FBI and Homosexuality: 1930-1939

1930s: FDR "knew about" Hoover
Ronald Kessler reports the "assertion by Elliot Roosevelt (son of President Franklin D. and Eleanor) that his father knew about Hoover’s homosexuality in the 1930s but did not feel it was “grounds for removing him [from his directorship of the FBI] . . . so long as his abilities were not impaired.”

Potter, "Queer Hoover," page 372, citing Ronald Kessler, The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI, (St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1st edition July 13, 2003), pages 108–11, 43.

1930, August 16
Hoover creates for Clyde Tolson the new post of Assistant Director of FBI for Personnel and Administration.

1933, July 30: "a Y.M.C.A. secretary"
J. Edgar Hoover is appointed director of a new Division of Investigation which would include the Bureau of Investigation, and the Prohibition Bureau of the U.S. Attorney General's Office.

Newsweek magazine noted that in light of Hoover's activities as Palmer's assistant during the raids on reds, "some experienced Washington observers express astonishment" at Hoover's appointment as director of the new Division. Hoover's manner was described as less that of a cop than that "of a Y.M.C.A. secretary."

Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, (NY: W.W. Norton, 1991), page 158, note 13.

Describing Hoover's manner as that of "a Y.M.C.A. secretary" is a coded dig at his masculinity and indirectly at his heterosexuality. Compared with a policeman, a secretary (meaning a leader) of the Young Men's Christian Association was often seen as relatively lacking in aggressive masculinity and thus in heterosexual potency.

As a same-sex institution in which young men met young men, the YMCA may also have been associated with homosexuality in the public's mind. See John Donald Gustav-Wrathall, Take the Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).


Ray Tucker, "Hist! Who's That?" Collier's, August 19, 1933, pages 15, 49.

1933, August 19: "walks with a mincing step"
Ray Tucker, the Washington D.C. Bureau Chief of Collier's magazine writes a critical article about the FBI:

In appearance Mr. Hoover looks utterly unlike the story-book sleuth. He is short, fat, businesslike, and walks with a mincing step. His black hair, swarthy skin and collegiate haircut make him look younger than thirty-eight, but heavy, horn-rimmed spectacles give him an air of age and authority. He dresses fastidiously, with Eleanor blue as the favorite color for the matched shades of tie, handkerchief and socks. A little pompous, he rides in an expensive limousine even if only to a nearby self-service cafeteria."
Quoted in Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover, pages 158-159.

For the use of the term "mincing" in New York City, in 1842, to refer to effeminate men who desired sex with men see Jonathan Ned Katz's Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality (pages 49 and 357 note 29).

Katz also sites another similar reference to "mincing" dating to January 5, 1892, in New York City (page 290). 

Katz also refers to a 1933 reference to "mincing" in George Chauncey, Gay New York (page 67). 

For the use of the term "mincing" to denote homosexual men in Seattle, Washington, in 1964, see http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/queen-city-comes-out/pioneer-square/1950s

The reference to "Eleanor blue" associates Hoover with a feminine name, thus questioning his masculinity. As an extra dig, "Eleanor blue" also associates the conservative, Republican Hoover with the first name of the new Democratic president's wife. In addition, as researcher Christopher Elias has noted, the newspapers had coined the term "Eleanor blue" for the color of the dress that F.D.D's wife Eleanor had worn to his innauguration in March. "Eleanor blue" was actually lavender or purple, color terms used to designate homosexuals and homosexuality.

Christopher Elias, "Archives of Desire: A Lavender Reading of J. Edgar Hoover, Notches, July 30, 2015, accessed September 29, 2015 from http://notchesblog.com/2015/07/30/archives-of-desire-a-lavender-reading-of-j-edgar-hoover/  Research request: Documentation of lavender and purple being used around 1933 to designate homosexuals and homosexuals.

Tucker adds, later in his essay:

"at one time or another the bureau's files have contained reports on such prominent Americans as Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, the late Senator Thomas J. Walsh, Senator Burton K. Wheeler, Senator William E. Borah, Dean Roscoe Pound, Prof. Felix Frankfurter, Prof. Zechariah Chafeee Jr., Frank P. Walsh and John L Lewis."
Research request: Were there homosexual associations or rumors about any of those people? Were there gender deviance rumors?

