Carl Schlegel: The First U.S. Gay Activist, 1906-1907, by Jonathan Ned Katz
June 1, 2019, Last edit: June 10, 2020
See also: The Presbyterian Church and Homosexuality in the U.S.: Timeline
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Resistance for initiating a new era of LGBT militant activism, we can now also honor the pioneering activism of a Presbyterian minister 62 years earlier.
Newly discovered evidence shows that the Reverend Carl Schlegel, a German immigrant to the U.S., publicly defended homosexuals' desires and acts in New Orleans in 1906 and 1907. This makes him the earliest known U.S. homosexual emancipation activist, one of perhaps 100 documented pre-Stonewall politicos.
Schlegel advocated for homosexuals within his church and distributed the publications of a Berlin-based German homosexual emancipation organization, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. A later pioneering activist, Henry Gerber, was also inspired by that same German organization to found the Society for Human Rights in Chicago, in 1924, the first U.S. homosexual liberation organization. News of German homosexual organizing traveled internationally with these two pioneers.
The new evidence, published on OutHistory.org on June 1, 2019, appears in the Minutes of the Presbytery of New Orleans for January 29, 1907. These Minutes report the members of the Presbytery judging Rev. Schlegel guilty of defending "the lawfulness and naturalness of the condition, and in some cases of the actual practice of homo-sexualism, Sodomy, or Uranism."
"Uranism” was an awkward adaptation of the German “Urning,” a nineteenth-century term for a biological male understood to be born with the psyche of a female, meaning at the time, a man whose sexual desire was for men.
Schlegel’s own words were quoted. He advocated “the same laws” for “homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, [and] asexuals.” Asserting the legal equality of homosexuals and heterosexuals was a daring stance at the time. It would become a major tactic of U.S. LGBT activists later in the century. Schlegel’s including bisexuals and asexual persons in his proselytizing is the earliest-known U.S. bid for these groups' legal equality.
This minister was also quoted as urging the same punishment for all persons who committed the following acts: “First, if they use compulsion. Second, if they are found to offend publicly. Third, if they use or misuse children.”
On January 29, 1907, members of Presbytery of New Orleans voted to find Schlegel guilty of “sin” and fired him. Earlier, in 1905, Schlegel had also been fired from the ministry of a prominent New York church, probably for promoting the same homosexual emancipation ideas and literature.
After Schlegel's demotion, a New Orleans newspaper reported: to those accustomed to the proper conduct of Presbyterian ministers "Mr. Schlegel was always queer."
I discovered the new evidence of Schlegel’s pioneering activism in the archive of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia. Relevant pages of the major document, The Minutes of the Presbytery of New Orleans, are republished on OutHistory at this feature's end.
Though Schlegel’s activism appears to have had no lasting effect, his daring was remarkable. Perhaps the documentation of his activism will lead to the discovery of other lost, LGBT activist pioneers.
I am interested in any additional information about Schlegel and other activists that researchers can provide. Contact email@example.com.
Carl Schlegel’s life and all the known documentation of his homosexual emancipation activities are detailed in the following new feature on OutHistory.org.
Schlegel's Birth and Immigration
According to German baptism records, Karl Schlegel was born in Pfullingen, Württemberg, Germany, March 29, 1863.
Schlegel first arrived in the U.S. at age fifteen, in 1878, according to the Federal Census of 1900 and other documents. In the U.S. he was referred to as “Karl” or "Carl," and sometimes as “Charles.”
Minister of the German Protestant Church
On April 21, 1896, at age thirty-three, Rev. Charles Schlegel was ordained as the minister of the German Protestant Church at 149 Norfolk street near Stanton, on New York’s lower east side. Originally a Dutch Reformed Church, this was the old house of worship at which a group of wealthy Protestant men and their families had once worshipped. But, by the 1890s, the old church was located in a neighborhood populated mostly by poor, Polish and Russian Jews who had fled persecution in their home countries and migrated to the U.S.
In the Fall of 1897, several New York City newspapers reported that Schlegel’s church was laying a cornerstone for a new church being built on east 68th Street and between 1st and 2nd Avenues.
