Out of the closet? Reconstructing the personal life of pioneering sex researcher Katharine Bement Davis

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Abstract

Katharine B. Davis was an important progressive-era figure, a pioneering professional, an innovative penologist, and an iconoclastic sexologist. Although scholars have long been aware of Davis's tolerant attitude toward same-sex relationships at the New York State Female Reformatory at Bedford Hills, where she was Superintendent from 1901 to 1913, and her open discussion of same-sex attraction in her study of “normal” women's sexuality, published in 1929, little has been known about Davis's personal life. Thus, it was a feminist biographer's dream come true to gain access to what Davis called her “autobiographical biography,” the never-finished, never-published, story of her life. Or so I thought. As it turns out, my quest to understand Davis's personal life and how it informed her professional trajectory has been a bit more complicated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-466
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Volume58
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022

Keywords

  • biography
  • homosexuality
  • Katharine Bement Davis
  • lesbianism
  • New York State Reformatory for Women at Bedford Hills
  • prostitution
  • same-sex relationships
  • sex work
  • sexology
  • sexuality

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