Historian Curt Gentry reports:

Less than two weeks after the Collier's article appeared, a Washington gossip columnist inquired if anyone had noticed that since the Tucker charge "the Hoover stride has grown noticeably longer and more vigorous."
Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover, page 159. Research request: see notes 15 and 16 in Gentry for more about Hoover's perceived masculinity.

The Bureau of Investigation is renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover, p. 113.

1935, June 10
Photo Hoover and Tolson. Caption: 6/10/1935-Washington, D.C.- J. Edgar Hoover (wearing hat), head of the Department of Justice, is pictured here attending the Frankie Klick-Tony Canzoneri fight. Hoover, pleased with the work of his "G Men" who broke the Weyerhauser kidnaping with two arrests, is pictured with Clyde A. Tolson (hat in lap), Assistant Director of the department.

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: BE052352. Date Photographed: June 10, 1935.

1935, November 19
Photo Hoover and Tolson. Caption: "Clyde A. Tolson, assistant director, and John Edgar Hoover, director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice."

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: VV7769. Date Photographed: November 19, 1935

Photo Hoover and Tolson. Cption: 1936--J. Edgar Hoover (LEFT) and Clyde Tolson." 

Note Identical hats and suits. Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: BE027364

1936, April 28
Photo including Hoover and Tolson. Caption: The little matter of dividing the reward of $25,000 in the Lindbergh kidnapping will probably be referred to the New Jersey Court of Chancery. This was announced today (April 28) by Attorney General David T. Wilentz, after a conference of New York City, Federal and New Jersey Police officials in the office of Police Commissioner Valentine, of New York. One point was definitely settled by the conferees; i.e., that no member of the police departments of New York, New Jersey, or of the Federal Department of Justice, will be permitted to claim, or accept any of the money. Those who attended the conference are pictured, left to right: H. Norman Schwartzkopf, of the New Jersey State Police; Anthony M. Hauck, Jr., Hunterdon County, NJ prosecutor; Clyde Tolson, Director of Personnel of the Department of Justice; David T. Wilentz, Attorney general of New Jersey; J. Edgar Hoover.

Corbis Images. Stock Photo ID: U770417INP

1936, May 1: Alvin Karpis and "the 'queer talk' about Hoover"
When criminal Alvin Karpis was caught by FBI this "pretty much ended the 'queer' talk" about Hoover, according to Louis Nichols.

Paul Maccabee, Paul. John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks Tour Of Crime And Corruption In St Paul 1920-1936 (Minnesota Historical Society Press, August 15, 1995), page 263, citing Louis Nichols as quoted by Curt Gentry.

During Alvin Karpis's arrest, according to Karpis's nephew Albert Grooms:

Alvin told Hoover: 'You're a big, brave S.O. B., you let those agents do all the work, and you take all the credit. What makes me mad is that the number one queer in the FBI captured me." H. boiled and told those guys to get Karpis up to St. Paul: Alvin had embarrassed Hoover in front of his own FBI crew!

Paul Maccabee, John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks Tour Of Crime And Corruption In St Paul 1920-1936 (Minnesota Historical Society Press, August 15, 1995), citing Curt Gentry, OutHistory Research Request: page?. Does Maccabee report the date of Albert Grooms testimony?

The FBI is said to have claimed that while Karpis was a fugitive he sent a letter to Hoover threatening to kill the director. Alvin Karpis's nephew, Albert Grooms, said:

"The letter [Karpis sent Hoover] said that Hoover was as queer as a three-dollar bill. Alvin and Ma [Barker] laughed and laughed about that letter. Alvin said, 'Just imagine how that queer blew his stack.'" Asked in 1994 to produce a copy of Karpis's letter, the FBI could not.

Paul Maccabee, John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks Tour Of Crime And Corruption In St Paul 1920-1936 (Minnesota Historical Society Press, August 15, 1995), citing Curt Gentry. Research request: pages in Gentry?