The Church’s Move
The reason for the old church’s move uptown was revealed in The New York Journal on September 11, 1897, in which Schlegel provided a telling quote:
The Gentiles drove the Jews out of Jerusalem and now the Jews of New York are getting even by driving the Gentiles out of "Little Jerusalem," the Jewish district of the East Side.
This, at least, is the reason advanced by the oldest German Protestant congregation of New York and America for having sold their time-hallowed sanctuary on Norfolk street, made historic by John Jacob Astor, the founder, and for having been compelled to build a new church uptown, the corner stone of which will be laid to-morrow.
"It is due to the crowding together of the great hordes of Russian and Polish Israelites, who during this decade have been driven to this shore from the inhospitable treatment of the Muscovites, that we have been forced to move our Zion," said Rev. Carl Schlegel, the young pastor of the church, yesterday.
The paper immediately assured its readers that Schlegel’s statement did not imply that the “earnest and pious” Protestant members of the old church
had no love for the people of their Saviour [Jews], nor that at any time there was the least ill-feeling or conflict between the two races, but there is so little in common in habits, customs and social conditions between them that congenial intercourse is out of the question. The minority had to give way to the majority.
The idea that Jews and Protestants constituted two culturally incompatible “races,” unable to live together, was a form of racism common at this time.
The Journal again referred to “Rev. Carl Schlegel, the young and energetic pastor,” adding:
His brief ministrations of one and a half years to the historic congregation in this city have been marked by great spiritual and material progress.
Baron von Steuben
The new church building, The Journal added, would incorporate “the tall marble memorial” in the old church’s vestibule, dedicated to the Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who had worshipped at that church.
Von Steuben was the Prussian immigrant who became a major advisor to the army of American colonial revolutionaries fighting their British rulers. Von Steuben helped to instill Prussian-type discipline among the undisciplined American troops and served as General George Washington’s chief of staff in the final years of the American Revolution.
Had Schlegel heard any rumors about von Steuben’s sexual proclivities? We don’t know. Von Steuben had left Prussia and France after talk circulated about his sex with “young boys,” though no evidence indicates that he was a pedophile; his interest seems to have focused on young men. Von Steuben arrived in America in 1777 with his seventeen-year-old secretary, Peter Stephen Du Ponceau.
At Valley Forge von Steuben also developed intense intimacies with two military officers in their twenties, Benjamin Walker and William North, whom he formally adopted, and to whom he left the bulk of his estate. Another young man, John W. Mulligant, Jr., also considered himself one of Steuben’s “sons” and inherited part of Von Steuben’s estate.
Baby in the Pews: November 13, 1900
An item in Christian Work: Illustrated Family Newspaper, published in New York on November 13, 1900. reported:
While preparing for the services on Wednesday evening, Rev. Charles Schlegel . . . found a six weeks’ old female child in a rear pew. A policeman was called in, and the child was taken to Bellevue Hospital.
To the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee: August 1903
The earliest documentation of Schlegel’s interest in homosexual emancipation is an item published at the end of August 1903, in the Monthly Report of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee), the homosexual rights organization founded by Magnus Hirschfeld, in Berlin.
Schlegel had returned to Germany and visited the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee’s Berlin headquarters. “Among numerous visits” to the Committee, the report says,
we emphasize that of the Protestant pastor Schlegel of New York, who aims at an association of his Uranian fellow ministers as well as the founding of a subcommittee in New York.
Schlegel apparently considered other homosexual Protestant ministers good candidates for his U.S. emancipation organizing.
Uranian was an English adaptation of the German word Urning, first published by activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in Germany, in 1864, before the coinage of the term homosexual. Uranian referred to a biological male thought to have a female mind and desires, meaning, in its time, a man who was sexually attracted to men. Minds were then thought to have a sex, male or female. And those female or male psyches were thought to have a built-in, biologically given, different-sex object of desire. The term uraniad was later coined to refer to women with male psyches – women who sexually desired women.
Schlegel Arrested: September 5, 1903
On Saturday, September 5, 1903, while still in Germany, Schlegel was arrested and tried in Schwäbisch Gmünd, a town in the eastern part of the state of Württemberg (now Baden-Württemberg).
