Getting Ready for the Deluge

Carl Moore’s and Dorothy Price’s work did not end confusion about the biological nature of masculinity and femininity, nor about the hor­mones themselves. During the decade preceding World War I, scientific in­sights accumulated slowly, but in the postwar era a new phase of research on hormones—later called the ‘‘endocrinological gold rush’’ and the ‘‘golden age of endocrinology’’1—was made possible by interlocking networks of new scientific and political institutions in the United States and England. Once again, the social worlds that provided the context for scientific work are an essential part of the story; in particular, understanding the social context helps us see how our gendered notions about hormones have come to be.

World War I badly disrupted European science. Furthermore, physiolo­gists and biochemists were immersed in the study of proteins. The chemicals used to extract and test proteins, however, did not work on gonadal hor­mones, which, as events would have it, belonged to a class of molecules called steroids—derivatives of cholesterol—(see figure 7.1). It was not until 1914 that organic chemists identified steroids and found ways to extract them from biological material (although biochemists had hit upon lipid extraction ofgo – nad factors a couple of years earlier).2 Gonadal hormones had been defined as chemical messengers, but before 1914 nobody knew how to study them as isolated chemical compounds. Instead, as we’ve seen, their presence could be surmised only through a complex combination of surgery and implantation. One skeptical scientist wrote that researchers in this early period relied on the testing of ‘‘ill-defined extracts on hysterical women and cachexic girls.’’ By the end of World War I, ‘‘The social and scientific hopes of a medical endo­crinology of human sex function and dysfunction had not been fulfilled.’’3

Despite the slow accumulation of scientific information about hormones,

Do sex hormones really exist?. (gender becomes chemical)

figure 7. і: The chemical structure of testosterone, estradiol, and cholesterol. (Source: Alyce Santoro, for the author)

important changes were afoot. Alliances, intrigue, and melodrama began to link the work of biologists such as Frank Lillie with that of psychologists such as Robert Yerkes, philanthropists such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and several stripes of social reformer. These included women who sported the newly minted moniker “feminist,’’4 and (with some double casting) eugenicists, sex­ologists, and physicians. Hormones, represented on paper as neutral chemical formulae, became major players in modern gender politics.

The early twentieth century was an era of profound crossover between social and scientific knowledge, research and application. The new business managerial class looked to scientific wisdom to help make its workers and complex industrial production processes as efficient as possible;5 social re­formers looked to scientific studies for guidance in managing a host of social ills. Indeed, this was the era in which the social sciences—psychology, sociol­ogy, and economics—came into their own, applying scientific techniques to thehuman condition. Practitioners of the so-calledhard sciences, meanwhile, also saw themselves as experts with something to say about social matters, devising scientific solutions for problems ranging from prostitution, divorce, and homosexuality to poverty, inequality, and crime.6

The intertwining biographies of the era’s most passionate social reformers with those of its most prominent scientific researchers point to the complex connections between social and scientific agendas. Consider, for instance, the role that science and scientists played in the lives of some early-twentieth- century feminists and as they formulated their ideas about gender.7 As a young woman, Olive Schreiner, the South African feminist and novelist, had a love affair with Havelock Ellis, one of sexology’s founding fathers. His influence can be found in her well-known 1911 treatise, Women and Labor, in which Schreiner argued that economic freedom for women would lead to greater heterosexual attraction and intimacy.8 Nor was Schreiner the only feminist Ellis affected. From 1913 to 1913 the birth control activist Margaret Sanger sought him out and became his lover, after traveling to Europe to avoid U. S. prosecution for sending birth control literature through the mail, and for de­fending an attempt to blow up the Rockefeller estate in Tarrytown, New York.9 Like Schreiner, and like anarchists and free-love advocates such as Emma Goldman, Sanger promoted birth control by openly linking sexual and economic oppression. And like Goldman, Sanger risked imprisonment by de­fying the U. S. Comstock Laws that banned as obscene the distribution of birth control information and devices.10

