Magnus Hirschfeld life and biography

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Magnus Hirschfeld biography

Date of birth : 1868-05-14
Date of death : 1935-05-15
Birthplace : Kolberg, Germany
Nationality : German
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2010-08-23
Credited as : Writer and scientist, medical researcher, physician

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Magnus Hirschfeld , also known as Th. Ramien born May 14, 1868 in Kolberg, Germany - died May 15, 1935 in Nice, France is a German Physician, Health/Medical Scientist, Biologist, Scientist, Medical Researcher, Writer, Editor, Activist.


Born in Kolberg on the Baltic coast of Prussia (now Kolobrzeg, Poland) in 1868, Magnus Hirschfeld settled in Charlottenburg, a suburb of Berlin. Beginning in 1896 he became the world's leading authority on homosexuality during his lifetime and the founder of the Wissenschaftlich-humanitare Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee), the world's first homosexual rights organization. Throughout his life he was a prolific author of books, articles, and pamphlets on homosexuality and other facets of sexual psychology, and founded and edited the first scientific journal dedicated to the subject, the Jahrbuch fur sexuelle Zwischenstufen, which appeared in twenty-three volumes between 1899 and 1923. Exiled from his homeland by National Socialist persecution and deprived of German citizenship, he died in Nice, France, in 1935.

When Magnus Hirschfeld founded the Komitee in 1897, his intellectual and political resources were ones inherited from his predecessors. First of all, he uncritically accepted the umbrella concept of homosexuality invented by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Karoly Maria Kertbeny in the 1860s, with the neo-Aristotelian gloss that it was inborn and "natural." This concept he sought to locate in the framework of the Darwinian biology that in progressive circles had acquired the status of dogma, and he did so by devising the notion that homosexuals were an evolutionary "third sex," intermediate between the male and the female. He sought to validate this assertion through statistical data that projected the image of an individual with marked inversion of secondary and tertiary sexual characteristics. This theory was in keeping with the folk beliefs that had existed since antiquity, recognizing homosexuals as being visibly different from others. Hirschfeld was forced to turn a blind eye to the fact that the majority of predominantly or exclusively homosexual individuals are not of this stamp; the atypical pederast of both ancient and modern times has rarely existed.

What Hirschfeld and his forerunners could not revive was the pagan Greek religion, which had conferred the blessing and example of the gods on pederasty. They had, however, a vast corpus of classical texts referring to homoerotic relationships between adults and children in positive, even glowing terms--but Hirschfeld himself was no apologist for pederasty. With the heritage of classical antiquity he played a double game. On the one hand he sought to appropriate it in order to prove that homosexuality had a positive, noble, heroic side; but on the other--in his never-ending struggle for repeal of paragraph 175 of the Penal Code of the German Reich that criminalized male homosexuality--he asked that the age of consent be raised from fourteen to sixteen. This change would effectively have excluded the modern pederast from any benefit of the law. Hirschfeld's political stance was therefore troubled by duality, and by 1910 he was placing ever less emphasis on the "third sex" concept--a concession that left the collectivity of those attracted to their own sex undefined.

This was a gap his collaborator Kurt Hiller attempted to fill when in the spring of 1918, in the wake of the discussion of minority rights provoked by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, Hiller defined homosexuals as a biological minority equally deserving of tolerance and protection. But the whole weight of the Judeo-Christian tradition, which in this sphere of life had survived intact the assaults of the Enlightenment and of classical liberalism, still precluded acceptance of this principle. Furthermore, the image of a national minority was too clearly etched in the European mind, not just by theoretical analyses but by everyday experience, for lovers of their own sex to be accorded such a privileged status. Thus Hirschfeld's movement never gained the validation which it sought by "scientific" and legal arguments.

Throughout his thirty-nine years as a champion of homosexual rights, Hirschfeld steadfastly and uncompromisingly upheld the neo-Aristotelian view that true, primary homosexuality is inborn, constitutionally determined, spontaneous, and unmodifiable by any accident of psychological development or chance vicissitude in the life of the individual. Accordingly, he firmly rejected the neo-Thomistic conception of homosexuality as secondary and acquired by fixation at an immature stage of psychosexual development, seduction in adolescence, or vicious habit in adulthood. He thus faithfully continued the tradition of the movement begun by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, but strove to give it a more scientific foundation.

Hirschfeld's magnum opus, Die Homosexualitat des Mannes und des Weibes, published in 1914, remains the fullest and most comprehensive synthetic work ever written on the subject. For those who are able to consult it, it is a treasury of information, including references to hundreds of now-forgotten books and articles written between 1864 and 1913. According to critics, the thirty-nine chapters and three indexes summarize virtually everything that had been learned in the Germany of the Second Reich. If the approaches of modern depth psychology, gender studies, and literary criticism were lacking, it was because they lay beyond the intellectual horizon of that day.