1936, May 8: "Mr. Hoover was in a gay mood"
An Associated Press report, printed in The New York Times (May 6, 1936, p. 8) is headed: "G-Men Get Two Kidnappers." The story included: "Mr. Hoover was in a gay mood as he greeted reporters waiting outside his office after his return from Cleveland this afternoon."

For historical documentation of the term "gay" used as code for "homosexual" see Noel Coward's song "Green Carnation" quoted in B. Day Noel Coward: Complete Lyrics (1998), p. 114 column 3: "Art is our inspiration, And as we are the reason for the ‘Nineties’ being gay, We all wear a green carnation."

In the 1938 film script for "Bringing Up Baby" by D. Nichols and H. Wilde (final revision), page 35: "David‥comes on‥.in negligee‥. Aunt: Why are you wearing these clothes?‥ David: Because I just went gay, all of a sudden." OutHistory research request: full citation to last source? Research request: full, best citations to all sources?

1936 June 21: "Hoover walks with a rather mincing step, almost feminine."
A feature on Hoover in the Chicago Tribune reports that "Hoover walks with a rather mincing step, almost feminine."

Walter Trohan, "Chief of the G-Men — Record of His Career," Chicago Tribune, June 21, 1936. Cited by Nash, Citizen Hoover (1972), page 35 of Chapter 4, "The Gangbusters." Research request: full info in this book on Hoover's distrust of women and his early male friendships. On Hoover mincing see above: 1933, August 19

1936, July 12
Photo Hoover and Tolson: Caption: FBI Officials Capture Alvin Karpis. (L-R) FBI officials W.R. Galvin, E.J. Connelley, Director J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson and Dwight Brantley participated in the apprehension of renowned criminal Alvin Karpis in New Orleans.

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: 42-21707342. Date Photographed: July 12, 1936.

1936, August 18
Photo, Hoover and Tolson: Caption: J. Edgar Hoover, Chief G-Man (right) and his right-hand man, Clyde Tolson, snapped at ringside as they attended the Louis-Sharkey fight, at the Yankee Stadium in New York City, August 18.

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: U360070ACME. Note Tolson's left hand.

1936, December 27
A ten year old child, Charles Mattson, was kidnapped on this day, held for ransom, and some days later brutally murdered. The case got national press attention, with many references to the child as a "victim of a degenerate," a term that included homosexuals among "sex" and "sexual perverts," "sexual degenerates," and  "sexual psychopaths." See next: 1937.

Douglas M. Charles, Hoover's War on Gays: Exposing the FBI's "Sex Deviates" Program (Lawrence: KS: University Press of Kansas, September 18, 2015), page 22.

1937, January 3
On January 3 the Associated Press distributed a story that FBI agents were on the lookout for a suspect in the Mattson child murder case.

Douglas M. Charles, Hoover's War on Gays, p. 25.

One immediate result of the murder of Charles Mattson was that the FBI's monitoring of homosexual activity began this year. It continued, as far as we know, through 1977. This is indicated by FBI File 105-34074 (1937-1977) noted for containing information on the subject of "sex offenders." This file was destroyed after Hoover's death.

Douglas M. Charles, Hoover's War on Gays, pp. 32, 37; Athan Theoharis, From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover. Ivan R Dee, July 1, 1991, p. 4.

On January 11, 1937 the dead, brutalized body of Charles Mattson was discovered.

Douglas M. Charles, Hoover's War on Gays, p. 23. 

On January 12, 1937 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt commented on the "ghastly" murder of  Charles Mattson.

Douglas M. Charles, Hoover's War on Gays, p. 27.

In September 1937 the Washington Times reports the story of a man who admitted murdering two ten year old boys in New Hampshire.

Douglas M. Charles, Hoover's War on Gays, p.28

On September 26, 1937 J. Edgar Hoover publishes "War on the Sex Criminal." It appeared in the New York Herald Tribune, September 26, 1937. and in the Los Angeles Times on the same date. Hoover warns the public about "known perverts" and the "sex fiend."

