Wilson Collection: Romantic Friendships/Joseph Dennie and Roger Vose

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(A copy of the journal, The Port Folio, 1803, edited by Joseph Dennie)

Romantic Friendships

What are called romantic friendships were common in the 19th-century. These same-sex relationships were aided by the so-called social “spheres” that regulated gender roles and often kept males and females apart.[1]

Officially, romantic friendships were “pure” and chaste (not lustful or sexual), exemplifying the Victorian concept of “true love.”[2][3] They allowed intense emotional, physical, and spiritual same-sex intimacy marked by fluid expressions of affection. But as historians point out, the “overlap of the romantic, erotic, and physical” may now make these vintage relationships hard to define.[4]

Joseph Dennie and Roger Vose

Joseph Dennie formed intense relationships with his Harvard college buddies. One close friend was Roger Vose. In 1790, Dennie wrote Vose, saying “The only wish I form is, that fortune, contenting herself with keeping us so long asunder, would now wheel about & suffer you to live & study with me at Groton [and that] for years to come one might be our table & one our bed.”[5] Vose replied, “A prospect of resting near Dennie for life would be very agreeable. Agreeable? It would be heavenly.”[6]

Dennie edited and, as “Oliver Oldschool, Esq.,” contributed to "The Port Folio".[7] Pages of that literary publication were populated with discussions about male-to-male friendship.



  1. David Deitcher, Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together, 1840-1918 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2001), 51.
  2. Deitcher, 96.
  3. Jonathan Ned Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality, with a new preface (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 44.
  4. John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1988), 121.
  5. The History Project, compiler, Improper Bostonians (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), 34.
  6. History, 34.
  7. William Warland Clapp, Joseph Dennie: Editor of “The Port Folio,” and Author of “The Lay Preacher” (Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, 1880), 33, accessed October 19, 2012, http://books.google.com/books? id=njgRAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=port&f=false.

To return to "Exhibit contents" links, click:

Rich Wilson: Aspects of Queer Existence in 19th-Century America

See also:

Parkman's "Romantic friendships", 1846

Alexander Hamilton to John Laurens: 1779-1783

Beginnings: Attempting a Lesbian History Project

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