A brief item in the Gmünder Tagblatt (daily paper) does not name the American arrestee. It reads, in translation:
Gmünd, September 7. A minister/clergyman of one of the protestant North American churches, visiting Gmünd, was arrested on Saturday evening for a crime against § 175 and transferred to the Royal District Court, but released again for the time being.
Paragraph 175 was a provision of the German Criminal Code, passed May 15, 1871, that declared:
Unnatural fornication, whether between persons of the male sex or of humans with beasts, is to be punished by imprisonment; a sentence of loss of civil rights may also be passed.
Court Records, Schwäbisch Gmünd
Records of the court in Schwäbisch Gmünd make no mention of any offense under Paragraph 175. The record does include the brief notation, which says, in translation:
Schlegel, Carl, Pastor from New York" - libel/verbal slander."
The offense for which Schlegel was tried was termed, in German: "Beleidigung." This means libel or verbal slander of a particular type, not slander in general. For example, beleidigung refers to something a person says spontaneously to another person. So, according to the court, Schlegel’s offense was of a verbal character. Like his later troubles, this one involved Schlegel’s speaking publicly, in this case, probably on the spur of the moment.
Monthly Report, October 1903
An item from the Monthly Report of the Scientific Humanitarian Society early in October 1903 refers to Schlegel’s arrest, and mistakenly, apparently, to his supposed crime:
Pastor Schlegel from America, mentioned by us in the last Monthly Report, has been arrested in Schwäbisch Gmünd, allegedly because he is said to have indecently touched a youth, and is awaiting a court-day this week, which hopefully will turn out favorably.
Monthly Report, November 1903
The Monthly Report, published at the beginning of November 1903, relates:
After a 24-day investigation, Pastor Schlegel has been set free and has returned to America. Hopefully this unpleasant incident will be without further fateful consequences for him professionally.
Schlegel arrived back in the U.S. on October 27, 1903, on the steamship Zeeland.
Yearbook for Sexual Intermediate Types, 1904
A report in Magnus Hirschfeld’s Yearbook for Sexual Intermediate Types (Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen), in 1904, suggests that Pastor Schlegel had paid dues as a member of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. The item reads: “Pastor S. in the U.S.A. 50 Mark.”
Dismissed from New York Church, February 27, 1905
In 1905, the Reverent Carl Schlegel was “dismissed” from New York City's First German Reformed Protestant Congregation" to a ministry in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The minutes of a meeting of the Reformed Church in America convened in New York City, report:
February 27, 1905, Rev. Charles Schlegel resigned from the pastorate of the 68th Street German Church, and was dismissed to the Presbytery of New Orleans.
Whether Schlegel “resigned” from his New York pastor’s job or was “dismissed,” the New York officials did not, apparently, relay any compromising details to the New Orleans church.
Welcomed in New Orleans: March 23, 1905
A month after his resignation or dismissal in New York, on March 23, 1905, in New Orleans, the Rev. Schlegel was welcomed at a reception in the Sunday School of the Second German Presbyterian Church, at the corner of North Claiborne Avenue and Allen Street.
The Rev. Louis Voss, of the First Street German Church, “said he was sure” that the members of Schlegel’s new church “would learn to admire Rev. Schlegel, as he was a man of learning as well as an accomplished and trained minister.” In response, Schlegel said “he would do all in his power to endear himself to the congregation” as thoroughly as did his predecessor.
First Sermon and a Photo: March 27, 1905
On March 27, 1905, the Daily Picayune, of New Orleans, headlined a report: “Rev. Carl Schlegel Preaches His First Sermon in Second Presbyterian Pulpit,” and included the second known photo of the preacher.
Rumors: December 20, 1906
A year-and-a-half after preaching his first sermon Schlegel was in trouble. The earliest evidence of Schlegel’s homosexual rights proselytizing in New Orleans appears in the official Minutes of the Presbytery of New Orleans.
The first document contained in the Minutes is a letter dated December 20, 1906, from the officers of the Second German Presbyterian Church, New Orleans. It reports “certain conditions which vitally affect the interests of the Church,” about which the church body “feels itself disqualified to act.”
The leaders of The Second German Church asked the Presbytery of New Orleans to investigate “rumors prevailing in connection with the pastor” (Schlegel), and to take such action as “it may deem best for the Church and for the cause of religion. . . .”
