It wasn’t until the turn of the last century that scientists began to examine seriously the idea that chemical secretions regulated the body’s physiology. Although in the 1890s the British physiologist Edward Schafer interpreted the results of gonadectomy (the removal of either the testis or the ovary) in terms of nervous function, over the next few years, he and his students began to reevaluate.20 In 190^ Ernest Henry Starling, Schafer’s successor as Professor of Physiology at the University College in London, coined the word hormone (from the Greek ‘‘I excite or arouse’’). He defined hormones as chemicals that “have to be carried from the organ where they are produced to the organ which they affect, by means of the blood stream.’’21

British physiologists gave birth to and embraced the hormone concept dur­ing the years 190^ to 1908. Their scientific issue (especially the secretions

produced by the sex glands, the ovaries and testes) arrived during a period when the populace of the United States and many European nations had begun to reevaluate traditional constructions of gender and sexuality.22 New debates opened up over the rights of homosexuals and women—while what historians have called a ‘‘crisis in masculinity’’ developed in both Europe and the United States.23 At the same time, events such as the founding of the field of scientific sexology; Sigmund Freud’s early years, as he moved from theories of neurol­ogy to the invention of psychoanalytic psychiatry; and the insistence, espe­cially in the United States, of an experimental approach to the biological sci­ences developed in the context of these gender struggles.24 The attempt to define and understand the role sex hormones played in human physiology was no exception. From the beginning, such research efforts both reflected and contributed to competing definitions of masculinity and femininity, thus helping to shape the implications of such definitions for the social and eco­nomic roles to be played by the men and women of the twentieth century.

What were some of the elements visible in the new debates about mascu­linity and femininity? The historian Chandak Sengoopta writes that turn-of – the-century Vienna experienced ‘‘a crisis of gender… a moment when the boundaries and norms of male and female shifted, disintegrated and seemed to intertwine.’’25 In Central Europe this crisis also took on racial overtones, as social commentators debated the Jewish Question, depicting Jewish men as both effeminate and as sexual predators.26 In this same period, the German physician and reformer Magnus Hirschfeld and his colleagues founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, which repeatedly petitioned the Reich­stag to repeal the national sodomy law.27 Male homosexuals, they argued, were natural sexual variants, not criminals. Women’s rights and the emer­gence of homosexuality were no less salient in England and the United States.28 Table 6.1 lists two decades of events that wove together the social movements of feminism and homosexual activism with the emergence of the scientific study of sex and the idea of sex hormones.

The Biopolitics of Feminism and Homosexuality At the turn of the century, social commentators tried to extract political les­sons from scientific knowledge about human development.29 In 1903, for ex­ample, a Viennese philosophy student named Otto Weininger published an influential book entitled Sex and Character that drew on the ideas ofnineteenth – century embryology to develop a comprehensive theory of masculinity, femi­ninity, and homosexuality. Weininger believed that even after their distinctive anatomies emerged, males and females each contained both male and female sex-determining substances (plasms) in their cells. The proportion of these

TABLE 6.1 Thinking About Sex and Sexuality at the Turn of the Centurya


1889 Geddes and Thomson publish The Evolution of Sex! b

1892 Richard von Krafft-Ebing publishes Psychopathia Sexualis, with especial reference to Contrary Sexual Instinct: A medico-legal study.

1893 Oscar Wilde tried publicly for homosexual conductc

1896 Havelock Ellis begins work on his Studies in the Psychology of Sexd

1897 Magnus Hirschfeldfounds the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee

1898 Havelock Ellis’s book Sexual Inversion seized and prosecuted for being lewd and scandalous

1903 Otto Weininger publishes Sex and Character, which elaborates a complex biological theory of sexe

1904 Endocrinologist Eugen Steinach studies the effects of sex hormones on animal behavior

1903 Swiss psychiatrist August Forel publishes La Questionne Sexuelle, advocating marriage for same-sex couplesf

a. Based on information obtained from Wissenschaft 1999; see also Bullough 1994.

b. Geddes and Thomson 1893. This book provided a definitive account of biological variability in systems of sexual reproduction and accounted for the evolution of sex in terms that many still use today. The book focuses primarily on the nonhuman biological work, yet became a cornerstone for thinking about the evolution of sex in humans.