Birth control, especially, was a cornerstone of feminist politics. One activ­ist of the period wrote: ‘‘Birth control is an elementary essential in all aspects of feminism. Whether we are the special followers of Alice Paul, or Ruth Law or Ellen Key, or Olive Schreiner, we must all be followers of Margaret Sanger.’’11 And Margaret Sanger strove mightily to influence the research paths ofhormone biologists, hoping that their science could provide salvation for the millions of women forced to give birth too many times under terrible circumstances. Indeed, over the years she secured more than a little institu­tional funding for scientists willing to take on aspects of her research agenda. Part of the story of sex hormones developed in this chapter involves a struggle

Подпись: Medicine Physiology
Подпись: Labor Unrest



r I (sex hormonfA _

J Pharmacy

Control )



V (livestock)




Л ofAmerican

Liberal – Reform

) Eugenics j J


Zlyis. Rockerfel’er^

FIGURE 7.2 : Personal and institutional social worlds. (Source: Alyce Santoro, for the author)

between scientists and political activists to secure one another’s help while holding on to their specific goals—either promoting birth control or further­ing ‘‘pure’’ knowledge about sex hormones.

But even more than the personal channels between activists and scientists, unprecedented partnerships between philanthropist social reformers, social scientists, and government-fostered institutions made possible the develop­ment of new scientific knowledge about gender and hormones (see figure 7.2). In 1910, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., served as a member of a New York City grand jury investigating the ‘‘white slave trade.’’12 Deeply affected by the deliberations, he organized and privately funded the Bureau of Social Hygiene (BSH). Over the following thirty years the BSH gave nearly six million dollars for the ‘‘study, amelioration, and prevention of those social conditions, crimes and diseases which adversely affect the well-being of society, with special ref­erence to prostitution and the evils associated therewith.’’13 Among the many enterprises supported under the bureau’s aegis was the Laboratory of Social Hygiene for the study of female offenders, designed and run by the feminist penologist and social worker Katherine Bement Davis (i860—193^).14

Davis had received a Ph. D. in political science from the University of Chi­cago. Her sociology professors there included Thorstein Veblen and George Vincent, who himself later headed the Rockefeller Foundation.15 In 1901 she
became Superintendent for Women at the newly opened Bedford Hills Refor­matory for Women in New York State. There her pioneering work on female sex offenders drew Rockefeller’s attention. In 1912 he bought land next to the reformatory and established the Laboratory of Social Hygiene. He called Davis ‘‘the cleverest woman I have ever met.’’16 By 1917 she had become gen­eral secretary and a member of the board of directors of the Bureau of Social Hygiene. Her interests extended beyond the problems of criminality, and she used her influence to extend the BSH’s work to include ‘‘normal’’ people, public health and hygiene, and a great deal of basic biological research into the physiology and function of sex hormones.17

But still, the scaffolding that supported the explosion of hormone research during the 1920s was not quite in place. In 1920 the psychologist Earl F. Zinn, a staff member for Dr. Davis’s Bureau of Social Hygiene, proposed an extraor­dinary new effort to understand human sexuality.18 His request for financial support to the National Research Council—the new research arm of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences—came directly to the attention of pioneer psy­chologist Robert M. Yerkes.19 In October 1921, Yerkes convened a group of distinguished anthropologists, embryologists, physiologists, and psycholo­gists, who encouraged the NRC to undertake a broad program in sex research. Attendees noted that ‘‘the impulses and activities associated with sex behavior and reproduction are fundamentally important for the welfare of the individ­ual, the family, the community, the race.’’20 With this urging and complete outside funding from the Bureau of Social Hygiene, the NRC’s Committee for Research in Problems of Sex (CRPS) came into existence.