Schlegel Resigns/Is Suspended: January 7, 1907
In response to the above request, the Presbytery of New Orleans held a first meeting in the Lecture Room of the First German Church, in the city, on January 7, 1907.
The meeting began with a prayer, and an order that the Presbytery “sit with closed doors.” But the officers of the Second German Church were “granted the privilege of being present.”
A communication from Rev. Carl Schlegel, tendering his resignation as pastor of the said Church was read.
The officer of the church states that Mr. Schlegel had left the city . . . stating that he intended to return to New York, his previous residence.
It was resolved that a Judicial Committee be appointed to formulate charges against Rev. Carl Schlegel.
The Church leaders ordered that, “pending the charges against him, Rev. Carl Schlegel be suspended from exercising the active functions of the Gospel ministry without censure.” They adjourned until the following day.
The Charges Specified: January 8, 1907,
On January 8, the Presbytery met for the second time, and the committee appointed to formulate the charges presented the case of “The Presbyterian Church in the United States vs. Carl Schlegel.”
The committee charged Schlegel “with holding, maintaining, disseminating and defending grossly immoral doctrines, contrary to the Word of God.”
Schlegel, it was said:
Holds, maintains, disseminates and defends the naturalness and lawfulness of Sodomy, otherwise called “Homosexuality” or “Uranism” . . .
Schlegel was charged with disseminating information and defending homosexuality on the following four occasions:
December 14, 1906, in his own room, before Revs. J. H. Nall and George Summey.
December 18, 1906, at the office of the Southwestern Presbyterian, in the presence of reverends J. H. Nall, George Summey, Louis Voss, and Elder William Frantz.
December 17, 1906, in a written communication and pamphlet, sent to Rev. Louis Voss.
On December 20, 1906, at a session of his own Second German Presbyterian Church, Schlegel was accused of
circulating literature, viz., copies of the Year Book for the Sexual Intermediates Stages with special reference to Homosexuality (in German) to Rev. Louis Voss and Elders Koelle and Frantz; against the peace, unity and purity of the Church and the honor and majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ . . . .
The clergymen meeting on January 8, sent Schlegel a letter asking him “to plead and answer the charges” at a meeting scheduled for January 24.
Plea of ‘Not Guilty’”: January 24, 1907
On January 24, the Presbyterian leaders gathered for the third time and a “communication from Rev. Carl Schlegel” was read, and then read again. This was received “as his plea of ‘not guilty’ to the charges.”
In order that Schlegel’s “interests be safeguarded,” the Rev. Louis Voss was assigned as his counsel. The Presbytery adjourned until the following day.
The Trial of Rev. Carl Schlegel: January 25, 1907
The next day, meeting for the fourth time, the Presbytery “proceeded with the Trial of Rev. Carl Schlegel.”
“The indictment and the communication from Rev. Carl Schlegel . . . were read.”
The prosecutor, Rev. William McF. Alexander, asked that four documents “be placed in evidence.” These were:
(1) Schlegel’s letter in response to the charges,
(2) Schlegel’s earlier letter to Rev. Louis Voss,
(3) the Pamphlet titled Monthly Report and
(4) a book titled Jahrbuch fur Sexuell Zwischenstuffen (Yearbook for Sexual Intermediate Types).
The prosecutor called as witnesses the Reverends Nall, Summey, and Voss who testified about their meeting and talks with Schlegel, and his replies. The Reverend W. O. Becker, of the Second German Church, also testified.
The prosecutor then addressed the Court, “summing up the testimony.”
The counsel for Schlegel then addressed the Court,
translating numerous passages from the “Jahrbuch fur sexuelle Zwitschenstuff,” in defense of homosexualism.
The members present then “expressed their opinions in the cause.”
Thirteen of those present then voted to sustain the charges. Two members were excused from voting. One member, an elder of First Street German Church, F. Ruppert, voted not to sustain. Nothing is known, at present, about the motivations and reasoning of the dissenting church member, F. Ruppert.
The Rev. Carl Schlegel was then “deposed from the Gospel Ministry.”
