard's graduate school of applied biology, to begin work on his Doctor of Science (S.D.). The dean of the school, Monroe Wheeler, was an entomologist and taxonomist, and he cultivated Kinsey's childhood interest in insects with great success. Kinsey eventually decided to write his dissertation on the gall wasp, a tiny insect that made its home in oak trees, on whose branches its burrowing produced the tumescent growths known as galls.

Collector's Approach
Foreshadowing the ardent diligence that was to characterize his sex research, Kinsey insisted on collecting many thousands of gall wasp specimens for his doctoral project, when the norm for taxonomic studies at the time was but a few dozen. During graduate school, Kinsey also came to believe that science held the key -- truth -- by which humanity could uplift itself, a doctrine that both inspired and dominated his work on human sexuality. Kinsey received his Doctor of Science in 1919, and after a yearlong traveling fellowship (which he used to collect even more gall wasps), he arrived in Bloomington, Indiana, in August 1920 as a very new assistant professor of entomology at Indiana University at the salary of $2,000 -- about $21,000 in 2004 dollars.

  Alfred Charles Kinsey (1894-1956)
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