The new committee’s scientific advisory committee contained Yerkes, the physiologist Walter B. Cannon, Frank R. Lillie, Katherine B. Davis, and a psychiatrist named Thomas W. Salmon. They were ‘‘a little group of earnest people. . . facing a vast realm of ignorance and half-knowledge, scarcely knowing even where or how to begin.’’21 Their initial mission was to ‘‘under­stand sex in its many phases.’’ The strategy was to launch ‘‘a systematic attack from the angles of all related sciences.’’22 Within a year, however, Lillie had hijacked the committee, turning it away from a multidisciplinary approach and toward the study of basic biology.23 Lillie listed the following topics for study, in order of importance: genetic aspects of sex determination, the physi­ology of sex and reproduction, the psychobiology of sex in animals, and, fi­nally, human sexuality, including individual, anthropological, and psychoso­cial aspects. During its first twenty-five years, CRPS funded much of the major research in hormone biology, the anthropology of sexual behavior, ani­mal psychology, and, later, the famed Kinsey studies. Yerkes chaired the com­mittee for its entire time, while Lillie remained a member until 1937.

Lillie and Yerkes turned CRPS toward the support of research on hormone biology, arguing that basic biology was fundamental to the understanding of the complex problems that had originally stimulated Rockefeller to fund the BSH and CRPS. These two scientists, however, were no ivory tower nerds, unaware of or uninfluenced by the major social trends of their time. Indeed, they both shaped and were shaped by prevailing concerns about sexual politics and human sexuality. As head of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Chairman ofthe Department ofZoology at the Uni­versity of Chicago (from 1910 to 1931), Lillie was already a major player in the development of American biology. His work on freemartins placed him in the center of the emerging field of reproductive biology, and he planned to organize biological research at the University Chicago around the fields of embryology and sex research. Lillie intended to unify the various disciplinary strands in his department under a tent of social utility.

In particular, he strongly supported the eugenics movement, which he believed provided a scientific approach to the management of human social ills. Eugenicists warned that the nation’s ‘‘racial stock’’ was endangered by the vast influx of Eastern European immigrants and by the continued presence in the population of former slaves and their descendants. To limit the burden placed on the white middle class by poverty and crime, believed to result from the ‘‘weak heredity’’ of immigrants and darker-skinned peoples, eugenicists advocated controlling the reproduction of the so-called unfit and promoted child-bearing among those thought to represent strong racial stock. A mem­ber of the Eugenics Education Society of Chicago, the general committee of the Second International Eugenics Congress (1923), and the advisory council of the Eugenics Committee of the United States, Lillie explained his views to the University of Chicago student newspaper: if ‘‘our civilization is not to go the way of historical civilizations, a halt must be called to the social conditions that place biological success, the leaving of descendants, in conflict with eco­nomic success, which invites the best intellects and extinguishes their fami­lies.’’ In his plans to build an Institute of Genetic Biology Lillie elaborated on this theme: ‘‘We are at a turning point in the history of human society. . . the populations press on their borders everywhere, and also, unfortunately, the best stock biologically is not everywhere the most rapidly breeding stock. The political and social problems involved are fundamentally problems of ge­netic biology.’’24

Lillie’s eugenics concerns allied him directly with two other activists in the eugenics movement, Margaret Sanger and Robert Yerkes. By the late teens, Sanger had traded in her radical feminist persona for a more conserva­tive image. Sanger’s (and the birth control movement’s) waning interest in women’s rights paralleled their increased rhetoric touting the value of birth control for lowering the birthrate among those seen to be of lesser social value. ‘‘More children from the fit, less from the unfit—that is the chief issue of birth control,’’ Sanger wrote in 1919. Eugenicists wrote regularly for the American Birth Control League’s magazine, the Birth Control Review, while during the 1920s only 4.9 percent of its articles focused on feminist issues.25

