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Kinsey | Timeline

Alfred Kinsey's Life, and Sex Research and Social Policies in America

The Kinsey Institute

Congress passes the Comstock Law, defining contraceptives as obscene material and making it illegal for them to be sent through the U.S. mail or transported from state to state. At the time, the United States is the only Western nation to criminalize birth control.

June 23: Alfred Charles Kinsey is born in Hoboken, New Jersey, the first of three children of Alfred Seguine Kinsey and Sarah Charles Kinsey.

The Kinsey family moves from gritty Hoboken to the suburban town of South Orange, New Jersey.

Young Alfred becomes fascinated with nature, spending afternoons and weekends rambling through the hills and marshes around South Orange, watching birds and collecting plant and bug specimens.

Kinsey summers at a YMCA camp at Lake Wawayanda, New Jersey, his first experience of summer camp life. He will repeat it as a camper and later a counselor into the early years of his marriage.

Kinsey joins the Boy Scouts. He will become an Eagle Scout in 1913.

Kinsey graduates from high school the valedictorian of his class. The official "class prophecy" describes him as the "second Darwin." That fall, he enrolls in Hoboken's Stevens Institute of Technology, where his father teaches shop practice.

Kinsey withdraws from Stevens, severs ties with his father, and transfers to Bowdoin College in Maine, where he majors in biology.

Kinsey graduates from Bowdoin. That fall, he enters the Bussey Institute, Harvard's Graduate School of Applied Biology, where he will specialize in entomology and later write his dissertation on gall wasps.

April 6: President Woodrow Wilson declares war on Germany. By June, conscription will begin, requiring all male citizens to register for the U.S. Army.

Congress amends the Espionage Act by passing the Sedition Act, making it a criminal offense to express any opinions that contradict or slander the United States government.

Kinsey receives his Doctor of Science from Harvard. He is granted a one-year traveling fellowship with which he travels south and west across the country, collecting more gall wasps.

Kinsey moves to Bloomington, Indiana, to take up a teaching position as an assistant professor of entomology at Indiana University. He meets Clara Bracken McMillan, his future wife.

June 3: Alfred and Clara are married. On their honeymoon they go to Niagara Falls, visit Kinsey's parents in New Jersey, and go hiking in the White Mountains of New England. They will have four children together: Donald (born 1922, died 1926), Anne (born 1924), Joan (born 1925), and Bruce (born 1928).

Kinsey publishes a high-school textbook, An Introduction to Biology. Notably in the wake of the Scopes "monkey" trial of 1925, Kinsey comes out strongly in favor of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.

Kinsey takes entomology graduate students on extended field trips to gather gall wasps. He seizes the opportunity to engage his students in conversations about sex. He finds himself attracted to his favorite graduate student, Ralph Voris.

Charles Lindbergh becomes the first aviator to fly non-stop across the Atlantic.

Kinsey publishes his magnum opus on gall wasps, The Gall Wasp Genus Cynips: A Study in the Origin of Species. The tome describes 93 species of Cynips -- 48 of which are new.

The American economy hits an all-time low when the stock market crashes, wiping out many people's savings. The new decade will bring unemployment and widespread poverty during the hard years of the Great Depression.

Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany. In a few short years, he will force Europe toward a second world war with his aggressive military actions and systematic persecution of Jews.

Destructive dust storms ravage the American heartland. The drought is the worst ever, covering more than 75 percent of the country and affecting 27 states severely.

Kinsey publishes a second volume on gall wasps, The Origin of Higher Categories in Cynips. The same year, he delivers his first academic paper on sex, entitled "Biological Aspects of Some Social Problems," to an Indiana University faculty discussion group.

In response to student requests for sex education, Kinsey starts Indiana University's marriage course. The same year, he starts taking students' sexual histories, the first of more than 18,000 that he and later his research assistants are to gather.

Kinsey travels to Chicago on several occasions to interview homosexuals. On these trips, Kinsey has sexual encounters with other men.

Controversy surrounding the marriage course forces Kinsey to choose between teaching and research. He chooses research, and applies to the National Research Council's Committee for Research in Problems of Sex for a grant to support his work. In 1941, the committee awards him $1,600, launching a stormy, decade-long relationship with the committee and its principal benefactor, the Rockefeller Foundation.

Clyde Martin, an Indiana University alumnus, joins Kinsey's research staff. By this time, the research project is generating so much data that Kinsey uses punch cards and mechanical calculating machines to analyze the results.

December 8: Following a surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S. enters World War II.

Wardell Pomeroy, a prison psychologist for the state of Indiana, joins Kinsey's research staff.

