Benemann Biography

William Benemann is an independent historian whose focus is on gay men in the long 19th century. After a career that included appointments at Harvard Law and the Bancroft Library, he retired in 2016 as Archivist for the School of Law, University of California, Berkeley.

He is the author of four books: A Year of Mud and Gold: San Francisco in Letters and Diaries, 1849-1850; Male-Male Intimacy in Early America; Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade; and Unruly Desires: American Sailors and Homosexualities in the Age of Sail.

Among his many publications is a series of essays for the Gay & Lesbian Review:

“Men at Sea in the 19th C: the Case of Fryer” (Nov-Dec 2021) — An African-American sailor was caught attempting to rape a shipmate, but was treated with compassion.

“A Dab of Tar on a Sailor’s Posteriors” (July/August 2022) — The only Jewish officer in the U.S. Navy was court-martialed for exposing the rear of one of his sailors.

“The Genderfluid Master of Bizarre” (Sept-October 2022) — John Randolph of Roanoke, a non-binary, mixed-race politician, was one of the most powerful figures in the early years of the Republic.

“The Sublime Sewer Club” (March-April 2023) — In Gilded Age New York, bachelor apartment buildings provided a discreet place for gay men to gather.

“Absconding to Arcadia” (May-June 2023) — Gold Rush miners Jason Chamberlain and John Chaffee made a new life for themselves in California.

“Painted Angels and Tainted Fruit” (Sept-Oct 2023) — Novelist Stephen Crane visited an Arkansas bathhouse in 1895.

“The Sweat of Vile Bodies” (Nov-Dec 2023) — Homosexuality among the Shakers.

“Butterflies Caught in a Web” (March-April 2024) — Japanese poet Yone Noguchi explored America—and his own sexuality—at the turn of the 20th century.

“On the Road to Hobohemia” (May-June 2024) — From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Great Depression, tramps and hobos created their own tolerant world.

“Tuckernuck May Call You” (July-August 2024) — A private Fire Island off Nantucket provided a safe place for gay men to gather in the 19th century.