Hirschfeld never resolved the contradictions inherent in the theological-forensic concept of homosexuality which he had inherited from his predecessors. His own empirical findings showed that homosexual individuals run the entire gamut from those who exhibit traditional characteristics associated with their sex to those who possess various traits more common to their sexual counterparts. Hirschfeld persisted in relating homosexuality to evolutionary intersexuality. Though he applied the logic of a separatist movement in claiming that sexual orientation was biologically determined and unalterable, as an assimilated Jew writing on the racial question, he echoed the assimilationist line of the Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith--heedless of the incompatibility between his two positions. While always claiming the legacy of the paiderasteia of Greco-Roman antiquity for homosexuality, he permanently and irrevocably alienated the leaders of the pederastic wing of the German movement, who felt no identity with the effeminate homosexuals and viraginous lesbians whom he paraded as proof of his theories. Although he was a Social Democrat and a member of the Sozialistische Arzteverein, the program of the sexual reform movement to which he belonged was in the final analysis individualistic--a tendency that led the Marxist-Leninist parties ultimately to repudiate it after 1933. Last of all, he could not give his followers a self-definition and a collective identity acceptable to German society. Some critics conclude that these faults doomed his lifelong campaign for toleration. Reviled by the National Socialists, Hirschfeld nevertheless bequeathed a legacy--if not to the American gay rights movement, which scarcely knew his work and his theories, at least to future researchers.


Family: Born May 14, 1868, in Kolberg, Prussia (now Kolobrzeg, Poland); immigrated to France; died May 14, 1935, in Nice, France. Education: Attended schools in Breslau, Strasbourg, Munich, and Berlin; received M.D.


Practiced medicine in Magdeburg, Saxony, and Charlottenburg, Berlin. Founded the Wissenschaftlich-humanitare Komitee, dedicated in general to the overthrow of legal intolerance of homosexuals in Germany, 1897. Editor of Jahrbuch fur sexuelle Zwischenstufen (twenty-three volumes), beginning in 1899. Presided over conferences of the World League for Sexual Reform on a Scientific Basis, Berlin, 1921, Copenhagen, 1928, London, 1929, and Vienna, 1930. Travelled the world on a lecture tour, beginning in November of 1931, collecting material for the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Fled Germany after the Nazis came to power, settling in France.


* (As Th. Ramien) Sappho und Sokrates, [Germany], 1896.

* Der urnische Mensch, M. Spohr (Leipzig), 1903.

* Die Homosexualitat des Mannes und des Weibes, L. Marcus (Berlin), 1914.

* Warum hassen uns die Volker? Eine Kriegspsychologische betrachtung von dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, A. Marcus and E. Weber (Bonn), 1915.

* Kriegspsychologisches, A. Marcus and E. Weber, 1916.

* Verstaatlichung des gesundheitswesens, Verlag neues vaterland, E. Berger (Berlin), 1919.

* (With Berndt Gotz) Sexualgeschichte der menschheit, P. Langenscheidr Gmbh. (Berlin), 1929.

* (With Richard Linsert) Liebesmittel: Eine darstellung der geschlechtlichen reixmittel, Man (Berlin), 1930.

* (With Ewald Bohm) Sexualerziehung: Der weg durch naturlichkeit zur neuen moral, Universitas, deutsche verlags-aktiengesellschaft (Berlin), 1930.

* Geschlechtskunde, J. Puttmann (Stuttgart), 1930.

* Geschlecht und verbrechen, Schneider (Leipzeg), 1930.

* (Editor) Sittengeschichte der jungsten seit: Eine darstellung der kultur, sittlichkeit und erotik des zwanzigsten jahrhunderts, Schneider, 1930.

* Sittengeschichte des weltkriegs, Schneider, 1930.

* Sexual Pathology, Being a Study of the Abnormalities of the Sexual Functions: An Exhaustive Treatise on Sexual Symbolism, Hypereroticism, Impotence, etc.: Based upon Research, Observations and Recent Clinical Data Gathered at the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin, translation by Jerome Gibbs, Julian Press, 1932 (Newark); new edition translated by Gibbs as Sexual Pathology: A Study of Derangements of the Sexual Instinct, Emerson Books (New York, NY), 1939.

* Die weltreise eines sexualforschers, mit 47 abbildungen, Bozberg-verlag (Brugge), 1933; translated by O. P. Green as Men and Women: The World Journey of a Sexologist, Putnam (New York, NY), and as Women East and West: Impressions of a Sex Expert, Heinemann (London), 1935.

* La science et l'amour, par le dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. L'ame et l'amour, psychologie sexologique, Gallimard (Paris), 1935; translated by John Rodker as Sex in Human Relationships, John Lane (London), 1935.

* Sexual Anomalies and Perversions, Physical and Psychological Development and Treatment: A Summary of the Works of the Late Professor Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld . . . Compiled as a Humble Memorial by His Pupils: A Textbook for Students, Psychologists, Criminologists, Probation Officers, Judges, and Educationists, F. Aldor (London), 1936.

* Racism, edited and translated by Eden and Cedar Paul, Gollancz (London), 1938.

* (With Andreas Gaspar) Sittengeschichte der beiden Weltkriege sowie der Zwischen-und Nachkriegszeit: Volume 1: Sittengeschichte der beiden Weltkriege sowie der Zwischen-und Nachkriegszeit; Volume 2: Sittengeschichte des Ersten Weltkrieges; Volume 3: Zwischen zwei Katastrophen, Schustek (Hanau), 1966.

* The Transvestites: The Erotic Urge to Cross-Dress, translation by Michael A. Lombardi-Nash, Prometheus Books (New York, NY), 1991.

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