May 25, 2012

In the 1950s and 1960s, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental illness that could be cured or managed by psychotherapy treatments. While many therapists quietly dismissed this in practice, Dr. Blanche Baker put her career on the line by publically challenging the designation. Dr. Baker spoke at ONE Inc.’s first Midwinter Institute in 1955, the first forum in North America put on by homosexuals, for homosexuals, regarding the scientific, philosophical, legal, and social questions pertaining to homosexuality. This recount of her talk was taken from issue 21 of ONE Institute Quarterly: Homophile Studies:

Those who heard Blanche M. Baker, M.D., Ph.D. give the address, “A Psychiatric Evaluation of Homosexuality; Causative Factors and Therapeutic Suggestions,” January 1955, are not likely to forget the impact of her fearless frankness in handling such a topic. So unhackneyed were the views she expressed that, by contrast with much psychiatric thinking of the time, they sounded startling or to some, perhaps alarming. In the extended question and answer period which followed Dr. Baker patiently and wittily so disarmed the skeptical and silenced the critical that at the conclusion the entire audience rose to its feet to give her an ovation lasting several minutes. Such a response, rare as it must have been for any psychiatrist to receive, gives some indication of how remarkable a person she was.

Dr. Baker consulted with ONE Inc. and their Social Services Division from 1955-1958, before beginning a column in ONE Magazine in 1958 called “Toward Understanding.” Dr. Baker’s advice column took on a wide array of issues including the causes of homosexuality, social isolation, gay marriage, gays in the military, latent homosexuality, and fetishes. Unfortunately the column lasted only until 1960 when Dr. Baker passed away. Although Dr. Baker’s collaboration with ONE Inc. was short lived, the courage to use her status to speak out against the prejudices of her profession gave sorely needed support to ONE Inc. and its readers the world around.

Kyle Morgan
Archivist at ONE Archives

 

Image: (Top) Dr. Blanche Baker (in wheelchair) with her husband in ONE Incorporated’s offices, c. 1959. ONE Incorporated Records. ONE Archives at the USC Libraries