c. While ‘‘the sensational trial of Oscar Wilde in 1893 for homosexual conduct created wide public interest in sex inversion and called forth a considerable literature’’ (Aberle and Corner J933,p. 3), then as now scientific interest in female homosexuality lagged behind (Havelock Ellis’s work on homosexuality devoted no more than one-third ofits pages to lesbianism, which it linked to prostitution). But during the first two decades of the twentieth century, lesbianism nevertheless became a public issue.

d. [The original U. S. publication date for Ellis was 1901. I quote from a 1928 edition.] Ellis’s tomes on human sexuality set a high scientific standard for the period; he was dispassionate and nonjudgmental about the wide variation in human sexual behavior. For more on the origins of modern sexology, see Jackson 1987; Birken 1988; Irvine 1990a, 1990b; Bullough 1994; and Katz 1993.

e. Sengoopta 1992, 1996. For the influence of this book in England, see Porter and Hall 1993.

f. Forel 1903.

TABLE 6.1 (continued)


1903 Sigmund Freud publishes Three Essays on the Theory of Sex

1906 American feminist Emma Goldman, an advocate of birth control and women’s rights, founds the magazine Mother Earth

1907 German physician Iwan Bloch calls for the scientific study of sexg

1908 Magnus Hirschfeld edits the first issue of the Journal of Sexology

1909 Edward Carpenter publishes The Intermediate Sex: A Study of Some Transitional Types in Men and Womenh

1910 British physiologist Francis Marshall publishes first comprehensive book on The Physiology ofReproduction[4] [5]

1912 Ovarian hormones extracted using lipid solvents^

1913 British endocrinologist Walter Heape publishes Sex Antagonismik plasms differed from one individual to the next, thus explaining the wide range of masculinity and femininity observed among humans. Homosexual men had almost equal proportions of masculine and feminine plasms.30 In England, Edward Carpenter published similar ideas: ‘‘Nature, it might ap­pear, in mixing elements which go to compose each individual, does not al­ways keep her two groups of ingredients—which represent the sexes—prop­erly apart. . . wisely, we must think—for if a severe distinction of elements were always maintained the two sexes would soon drift into far latitudes and absolutely cease to understand each other.’’31 Weininger thought that women’s drive for emancipation emanated from the masculine elements in their bod­ies. He linked this masculinity with lesbian desire, using talented women such as Sappho and Georges Sand to exemplify his claims. But even the most tal­ented women still had a great deal of female plasm in their bodies, making full equality with men impossible. Thus built into this theory is the a priori assumption that all striving for public life, talent, and achievement by defini­tion comes from masculine plasm. At best, women could achieve only par­tial manhood.32

In the United States, writers also described women’s desire to vote as a biological phenomenon. James Weir, writing in the magazine The American Naturalist, used evolutionary arguments. Primitive societies, he noted, were matriarchies. Giving women the right to vote and hold public office would bring about a return to matriarchy. Women have this atavistic desire to vote for a simple reason. Feminists are virtually all viragints—domineering, ag­gressive, and psychologically abnormal women. They are evolutionary throw­backs. Some have ‘‘the feelings and desires of a man,’’ but even the most mas­culine among them can function only by emotion, not logic. Weir saw ‘‘in the establishment of equal rights, the first step toward the abyss of immoral hor­rors so repugnant to our cultivated ethical tastes—the matriarchate.’’33

Of course not everyone, and especially not all scientists, opposed women’s emancipation. But the social models of gender both fed and emerged from two sources of nineteenth-century biology: the embryological and the evolu­tionary. The idea that the public sphere was by definition masculine lay so deep in this period’s metaphysical fabric that it did not seem surprising to argue that women who aspired to the Rights of Man had also, by definition, to be masculine.34 Whether female masculinity was an evolutionary throwback or an embryological anomaly was a matter for debate.35 But it was this context in which inherent sex difference—and female inferiority—was taken as a matter of unquestionable fact that shaped the scientific investigation of the internal secretions of ovaries and testes.