Three reverends were appointed to formulate the reasons for the judgment, “and to give suitable advice to Mr. Carl Schlegel.”
“Grossly Immoral Doctrines”: January 29, 1907
The fifth and last meeting of the members of the Presbytery of New Orleans opened with a prayer, as had the earlier meetings. The members adopted a report summarizing their judgment in Schlegel’s case.
Whereas, The Presbytery of New Orleans is convinced, from a careful hearing of all the evidence in the case, that the views held by Rev. Carl Schlegel touching the lawfulness and naturalness of the condition, and in some case of the actual practice of homo-sexualism, Sodomy, or Uranism, as shown by his own words in his pleas, as follows:
Schlegel was quoted:
“Let the same laws for all the intermediate stages of sexual life: the homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, be legal as they are now in existence for the heterosexuals, that is, they should be under punishment:
First, if they use compulsion. Second, if they are found to offend publicly. Third, if they use or misuse children, are dangerous and corrupting and will lead only to evil . . . ."
The judges then added their own views of Schlegel:
however much he may be justified in believing in the fact or existence of such a condition as that of homosexuality, the maintenance, defending and disseminating of his views concerning the same are evil and only evil; and that the only scriptural view of this whole matter is that given by the apostle in Romans, first chapter.
The Biblical reference was to the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of those who, in the King James translation, “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the creator.”
For this cause God gave them up until vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly . . . .
In 1907, it's notable that the members of the Presbytery doubted the “existence of such a condition . . . as homosexuality.” They were familiar with Biblical and legal condemnation of an act, sodomy. But a homosexual “condition” was a new idea, employed by a radical homosexual activist to promote the equal status of persons with homo-, hetero-, bisexual, and asexual conditions.
The Presbytery adopted the following final judgment:
Whereas, Carl Schlegel, a minister of this Presbytery, has been proved, by sufficient evidence, to be guilty of the sin of holding, maintaining, disseminating and defending grossly immoral doctrines in that he holds, maintains, disseminates and defends the naturalness and lawfulness of Sodomy, otherwise called homo-sexualism or uranism, We, The Presbytery of New Orleans, do adjudge him totally disqualified for the office of the Christian ministry, and therefore we do hereby, in the Name and by the Authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, depose from the office of a Christian minister, the said Carl Schlegel, and do prohibit him from exercising any of the functions thereof.
The judgment gave Schlegel the chance to repudiate his sinful ideas. It suspended Schlegel “from the sacraments of the Church until he shall exhibit satisfactory evidence of sincere repentance.”
The Presbytery also said that it
most earnestly and lovingly urges upon Mr. Schlegel that he destroy all the books and other documents or literature which he has upon the subject of homosexualism; that he endeavor to give up all thought and study of the subject; that he strive to make the Word of God his guide in the interpretation of the facts and conditions of men; and that, if he does this, he be assured of the sympathy of all his brethren and of their earnest prayer for his spiritual good.
The Presbyterian council’s loving call to Schlegel to “destroy” all homosexual emancipation texts, to stop thinking about homosexuality, and to stop studying it, is, in the perspective of history, chilling advocacy of authoritarian mind control like that satirized in George Orwell’s novel 1984.
The Rev. L. Voss was appointed to preach in Schlegel’s place.
The Presbytery also resolved:
In any information given out concerning the action of the Presbytery in this case, nothing more shall be stated than the simple fact that Rev. Carl Schlegel was deposed from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church for holding, maintaining, disseminating and defending grossly immoral doctrines.
Publicly accusing the minister of defending “grossly immoral doctrines,” but refusing to specify those doctrines, suggested that these ideas were irresistibly enticing. If specified, the doctrines that could not be named among Christians might prove so appealing to sinful, fallen humans that they might approve them, and even practice them. Behind the Christian fear of naming the sin in question was the fear that if the public tried it, they’d like it.
The New Orleans Press Reports Schlegel’s Trouble
On January 8, 1907, the Daily Picayune, of New Orleans, headlined a report: "Rev. Carl Schlegel Resigns But the Presbytery Has Not Yet Decided to Accept." Schlegel had resigned the previous week, the paper reported, and left for New York City, "where he intends to reside in the future."
