George Merzbach: "We have won a great battle," March 1907

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"We have won a great battle"

Reedited by Jonathan Ned Katz from Gay American History (1976).

In March 1907, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee’s Dr. Georg Merzbach, then making a lecture tour of the United States, spoke on homosexuality before the New York Society of Medical Jurisprudence. Dr. Merzbach writes Magnus Hirschfeld in Germany about this lecture:

My dear colleague Hirschfeld:

Yesterday evening I gave my fist English lecture on our area of specialization and I can fell you at the outset that it made a truly sensational impression upon a select audience which, considering the circumstances in this country, was extraordinarily large….

Merzbach continues:

The pictures and explanations I represented 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…

[Space added to facilitate reading.]

Naturally, rather naïve 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 spoke out forcefully against the penalization of homosexual acts so long as they are not punishable…on other grounds (coercion, etc.).

[Space added to facilitate reading.]

The entire thing made such an overwhelming impression that Professor Beck, who had arranged the lecture, told me that he had never witnessed such success in presenting a scientific topic…. I had expected, and colleagues had predicted, a 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. Three ministers whom I had invited also attended the lecture and gave it their undivided attention. I can tell you, in the words of the dying messenger from Marathon who shouted to the Athenians…"We have won a great battle."[1]


  1. [Georg Merzbach,] Monatsbericttte des Wissetwckaftlick-humnitaren Komitees, vol. 6 (1907)1, p. 76-77.