May: A week after Adolf Hitler commits suicide, Germany surrenders to the Allies.

August 14: Less than a week after the U.S. drops two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan formally surrenders, ending World War II.

After the war ends and American veterans return home, women who have filled a broad variety of wartime workforce roles begin to return to "pink collar" secretarial or clerical jobs. The prevailing ideal for women emphasizes home and family; the Baby Boom begins.

Paul Gebhard, a Harvard-trained anthropologist, joins Kinsey's research staff.

Kinsey's Indiana University-based Institute for Sex Research is formally incorporated.

January: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male is published, to rave reviews and much shock. The title sells 200,000 copies in the first two months, and will hit the top of the bestseller lists by June. Scholarly reviews criticize Kinsey's work on a number of fronts. The most serious criticism is that his samples are not representative of the general population.

Kinsey hires a photographer to film volunteers and members of his research staff engaging in sexual activity.

Kinsey sues the U.S. Customs Service for permission to import erotica for research. The dispute will drag on, and remain unresolved on his death in 1956.

At the invitation of Committee on Research in Problems of Sex and the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Statistical Association convenes a panel of statisticians to review the results of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. The panel dismisses some of the scientific criticisms of Kinsey's work, but upholds others. Kinsey pressures the panel to mitigate their verdict, and in June 1952 the panel comes out with a watered-down, largely favorable report.

Dean Rusk, newly appointed president of the Rockefeller Foundation (and later secretary of state in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations), becomes concerned about divisions that Kinsey's work is causing among the foundation's officers and trustees.

Summer: The Reece Committee, formed by the House of Representatives and chaired by Republican congressman B. Carroll Reece of Tennessee, begins investigating nonprofit organizations for possible connections with the Communist Party.

August: Alfred Kinsey is featured on the cover of Time magazine.

September: Kinsey's second opus, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female is published. It causes a larger stir than the male volume. Many reviewers lambast it as an "indictment of American womanhood."

January: The press reports that Kinsey and the Rockefeller Foundation have become a target of the Reece Committee. Foundation president Dean Rusk pulls the plug on Kinsey's research grant.

Citing Kinsey, the American Law Institute publishes its Model Penal Code, with no ban against consensual, adult homosexual and anal sex. Many states adopt the model code, effectively legalizing homosexual and anal sex.

August 25: Alfred Kinsey dies of congestive heart failure. His wife Clara will live until 1982.

The Food and Drug Administration approves the first birth control pill.

The President's Commission on the Status of Women is established, chaired by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The commission will take two years to publish its Peterson Report, documenting workplace discrimination against women and making recommendations for child care, maternity leave, and equal opportunity for working women.

William Masters and Virginia Johnson publish another milestone in sex research, Human Sexual Response, in which they define four phases of human sexual response: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.

Hippies celebrate the sexual revolution and the age of "free love" with the motto, "make love, not war," as 100,000 young people gather in San Francisco for the Summer of Love.

The Supreme Court overturns state obscenity laws in Memoirs v. Massachusetts, allowing publication of John Cleland's 1750 novel, Fanny Hill.

Less than a decade after the first birth control pill's approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, over 12.5 million women worldwide are taking the medication for contraceptive purposes.

Masters and Johnson publish Human Sexual Inadequacy, in which they offer thoughts on the treatment of frigidity in women, impotence and premature ejaculation in men, and other sexual problems. They will subsequently open a clinic in St. Louis to treat sexual dysfunction.

March 23: The U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in Eisenstadt v. Baird that a state cannot stand in the way of distribution of birth control to a single person, strikes down Massachusetts law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives to unmarried women.

The Supreme Court legalizes abortion in the landmark decision Roe v. Wade. The court bases its decision primarily on the tenet that a woman's right to privacy extends to reproductive matters. The decision will spur controversy and a call by anti-abortion activists to overturn it.

The rise of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a devastating disease that can be transmitted sexually, helps energize forces of sexual conservatism, who deem it God's revenge on homosexuals.

Rising sexual conservatism begins to manifest itself in social policy when the U.S. Congress declines to fund sex research, and in the efforts of individual legislators to bar funding for various National Institutes of Health-approved studies of human sexual behavior, including many related to public health. Abortion foes continue to attack Roe v. Wade.

The Food and Drug Administration approves Pfizer's Viagra as the first prescription drug for the treatment of male impotence, now known as "erectile dysfunction." By 2003, Viagra will generate $1.9 billion in annual sales for Pfizer.

In Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court voids state sodomy laws, overturning an earlier Supreme Court ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick(1986). Lawrence's attorneys cite Kinsey's statistics on homosexual sex.



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