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LGBTQ+ Living History: The Early Years

September 11, 2019
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Members of the LGBTQ+ community have been part of UC Berkeley’s campus community since its inception, but their physical and social environment has changed dramatically. No longer do they have to live in isolation. No longer do they have to risk getting arrested for being who they are.

Today, Cal students have a more welcoming environment with access to safe meeting spaces, peer support, health services, and social programs. They have gender-inclusive restrooms and locker rooms. They have a health insurance plan (Berkeley SHIP) that covers transgender-specific medical care. They have an academic environment that includes LGBT studies.

There’s still much, much work to be done to create a UC Berkeley in which everyone feels safe and accepted. But we’ve come so far from the restrictive climate alumni weathered 30, 50, and 100 years ago. Despite mountainous obstacles, LGBTQ+ students and faculty have grown, excelled, and inspired.

In this six-part series, we highlight a few of the moments, movements, and people that made their mark on Cal’s LGBTQ+ history. We move through the decades, beginning in an era of secrecy and continuing through today.

The early years

For much of the 20th century, many people felt they couldn’t admit they were anything but straight—to others or to themselves. Sexuality wasn’t talked about, and many students didn’t understand why they felt the way they did. If others suspected, they didn’t say anything, either.

In an oral history interview, Ann Wansley ’44 said she and one of her college roommates fell in love, but she resisted adopting the term “lesbian” until decades later, when she was 68 years old. She and her roommate had an affectionate relationship that others most likely assumed as platonic friendship.

Annie Alexander with members of an expedition to see a newly discovered cave. Photo taken in 1923 in Niaux, France. | Image appears with the permission of The Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley.

Secrecy applied across ages and status levels. Annie Alexander, a part heir to the C&H Sugar fortune, enjoyed a 42-year relationship with Louise Kellogg, a class of 1901 alum. Both premier scientific collectors, Alexander and Kellogg traveled around the world collecting plant, animal, and paleontological species. Alexander later established and funded the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and the Museum of Paleontology on the UC Berkeley campus.

Photo taken by Annie M. Alexander on January 11, 1937 in Inyo County, California. | Image appears with the permission of The Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley.

In her biography of Alexander, Barbara R. Stein writes that a relationship like Alexander and Kellogg’s was described as a “romantic friendship.” She notes that one former UC employee said, “We didn’t talk about such things in those days.”

Hubert Julian Stowitts, class of 1915, kept both his sexual orientation and his artistic passions hidden for most of his college years. After Stowitts, a lettered track athlete, discovered dance, he took private lessons without telling anyone. Stowitts eventually became the first American to star with a Russian ballet troupe.

by Heather R. Johnson