Last edited: January 01, 2005

1892: Homosexuality in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Irving C. Rosse

From Gay American History
By Jonathan Ned Katz
Meridian, New York, 1976, 1992

"Two male elephants … entwined their probosces together."

In a paper read at a meeting of the Medical Society of Virginia, at Allegheny Springs in September 1892, Dr. Rosse spoke on ". ..Perversion of the Genesic [procreative] Instinct." Rosse, a professor of nervous diseases at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., warns of .the wide "prevalence and spread of sexual crime:" that is, sexual activity other than "normal [heterosexual] coitus." Dr. Rosse maintains that such "crimes of sexuality" are not confined to humans, and refers to "the biological beginnings of crime as observed in curious instances of criminality in animals." Since

we are warranted in saying that as many of the lower beings in the zoölogical scale show virtues having analogy to those of man, we must expect to find parallel vices. It is an error to suppose that aberration of the genesic instinct is confined to our species, time or race. ...I have observed common instances of sexual perversion in dogs and turkeys. A short time since, at the Washington races, a celebrated stallion was the favorite on whom the largest bets were made. A friend of mine, having ascertained from the groom the day before the race that the horse had procured an ejaculation by flapping his penis against the abdomen, accordingly risked his pile on another horse, who, by the way, came in ahead. Only a few days ago, to escape a shower, I took refuge in the elephant house in the Washington Zoölogical Gardens, where are confined the two male elephants, "Dunk" and "Gold Dust." To my astonishment, they entwined their probosces together in a caressing way; each had simultaneous erection of the penis, and the act was finished by one animal opening and allowing the other to tickle the roof of his mouth with his proboscis, after the manner of the oscula more Columbino, mentioned, by the way, in some of the old theological writings, and prohibited by the rules of at least one Christian denomination.41

Dr. Rosse speaks of a case, known to the Washington police, of

a well-connected man with a very pallid complexion, who enticed messenger boys to a hotel, and after getting them under the influence of drink accomplished his fell purpose. A friend in the Department of Justice tells me of the trial in Philadelphia of a noted pederast who communicated syphilis to a dozen or more of his victims.

Rosse says that the observation of venereal disease symptoms,

even [in] the mouth, calls for the consideration of a hideous act that marks the last abjection of vice. So squeamish are some English-speaking people on this point that they have no terms to designate the "nameless crime" that moves in the dark. Many of the Continental writers, however, make no attempt to hide the matter under a symbolic veil, and deal with it in terms as naked and unequivocal as those used by the old historians, from whom hundreds of citations might be made. ...42

Turning to the present, Rosse says that as an indication of the

state of immorality we have only to call to mind the unclean realism of Zola and Tolstoi, and the French lesbian novels, Mademoiselle Giraud ma Femme, by A. Belot, and Mademoiselle de Maupin, by Th. Gautier, whose point of departure is tribadism. ... In our own country the surreptitious sale of such publications is carried to such an extent that agents of the Post Office Department yearly destroy tons of pornographic literature.43

Rosse continues:

A Washington physician, whom I see almost daily, tells me of a case of venereal disease of the buccal [oral] cavity in an old soldier whom he is treating. The patient with unblushing affrontery did not hesitate to say how it was contracted.

From a judge of the District police court I learned that frequent delinquents of this kind have been taken by the police in the very commission of the crime, and that owing to defective penal legislation on the subject he is obliged to try such cases as assaults or indecent exposure. The lieutenant in charge of my district, calling on me a few weeks ago for medical information on this point, informs me that men of this class give him far more trouble than the prostitutes. Only of late the chief of police tells me that his men have made, under the very shadow of the White House, eighteen arrests in Lafayette Square alone (a place by the way, frequented by Guiteau) in which the culprits were taken in flagrante delicto. Both white and black were represented among these moral hermaphrodites, but the majority of them were negros.44

But such men, says Rosse, do not hold a monopoly on "perversion,"

having had a neurotic patient whose conversation showed an extreme erotic turn of mind, I learned from her some particulars as to the existence and spread of saphism.

I know the case of a prostitute who from curiosity visited several women that make a specialty of the vice, and on submitting herself by way of experiment to the lingual and oral manœuvers of the performance, had a violent hystero-cataleptic attack from which she was a long time in recovering.

Through one of my patients of the opposite sex another case has come to my knowledge of a woman who practices the orgies of tribadism with other women after getting them under the influence of drink. ...

...I take it for granted that what is true of Washington as regards sexual matters applies more or less to other American large cities."45


41. Irving C. Rosse, "Sexual Hypochondriasis and Perversion of the Genesic Instinct," Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (N.Y.), whole ser. vol. 19, new ser., val. 17, no.11 (Nov. 1892), p. 799.

42. Rosse, p.803. Rosse also cites a New York Herald report (n.d.) of a New York homosexual bar, the Slide, being closed by the police.

43. Rosse, p. 805. The two classic French Lesbian novels Rosse mentions were fir published in English translation, in the U.S., in the 1890s: Theophile Gautier, Mademoiselle de Maupin; A Romance of Love and Passion; Illustrated . . . from designs by Toudouze (Chicago: Laird & Lee, 1890); other eds.: N.Y.: 1897; London, 1930 [trans., revised, and amended by Alvah C. Bessie]; see Foster p. 64-66, 76, 82; Adolphe Belot, Mademoiselle Giraud, My Wife (Chicago: Laird & Lee, 1891); see Foster, p. 81-83, 97, 114, 220, 331, 363, 376. Honoré de Balzac’s Cousin Betty (Boston: Dana Estel 1901), trans. by James Waring; see Foster p. 63-64, 218, 362. [Gautier, Mademoiselle de Maupin was first published in French in 1835, the same year as Balzac’s The Girl with the Golden Eyes, another Lesbian novel.] (Jeannette H. Foster, Sex Variant Women in Literature, [N.Y.: Vantage, 1956]).

44. Rosse, p. 806.

45. Rosse, p. 807.

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