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Kinsey | Article

Clara Bracken McMillen Kinsey (1898-1982)

The Kinsey Institute

When Alfred Kinsey moved to Bloomington, Indiana, he had little experience in social settings and no experience dating -- but he was lonely. During the course of his first fall in Indiana, he became acquainted with Clara Bracken McMillan, a junior majoring in chemistry whom he had met briefly during his visit to Bloomington the previous May, when he had interviewed for his job. Clara McMillan had been born on October 2, 1898, in Brookville, Indiana, a small town southeast of Indianapolis near the Ohio state line. The daughter of two schoolteachers, she had grown up a tomboy with, like Alfred, an enduring appreciation of nature and the outdoors. Excelling in academics, she majored in chemistry and would later graduate with both Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi, among other honors.

A Proper Courtship
In the fall of 1920, Alfred and Clara ran into each other at a zoology department picnic, and again a few weeks later at a Phi Beta Kappa meeting. In November, they went on their first real date. In January, Alfred proposed and Clara accepted. Like Alfred, Clara had little experience dating and no experience with sex, and they went about their courtship with the utmost propriety. The young couple were married on June 3, 1921, and immediately headed east by train for their honeymoon: first to Niagara Falls, then to New Jersey for a short, requisite visit to Alfred's parents, and finally to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to go hiking.

Unhappy Wedding Night
Their wedding night did not go as planned, and they struggled for almost a year before consummating their marriage. This did nothing to mitigate Kinsey's longstanding doubts about sex, and it cannot have been much better for inexperienced Clara. The couple probably consulted one or more of the "marriage manuals" then in common circulation, but in the 1920s most such books preached self-control over the pursuit of uninhibited sexual pleasure. Eventually Alfred and Clara went to see a local doctor, who determined that Clara had an "adherent clitoris" and undertook the necessary corrective surgery. As the couple became more experienced and adventuresome, they began dispensing sexual advice to Indiana University students, who had no official source of such information. Clara herself became known as something of an expert on sex, and when the time came to "have a talk" with their daughters, many of the women in the neighborhood turned to Clara for advice.

Mac and Prok
Whatever Kinsey wanted from his marriage, he did not seek a relationship like that of his parents, coldly civil and permeated by anxiety waiting to erupt. Rather, he sought in Clara genuine companionship and sexual equality, and she responded in kind. He called her "Mac," and she called him "Prok," short for Professor Kinsey. But he did not go so far as to suggest that Clara pursue her aptitude for chemistry at a professional level, and turned constantly to her to support his own work. Alfred and Clara had four children together: Donald, born in 1922, who died of diabetes at the age of three; Anne, born in 1924; Joan, born the following year; and Bruce, born in 1928.

Sex Partners
At first, Alfred put considerable time into helping Clara with the children, but as they grew older he put more and more of himself into his work and less, inevitably, into his family. By that time, Kinsey had all but abandoned entomology to focus on sex research, and despite Alfred and Clara's sexually open relationship his new field of interest created friction. Longing to participate in his professional life, Clara immersed herself in his work, helping him entertain students and participants in his research, transcribing diaries and other materials that people had contributed to the project, and even participating in the filming of sexual intercourse among members of the research team.

Enduring Love
But despite what for most people would have been an intolerable situation, Clara and Alfred were genuinely in love, and their marriage endured until the latter's death in 1956. Long outliving her husband, Clara died in 1982 at the age of eighty-four.

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