Like Lillie, Yerkes was a trained scientist. He had received his Ph. D. in psychology from Harvard in 1902, and for the next ten to fifteen years worked on organisms ranging from invertebrates such as earthworms and fiddler crabs to creatures with warm blood and backbones—including mice, monkeys, and humans. At Harvard, Yerkes crossed paths with Hugo Munsterberg, one of the early founders of industrial psychology, who promoted the idea of a natural hierarchy of merit. In a democracy such as the United States, this meant that social differences must come from inherent biological ones. Yerkes wrote: ‘‘in the United States of America, within limits set by age, sex, and race, persons are equal under the law and may claim their rights as citizens.’’26

In this early period of his work, Yerkes concentrated on measuring those limits. The future of mankind, he felt, ‘‘rests in no small measure upon the development of the various biological and social sciences…. We must learn to measure skillfully every form and aspect of behavior.’’27 In the early twenti­eth century, when psychology was struggling for scientific respectability, Yerkes worked hard to demonstrate what the emerging discipline could offer.28 When World War I came along, he seized the opportunity, convincing the army that it needed psychologists to rank the abilities of all soldiers for further sorting and task assignment. With Lewis M. Terman29 and H. H. God­dard, two other proponents of mental testing, Yerkes turned the IQ test into an instrument that could be applied en masse, even to the many illiterate army recruits. By war’s end, Yerkes had amassed IQ data on 1.75 million men and shown that the tests could be applied to large institutions. In 1919 the Rocke­feller Foundation awarded him a grant to develop a standard National Intelli­gence Test. It sold five hundred thousand copies in its first year.30

CRPS, led by Lillie and Yerkes, was not the only organization focusing attention and money on the problems of hormone biology. Starting in the 1920s, Margaret Sanger and other birth control advocates actively began to recruit research scientists to their cause, in the hope that they could create a technological solution to the personal and social misery brought on by un­wanted pregnancies.31 Sanger enrolled her scientific supporters through the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (which she founded in 1923). Among the members of her professional advisory board were Leon J. Cole, a professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin, who had close associations with

Lillie because of their mutual interest in freemartin research. The freemartin connection also extended to the British researcher F. A. E. Crew, whom Sanger had enlisted to try to develop a safe, effective spermicide.32 Because the mailing of contraceptive information in the United States was illegal, the spermicide research went on in England, but not without the support of yet another private American agency—the Committee on Maternal Health, which obtained funds from the Bureau of Social Hygiene and funneled them to Crew.33 From time to time, Sanger also directly received Rockefeller money for specific projects and conferences.

Thus the personal, institutional, research, financial, and ultimately politi­cal interests of the actors promoting and carrying out research in hormone biology overlapped in intricate ways. During the 1920s, with the backing of this strengthened research apparatus, scientists finally brought the elusive go­nadal secretions under their control. Chemists used abstract notation to de­scribe them as steroid molecules (see figure 7.1). They could classify them as alcohols, ketones, or acids. Yet as it became clearer that hormones played multiple roles in all human bodies, theories linking sex and hormones became more confusing, because the assumptions that hormones were ‘‘gendered’’ were already deeply ingrained. Today, it seems hard to see how asocial chemi­cals contain gender. But if we follow the hormone story from the 1920s until 1940, we can watch as gender became incorporated into these powerful chemicals that daily work their physiological wonders within our bodies.

As this high-powered, well-funded research infrastructure fell into place, the optimism became palpable. ‘‘The future belongs to the physiologist,’’ wrote one physician. Endocrinology opened the door to ‘‘the chemistry of the soul.’’34 Indeed, between 1920 and 1940 hormone researchers enjoyed a heyday. They learned how to distill active factors from testes and ovaries. They devised ways to measure the biological activity of the extracted chemicals, and ultimately, produced pure crystals of steroid hormones and gave them names reflecting their structures and biological functions. Meanwhile, bio­chemists deduced precise chemical structures and formulae to describe the crystallized hormone molecules. As hormone researchers took each step to­ward isolation, measurement, and naming, they made scientific decisions that continue to affect our ideas about male and female bodies. Those judgments, understood as ‘‘the biological truth about chemical sex,’’ were, however, based on preexisting cultural ideas about gender. But the process of arriving at these decisions was neither obvious nor free from conflict. Indeed, by look­ing at how scientists struggled to reconcile experimental data with what they felt certain to be true about gender difference, we can learn more about how hormones acquired sex.

