The Sex Researchers of Kinsey's Inner Circle
From the beginning of his formal sex research in 1938, Alfred Kinsey was fortunate to have a strong supporting cast of research assistants, people who shared his missionary fire along with the burden of interviewing subjects, analyzing data, and drawing charts and graphs. Foremost among them were Clyde Martin, Wardell Pomeroy, and Paul Gebhard; to this list can be added Ralph Voris, Kinsey's favorite graduate student of the late 1920s, who though never a part of the institute profoundly influenced Kinsey's thinking about sex. Kinsey held sway over this group as a master over acolytes, driving them like hounds and encouraging, in the name of research, relationships among the staff and their wives that would have meant the end of the project had they become publicly known.
Ralph Voris was born in Oklahoma in 1902. His family moved to Kansas while he was a boy, and he received his bachelor's degree from Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, in 1924. After graduating from Southwestern, Voris went to Indiana University to pursue his Ph.D. in zoology, arriving in the fall of 1925; he received his doctorate under Kinsey's direction three years later. Voris loved fieldwork and the outdoors, but he was not destined to be a great scholar. He was, however, a gifted teacher, and after receiving his degree, he got a job at Southwest State Teachers College in Springfield, Missouri.
Kinsey appreciated Voris' love of and aptitude for fieldwork, and their relationship grew into a deep and lasting friendship. After Voris left Bloomington, the two exchanged letters of confidence about the intimate details of their marriages. By many accounts, Kinsey fell in love with the handsome young zoologist, but his desires were frustrated by society's condemnation of homosexuality. For if Kinsey's friendship with Voris did much to bring the homosexual side of his sexual persona to the surface, Voris was happily married to his college sweetheart, Geraldine, and showed little inclination to reciprocate. Nonetheless, they remained in touch, and as Voris lay dying in May of 1940, it was Kinsey whom Geraldine summoned to be with them in his last hours. Kinsey, of course, went, but Voris died before he got there.
Clyde Martin entered Indiana University in the fall of 1937. Troubled by sexual angst, the young student sought out Kinsey and, in December 1938, gave him his sexual history. Recalling similar episodes in his own childhood, Kinsey could easily comprehend what Martin was going through, even breaking his longtime rule against telling interviewees about his own sexual history. But it wasn't only sex that was troubling Martin -- he was also suffering from a lack of funds. After the interview, Kinsey offered him a part-time job. The two would toil side by side in Kinsey's garden, stripped to the waist and yarning about sex. By the spring of 1939, Kinsey trusted Martin enough to ask him to help with the tabulation of Kinsey's sexual history survey results, and in 1941 Martin officially started as Kinsey's first research assistant, his salary paid by a grant from the Committee on Research in Problems of Sex.
From the beginning, Kinsey found himself attracted to Martin, and as their relationship deepened Kinsey began trying to seduce the younger man, using his authority as professor and employer to persuade Martin to enter into an affair. Martin soon discovered that he was more heterosexual than homosexual, but Kinsey's sway over the student made it difficult for him to break free. As their affair progressed, Martin approached his employer about asking Kinsey's wife, Clara, to have sex with him. At first taken back, Kinsey quickly saw that Martin was asking no more of him than Kinsey was asking of the world. Kinsey gave Martin his blessing -- as did Clara -- and Martin and Clara entered into a sexual relationship. In May 1942, Martin married his girlfriend, Alice, in a simple ceremony in the same garden next to the Kinseys' house where he had first gone to work three years earlier. Martin remained a member of Kinsey's research team until the end, proving himself essential in adding up the numbers for both of Kinsey's famous books, compiling tables, and drawing charts.
Kinsey met Wardell Pomeroy in 1941 in South Bend, Indiana, where Kinsey had gone to lecture about his favorite subject and drum up recruits for the survey. Pomeroy, then employed as a prison psychologist for the state of Indiana, approached Kinsey after the talk to ask questions. After chatting for a little while, Kinsey invited Pomeroy to give his sexual history, and Pomeroy said yes. When Pomeroy arrived at Kinsey's hotel the next morning, he found Kinsey in his room -- standing naked in front of the mirror, shaving, with Clyde Martin in attendance. After taking Pomeroy's history, Kinsey asked him to serve as his "contact man" in South Bend, one of an army of people around the country who, like a journalist's fixer, would put his employer in touch with friends, acquaintances, and in Pomeroy's case prisoners convicted of sex crimes.
The two men stayed in touch the following year, and in February 1943 Pomeroy went to work full time for Kinsey. If Martin was the numbers man, Pomeroy turned out to have a gift for interviewing. Almost as much as Kinsey himself, he could relate to anyone -- and convince them to open up to him with their deepest secrets. Though Pomeroy was married, Kinsey would eventually lure him into a brief affair.
Paul Gebhard was born in 1917 in the tiny town of Rocky Ford, Colorado, and received both his B.S. and his Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard. In May 1946, on the recommendation of Harvard anthropology professor Clyde Kluckhohn, Kinsey wrote to Gebhard to see if he would be interested in joining his research team. Gebhard wrote back assuring Kinsey that he was not "afraid of sex," and even asserting, "Abnormal sexual behavior does not repel me... In fact, I'm beginning to suspect that our concept of the norm is too restricted when applied to actuality." Kinsey met Gebhard the following month in New York, offered him a job, and Gebhard went to work for Kinsey in Bloomington that August.
Successor to Kinsey
Despite his marriage to Radcliffe alumna Agnes West, Gebhard soon entered into an affair with Alice Martin, Clyde's wife. While, in Gebhard's words, "Kinsey had no objection to interstaff sex," his relationship with Alice began to affect the Martins' marriage, and at Kinsey's behest the two called it off. Kinsey also tried to persuade him to dabble in homosexuality, but Gebhard soon discovered that it "wasn't his cup of tea." Of all of Kinsey's research assistants, Paul Gebhard endured longest at the institute, becoming its director upon Kinsey's death in 1956 and continuing in that role until his retirement in 1982.