The resignation had been reported to the Presbytery of New Orleans and that body had held a special meeting on January 7 to discuss it.
Schlegel had told his congregation, the paper reported, that that he was going to New York "to attend to some personal business and also to pursue certain scientific studies."
Schlegel’s reference to “scientific studies” was probably a euphemistic reference to the doctrines and publications of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, the German homosexual emancipation group. “Scientific studies” may also have referred to Schlegel's later reported interest in spiritualism, conceived sometimes as scientific.
On January 30, 1907, the Daily Picayune reported that the Presbytery of New Orleans had the day earlier, held a fourth session in the case of the Rev. Schlegel. The paper said that, "after long and careful consideration," it had dismissed Schlegel "because of holding and writing and disseminating and defending grossly immoral doctrines." The report said that Schlegel had "now taken up scientific studies in New York."
On the same day, January 30, The Times-Democrat of New Orleans headlined a report: "MINISTER IS DEPOSED," adding: "New Orleans Presbytery Ejects Rev. Carl Schlegel." The pastor had "Held, Maintained, Disseminated and Defended Immoral Doctrines.."
The paper said that Schlegel had been “secured from New York, where he was a minister in good standing,” confirmation that Schlegel’s New York church hadn’t passed on any hints about the reason for his leaving that pulpit.
Schlegel had recently resigned and left for New York City, “to engage, so he said, in scientific studies.”
The meetings of the New Orleans Presbytery, “held behind closed doors,” had raised “considerable curiosity” about “what was happening.” The paper added:
It is said that to those who are accustomed to the very proper and consistent conduct of Presbyterian ministers of the city, the behavior of Mr. Schlegel was always queer.
Emancipation Lecture in New York
In March 1907, Dr. Georg Merzbach, a supporter of the Berlin Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, the homosexual emancipation group, spoke on that subject in New York City before the New York Society of Medical Jurisprudence. Merzbach was making a lecture tour of the U.S.
This was Merzbach’s first public talk in English on “our area of specialization,” homosexual emancipation, he reported to his comrades in Berlin. Merzbach reported to those comrades: “Three ministers whom I had invited also attended the lecture and gave it their undivided attention.”
Carl Schlegel had returned to New York City by March 1907, and it seems likely that he would have attended Merzbach’s talk, though no evidence of this has been discovered.
Merzbach reported that his talk was enthusiastically received:
The pictures and explanations I presented were received with tumultuous applause - an unusual thing, given the coolness of American scholars. A number of very distinguished doctors and legal scholars participated in the [almost two-hour] discussion, while Professor Beck, the surgeon, stood at my side as an interpreter to prevent misunderstandings in the heat of the exchange ....
“Naturally,” Merzbach added, “rather naive questions were posed in the discussion, as well as some which were quite intelligent.”
I will mention a few: "Can homosexuality be eradicated by castration? What indications of homosexual tendencies does the animal kingdom provide? The names of historic or famous homosexuals, and the evidence thereof? Doesn't homosexuality lead ultimately to paranoia or other psychoses? Can homosexuals have children? Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Hamlet?"
“Some people,” said Merzbach, “spoke out forcefully against the penalization of homosexual acts so long as they are not punishable . . . on other grounds (coercion, etc.).” That was certainly the position that Schlegel had publicly advocated in New Orleans.
“The entire thing made such an overwhelming impression,” recalled Merzbach of his inaugural talk, “that Professor Beck, who had arranged the lecture, told me that he had never witnessed such success in presenting a scientific topic ....”
Merzbach’s colleagues had predicted, “a courteous but cool reception because of the subject matter; and now we have had this singular success in the very country where bigotry and prudishness are truly at home.” Merzbach concluded optimistically: "We have won a great battle."
New York City Spiritualist: 1912
News of Schlegel next appeared five years later, on August 17, 1912, in the New York Herald, which headlined a story: “Preacher Now A Spiritualist”.
The Rev. Carl Schlegel, who says he has been a minister of the Reformed and the Presbyterian churches in this city, is preparing himself for the ministry of spiritualism. He will be a speaker tomorrow night at the New York Temple of Modern Spiritualism, No. 138, East Twenty-seventh street.
