Westermarck's "Homosexual Love," 1908

The year 1908 saw the publication of one of the major early documented historical surveys in English on worldwide manifestations of homosexuality--the Finnish philosopher and sociologist Edward Westermarck's chapter on "Homosexual Love" in volume II of his two-volume book on The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas.[1]

In that chapter, he says: "In America homosexual customs have been observed among a great number of native tribes" (p. 456; see note 3 for a list of original sources, pp. 456-57).

This Finnish scholar, a professor at the University of London, was one of the earliest writers to study the varieties of same sex relations, including a summary and listing of early references to male homosexuality among the Native peoples of what is now the United States, and a brief comment on Lesbianism.

Westermarck lived for many years in Tangier, studying Moroccan culture at first hand. According to anthropologist Orner C. Stewart, Westermarck's autobiographical Memories of My Life: "allow for the conclusion that he himself enjoyed homosexual attraction for various males, and he describes living and traveling with male companions. Furthermore there is a tradition passed on orally in professional anthropology that Westermarck was a practicing homosexual."[2]

If so, Westermarck's work represents one of the early English-language attempts by a homosexual to study, present, and repossess the history of his own people.


Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976) pg. 319-320.

  1. Edward Westermarck, The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas, 2 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1917), vol. 2, p. 456-489.
  2. Orner C. Stewart, "Homosexuality among the American Indians and Other Native Peoples of the World," Mattachine Review, vol. 6, no. 2 (1960), p. 17. A few brief sentences in Dr. A. F. Hrdlicka's report of 1908 on "Physical and Medical Observations Among the Indians of the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico" reveals -more about the difficulties and disinterest of a white researcher than it does about the people investigated. Beyond some marriage and pregnancy customs, says the doctor, "Further peculiarities of the sexual life of the people could not be inquired into with profitable results, From various indications the subject does not offer much of unusual interest" (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 34 [Washington, D,C,: U,S, Govt. Ptg, Ofc, '908], p, 5').