Douglas M. Charles, Hoover's War on Gays, p. 28. Cited by Philip Jenkins in Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America (2004), page 252. Research request: copy of Hoover article. 

1937, March 3
Photo, Hoover and Tolson. Caption: Photo shows some of the Federal Agents who are in Miami, Florida, to set up a new bureau of the department as they recently relaxed in the sun, while enjoying a game of backgammon. Left to right are J. Edgar Hoover, Chief of the Department; Clyde Tolson, Assistant Director of the FBI; and, standing, Guy Hottel, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Division.

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: U384154ACME

1937, June 22
Photo, Hoover and Tolson. Caption: J. Edgar Hoover (right), chief G-man, with his assistant, Clyde Tolson, as they attended the Louis-Braddock heavyweight championship fight in Chicago, June 22.

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: U399498ACME.

J. Edgar Hoover publishes Persons in Hiding (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1938). See next: 1938, February 13

ASIN: B000VJZM30 CHECK CONTENT. Research request: See contents page and especially chapter: "My Boy Is Different". Material about sexuality and gender? Who, specifically, were the persons in hiding?

On February 13, 1938 Robert Van Gelder reviews Hoover's Persons in Hiding. "J. Edgar Hoover Discusses Crime and Criminals." New York Times, February 13, 1938.

1938, April
Photo, Hoover and Tolson. Appoximate date: Photo: Caption: J. Edgar Hoover is seen here with Clyde Tolson at the KFS version of Hellzapoppin, at the Winter Garden. 

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: U875304INP.

1938, June 6
Photo Hoover and Tolson: Caption: 6/6/1938- FL: J. Edgar Hoover and aide (later presumed to be his lover) Clyde Tolson, to direct the hunt for the kidnapper of 5 year old James B. Cash, Jr.

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: BE034390.[12]

1938, December 15
Photo Hoover and Tolson. Caption: 12/15/1938-Miami Beach, FL: L to r Guy Hottell, special agent of FBI; J. Edgar Hoover, Chief of the FBI. and Clyde Tolson, Assistant to Hoover in pursuit in [of?] sunshine. Corbis Images: Second version same photo shoot: Original caption:Miami, Florida: J. Edgar Hoover (center) combines business with pleasure on a recent trip to FL. He is shown with two of his Aides, Guy Hottell, (left) special agent of the Washington FBI. office, and Clyde Tolson (right), Hoover's assistant.

Stock Photo ID: BE027691. Date Photographed: December 15, 1938

Photo, Hoover and Tolson: Caption: J. Edgar Hoover and his assistant Clyde Tolson sitting in beach lounge chairs. 1939 (publication date).

Publication:Los Angeles Daily News. Source:Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library. Author: Uncredited photographer for Los Angeles Daily News. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hoover_%26_Tolson.jpg

1939, February 10
Persons in Hiding (film, 1939). Directed by Louis King. Writing credits: J. Edgar Hoover (book "Persons in Hiding") William R. Lipman, (screenplay) and Horace McCoy (screenplay).

Accessed September 2, 2015 from: IMDB. Research request: Anything about sex perverts in this film?

1939, June 28
Photo, Hoover and Tolson: Caption: Clyde Tolson (left) of the Department of Justice, and chief G-Man, J. Edgar Hoover, as they attended the Louis-Galento title fight at the Yankee Stadium, June 28.

Corbis Images. Stock Photo ID: U510040ACME.

Photo Hoover and Tolson: Clyde A. Tolson, J. Edgar Hoover, and friends (l to r) relax on the water. [Hoover's hand over Tolson's shoulder.]

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: NA013085

Photo Hoover and Tolson: John Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson.

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: 42-21707351. Date Photographed: Unknown

Photo Hoover and Tolson Stock Photo ID: NA013089 Photo: Caption: J. Edgar Hoover relaxes with his friend Clyde A. Tolson. [Fishing, shirts off.]

Corbis Images: Stock Photo ID: NA013089

Photo Hoover and Tolson. Caption: Clyde Tolson and J. Edgar Hoover is shown here arriving at the U.S. Supreme Court Building.

Corbis Images, no date: Stock Photo ID: U953892INP