On Saturday, August 24, 1912, the New-York Tribune reported:
At the New York Temple of Modern Spiritualism, the Rev. Dr. Richard R. Schleusner has selected for his theme for to-morrow evening “Is Christ to Come Again to Earth?” He will be followed by the Rev. Carl Schlegel, now a convert to Spiritualism and preparing himself for the ministry of Spiritualism.”
The Temple of Modern Spiritualism
That 1912 report is the last discovered linking Schlegel to the New York Temple of Modern Spiritualism, so his association seems to have been fleeting.
But it’s worth noting that, just five months earlier, the Temple of Modern Spiritualism had filed for incorporation as a religious, scientific, and educational institution. It also announced that it had raised $50,000 of the $300,000 it was seeking to build a new home for the Temple on Central Park West. (That $300,000 in 1912 would equal about $7,400,000 in 2019).
It’s also revealing that, on February 26, 1913, Dr. Schleusner was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. New York officials apparently doubted the claimed “scientific” aspect of Schleusner’s spiritualism. But that did not stop him.
Schleusner was in the news again, in August 1913, in Bell Telephone News, in a satirical report headed: “Wireless Telephones to Spirit Land.” The report quoted Schleusner explaining that, “to advance the cause of spiritualism,” the New York Temple of Modern Spiritualism had
established a ‘psychical laboratory’ in our rooms and are daily making experiments under the direction of noted scientists. We will install a wireless telephone for the purposes of ascertaining whether it is possible for departed ones to communicate with their loved ones.
The report noted that a man formerly connected with the wireless bureau of the U.S. Navy was engaged by The Temple to install a wireless station to receive calls from the beyond.
to be soon in wireless communication with the departed ones. We have already installed a wireless plant in our church and hope almost any day to receive a communication from someone who has left our shores.
Homosexuality and Spiritualism
Carl Schlegel’s and other homosexuals’ links to the early-twentieth-century spiritualist movement remains to be explored. Earlier in the history of spiritualism, numbers of prominent spiritualists were women who supported radical causes such as the vote for women and the abolition of American slavery.
An autobiography published in 1930 by the American lesbian Ruth Fuller Field (under the pen name “Mary Casal”) reports meeting another lesbian who was “a Theosophist,” a spiritualist sect. The lesbian was “a near friend of Madam Blavatsky,” well-known as a leader of Theosophy.
Schlegel's Last Days: 1920-1922
The 1920 U.S. Census lists Charles Schlegel, from Wurttemberg, as living in a home for the incurables in the Bronx.
An obituary for the Rev. Carl Schlegel, appearing in The Leader-Observer (Forrest Parkway, in Woodhaven, Queens, NY), states that he died "last Tuesday, July 25, at the Long Island Hospital, L.I." (the year was 1922; that year July 25, fell on a Tuesday.)
The obit, apparently written by his family, did not mention the controversial aspects of his career:
He was compelled some years ago to give up his much desired work because of ill health. He lived in Florida for ten years expecting to fully regain his health.
He is survived by his aged mother, Katherine Schlegel, and three sisters and one brother in Germany, and two brothers, Robert and Frederick Schlegel and one sister, Mrs. Bertha Trostel of New York City.
Services were held at the home of his sister . . . 428 Columbia Avenue, Woodhaven, on Thursday, July 27, by the Rev. E. R. Jaxheimer, pastor of the St. Lukes English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Woodhaven, and at the grave in Evergreen Cemetery, on Friday, July 28, at 10 a.m.
The obituary mentioned that Schlegel was for a "number of years . . . pastor of the old Steuben Street [sic] Church in Manhattan."
His death notice ended:
He was a faithful and ardent worker in his first parish and beloved by many.
Visiting Schlegel’s Grave
Schlegel was buried in the Nazareth section of Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY, in grave number 18004. When the weather is obliging, visitors to the Cemetery may request a map, locate Schlegel’s grave, picnic, and say hello to this homosexual emancipation pioneer.
The Minutes of the Presbytery of New Orleans
Click once on The Minutes of the Presbytery of New Orleans and this will lead you to the pages of this major document referring to the Rev. Carl Schlegel. This document may be downloaded but please credit OutHistory.org, and the original document in the archive of The Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia.