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Photo History

This photographic history documents Alfred C. Kinsey's landmark sexuality research project, which he began in 1938. It resulted in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), otherwise known as the famous "Kinsey Reports."

[Kinsey with gall wasps]
Alfred Kinsey with galls
Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey

Dr. Kinsey's research during the first 20 years of his career at Indiana University involved the study of gall wasps. He came to Indiana University in 1920, after receiving his doctorate in biology from Harvard University. This picture shows him on a field expedition sitting with a stack of galls that he and his assistants had cut off of oak trees. His specialty was taxonomy, the classification of the species, and the study of individual variation. He carried this taxonomic approach over to his later research on sexual behavior. In 1938, Dr. Kinsey began collecting sex histories for a research project that was prompted by his involvement in teaching a course called "Marriage and Family." To do his collecting, he traveled extensively, just as he did earlier while collecting samples of gall wasps.

The Authors of the Male Volume

Shortly after he started collecting sex histories, Dr. Kinsey sought out funding for his research expenses. With a grant he received from the National Research Council, he was able to hire other researchers to assist him. The first one hired was Clyde Martin, in 1941. In 1943, he hired Wardell Pomeroy. These two researchers shared the credit with Dr. Kinsey for writing the landmark volume Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Martin had a degree in economics; he handled the early statistical analysis for the team. Pomeroy was a psychologist by training, with a graduate degree from Indiana University. The team's diverse background contributed to the success of the project.

[authors of MALE volume]
Alfred Kinsey, Clyde Martin,
Wardell Pomeroy

[staff photo]
Alfred Kinsey, Clyde Martin,
Paul Gebhard, Wardell Pomeroy
Dr. Kinsey and His Research Team

The research team was completed with the arrival of Harvard-trained anthropologist Paul Gebhard, in 1947. Shortly after Gebhard's arrival, Dr. Kinsey founded the Institute for Sex Research as a non-profit corporation with the assistance of Herman B Wells, president of Indiana University. Until this time, the team worked out of Dr. Kinsey's office in the Biology Building (now Swain Hall West). The purpose of the Institute was to complete the long-term research project that Dr. Kinsey planned. The four men pictured here interviewed more than 17,000 people between the years 1938-1956. Dr. Kinsey accounted for one-third of that total. After Dr. Kinsey's death in 1956, the other three continued to take histories, eventually bringing the total to more than 18,000 before the project was closed in 1963.

Dr. Kinsey Interviewing

Dr. Kinsey believed that face-to-face interviews were the best way to get honest answers from his respondents. John Bancroft, in his new introduction to the 1998 reissue of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, commends Kinsey's "ability to convey a non-judgmental attitude that enabled his subject to describe any sexual behavior, however stigmatized; and to convince subjects that their records would remain completely confidential, a conviction that over the years has remained justified." According to Wardell Pomeroy, "People were always trying to get information from us about those who they knew had contributed histories ... All kinds of requests were made, but the answer was invariably a firm 'No'" (Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research,1972).

[Kinsey interviewing subject]
Alfred Kinsey

[code sheet] Interview Code Sheet

Kinsey developed his interview technique carefully over several years, eventually coming to rely on a special code which he developed. The interviewers had to memorize not only Kinsey's code, but also the 350 questions which were asked, and the placement of the answers on the sheet. No names were recorded on the sheet -- each respondent was assigned a number. These code sheets were unreadable without the key to the code, which was not permitted to exist in written form. These precautions were all part of Dr. Kinsey's promise of complete confidentiality to participants in the study.

The Data Card Sorter

The next step in the process after the interview was to get the information from the written answer sheet onto data punch cards. This picture shows Clyde Martin with the Institute's card sorter, the only data-processing option available to researchers at that time.

[punch card sorting machine]
Clyde Martin

[The Kinsey Reports]
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female

"The Kinsey Reports"

In 1948, the first volume from the sex research data was published and quickly became a bestseller. Many people have heard the phrase "The Kinsey Reports," but few can name the full titles of the volumes. The nickname was bestowed upon the first volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and quickly caught on. Five years later, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female became the second "Kinsey Report." After Dr. Kinsey's death in 1956, Institute researchers went on to publish three more volumes from the data. The Male and Female volumes were translated into many languages and were sold around the world. They have recently been reprinted by Indiana University Press.

Visitor to the Institute

After the publication of the Male volume in 1948, Kinsey become famous throughout the country, and many well-known people made the trip to Bloomington to visit the Institute and its director. Playwright Cornelia Otis Skinner wrote about meeting Dr. Kinsey in the New Yorker (May 27, 1950). She is featured here with him in 1952. Other prominent visitors to the Institute included William Masters, W.H. Auden, Alex Comfort, Albert Ellis, John Gunther, Emily Mudd, Julian Huxley and Harry Benjamin.

[Kinsey and Cornelia Otis Skinner]
Alfred Kinsey, Cornelia Otis Skinner

[UC-Berkeley lecture]
University of California - Berkeley
Dr. Kinsey Lecturing

Dr. Kinsey lectured around the country, often speaking to very large groups such as this one pictured here at the University of California - Berkeley in 1949. He usually did not ask for a lecture fee, preferring instead to collect more sex histories in exchange for his lectures. He was especially interested in getting the histories of all the members of certain groups -- an entire fraternity, for example.

American Statistical Association

In 1951, Dr. Kinsey presented his research methods and findings to a three-person committee from the American Statistical Association, who visited the Institute to review the sampling procedures of the project. The ASA committee subsequently published a report on its findings. George Corner was there to represent the National Research Council, the Institute's funding agency.

[ASA Ccommittee]
(l-r) George Corner, Alfred Kinsey,
Wardell Pomeroy, Clyde Martin, Paul Gebhard

[Herman B Wells]
Alfred Kinsey, Herman Wells
Herman B Wells

In 1990, Institute director June Reinisch wrote, "There would be no Kinsey Institute without Herman B Wells." Wells became president of Indiana University in 1937, just a few years before criticisms, both local and national, started building against Dr. Kinsey and his work. In his autobiography, President Wells discusses his involvement in supporting Dr. Kinsey's research. He writes, "...a university that bows to the wishes of a person, group, or segment of society is not free..." (Being Lucky, Indiana University Press, 1980).

U.S. Customs Case

A few years after the Institute was founded, it began a legal battle with U.S. Customs. For several years, Dr. Kinsey had been buying art and books about sex from abroad, and placing these materials in the Institute's research collection. In 1950, however, the customs collector in Indianapolis started to impound the materials, deeming them "grossly obscene." The Institute sued U.S. Customs, and a seven-year legal battle ensued. Harriet Pilpel was one of the three lawyers who defended the Institute and eventually won the case in Federal District Court in 1957. As a result of this decision, the Institute for Sex Research was allowed to import sexually explicit materials for the purpose of making them available to researchers and scholars. Dr. Kinsey died in August of 1956, a year before the case was settled.

[Harriet Pilpel]
Harriet Pilpel

[Institute for Sex Research staff photo]
(center) Alfred Kinsey
(back, l-r) Jean Brown, Paul Gebhard,
William Dellenback, Wardell Pomeroy,
Ritchie Davis, Eleanor Roehr, Dorothy Collins
(front, l-r) Cornelia Christenson,
Hedwig Leser, Clyde Martin
Institute Staff in 1953

The staff grew to twice the original size after the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Cornelia Christenson was the author of the first biography of Dr. Kinsey. Also on staff were a librarian and translator. The Institute's library and special collections grew along with the staff, and are now used extensively by researchers from around the world.

Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale

One well-known theoretical construct designed by Dr. Kinsey is the "Heterosexual/ Homosexual Rating Scale," a seven-point continuum which has been reprinted in numerous publications since its original appearance in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. In 1990, Oxford University Press published a volume containing analyses of this scale called Homosexuality/ Heterosexuality: Concepts of Sexual Orientation (eds. David P. McWhirter, Stephanie A. Sanders, and June M. Reinisch). The scale has been widely reprinted in college textbooks on the subject of human sexuality. You can read more about the scale here.

[Kinsey rating scale]

[Institute Photographer]
William Dellenback
Institute Photographer

The photographer responsible for most of these images is William Dellenback, who also photographed many of the Institute's art objects. In addition to his photography work, Dellenback did filming of animal sex behavior as part of Dr. Kinsey's studies on sexuality in mammals. He came to the Institute in 1949 after working in his own studio in New York.

Photo credits: All pictures were taken by the Institute's staff photographer, William Dellenback, except the photos here entitled "Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey" (unknown photographer); "Authors of the Male Volume" (Indiana University's Audio-Visual Center) and "Dr. Kinsey Lecturing (unknown photographer).

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