In 1939 CRPS supported the publication of the second edition of a book entitled Sex and Internal Secretions.35 The volume represented much of what had been accomplished since the National Research Council, with Rockefeller support, began funding hormone research in 1923. True to Frank Lillie’s pro­gram, most of this scientific book of 1,000-plus pages covered findings on the chemistry and biology of hormones, describing magnificent feats of discovery.

The collective efforts of hormone researchers seemed potentially to offer some radical ways to think about human sex. Lillie recognized as much.36 ‘‘There is,’’ he wrote in his introductory comments, ‘‘no such biological entity as sex. What exists in nature is a dimorphism. . . into male and female indi­viduals . . . in any given species we recognize a male form and a female form, whether these characters be classed as of biological, or psychological or social orders. Sex is not a force that produces these contrasts. It is merely a name for our total impression of the differences.’’ Sounding like today’s social construction­ists, Lillie reflected: ‘‘It is difficult to divest ourselves of the pre-scientific anthropomorphism. . . and we have been particularly slow in the field of the scientific study of sex-characteristics in divesting ourselves not only of the terminology but also of the influence of such ideas.’’37

Lillie, however, could not follow his own advice. Ultimately he and his colleagues proved unable to abandon the notion that hormones are linked es­sentially to maleness and femaleness. Even as he noted that every individual contained the ‘‘rudiments of all sex characters, whether male or female’’ and reiterated Moore’s arguments against the concept of hormone antagonism, Lillie wrote of unique male and female hormones: ‘‘As there are two sets of sex characters, so there are two sex hormones, the male hormone. . . and the female.’’38 Chapter after chapter in the 1939 edition of Sex and Internal Secretions discusses the surprising findings of ‘‘male’’ hormones in female bod­ies and vice versa, but Lillie never saw this hormonal cross-dressing as a chal­lenge to his underlying notion of a biologically distinct male and female.

Today we still contend with the legacy of what Lillie called ‘‘pre-scientific anthropomorphism.’’ When I searched a computer database of major newspa­pers from February 1998 to February 1999, I found 300 articles mentioning estrogen and 693 discussing testosterone.39 Even more astonishing than the number of articles was the diversity of topics. Articles on estrogen covered subjects ranging from heart disease, Alzheimer’s, nutrition, pain tolerance, immunity, and birth control to bone growth and cancer. Articles on testoster­one covered behaviors such as asking directions (will he or won’t he?), cooper­ation, aggression, hugging, and ‘‘female road rage,’’ as well as a diverse range of medical topics including cancer, bone growth, heart disease, female impo­tence, contraception, and fertility. A quick perusal of recent scientific publi­cations shows that, in addition to my newspaper list, researchers have learned that testosterone and estrogen affect brain, blood cell formation, the circula­tory system, the liver, lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, gastrointestinal function, and gall bladder, muscle, and kidney activities.40 Yet despite the fact that both hormones seem to pop up in all types of bodies, producing all sorts of different effects, many reporters and researchers continue to consider es­trogen the female hormone and testosterone the male hormone.

Do all of these different organ systems deserve to be seen as sex characters by virtue of the fact that they are affected by chemicals that we have labeled sex hormones? Would it not make as much sense to follow the lead of one current research group, which suggests that these are ‘‘not simply sex ste­roid^]?’’41 Why not redefine these molecules as the ubiquitous and powerful growth hormones they are? Indeed, why were these hormones not seen in this light from the very beginning? By 1939, scientists knew of the myriad effects of steroid hormones. But the scientists who first learned how to measure and name the testis and ovarian factors entwined gender so intricately into their conceptual framework that we still have not managed to pull them apart.