Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life


The hidden life of Alfred C. Kinsey, the principal architect of the sexual revolution.In this brilliant, groundbreaking biography, twenty years in the making,
James H. Jones presents a moving and even shocking portrait of the man who pierced the veil of reticence surrounding human sexuality. Jones shows that the public image Alfred Kinsey cultivated of disinterested biologist was in fact a carefully crafted public persona. By any measure he was...
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The hidden life of Alfred C. Kinsey, the principal architect of the sexual revolution.In this brilliant, groundbreaking biography, twenty years in the making,
James H. Jones presents a moving and even shocking portrait of the man who pierced the veil of reticence surrounding human sexuality. Jones shows that the public image Alfred Kinsey cultivated of disinterested biologist was in fact a carefully crafted public persona. By any measure he was an extraordinary man—and a man with secrets.

Drawing upon never before disclosed facts about Kinsey's childhood, Jones traces the roots of Kinsey's scholarly interest in human sexuality to his tortured upbringing. Between the sexual tensions of the culture and Kinsey's devoutly religious family, Jones depicts Kinsey emerging from childhood with psychological trauma but determined to rescue humanity from the emotional and sexual repression he had suffered. New facts about his marriage, family life, and relationships with students and colleagues enrich this portrait of the complicated, troubled man who transformed the state of public discourse on human sexuality.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This study of the man often credited with launching the sexual revolution is purported to be a shocker. Jones is a historian at the University of Houston.
Kirkus Reviews
The author of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, etc., is portrayed here as homosexual, voyeur, masochist, scientist, and social revolutionary.

The first so-called Kinsey Report (1948) blasted Victorian morality by presenting statistical analyses of searching face-to- face interviews with thousands of American men who revealed sexual behavior that was shocking and liberating at the same time. Most men said they masturbated; many had premarital and extramarital sex; many had homoerotic experiences; and a small percentage had sex with animals. If that information—and the much milder revelations in the 1953 Kinsey Report on women—seems old hat now, it created a furor at the time that led all the way from American church pulpits to Congress (where, as recently as 1995, a bill was introduced calling for an investigation of Kinsey's influence on sex education). Beginning with Kinsey's guilt-ridden childhood in New Jersey and an unhappy relationship with an authoritarian father, Jones (History/Univ. of Houston; Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, 1981) describes the scientist's life in the kind of microscopic detail that would have pleased the man who began his career as an entomologist. After earning a Ph.D. from Harvard, Kinsey settled on the faculty of Indiana University. His interest shifted from insects to human sexual behavior because, he said, of his students' questions. Supported for many years by funds from the Rockefeller Foundation, he collected countless sexual histories, including those of homosexuals, pedophiles, prisoners, and prostitutes. Citing many anonymous sources, the author also reports that Kinsey privately practiced what he preached about sexual liberation: increasingly painful masochistic techniques, homosexual encounters, and later, with the staff of the Kinsey Institute, wife- and husband-swapping (episodes that were frequently filmed in the attic of Kinsey's home).

An exhaustive, compelling portrait of a scientist hailed as both a "genius" and a "dirty old man."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393040869
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/1997
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 937
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 2.20 (d)

Meet the Author

James H. Jones is the award-winning author of Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and Alfred C. Kinsey: A Life. An independent scholar, he lives in San Francisco, California.
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Read an Excerpt


In August 1956, Alfred Charles Kinsey, the world's most famous sex researcher, lay dying. Pneumonia had put him in the hospital, but heart disease had been grinding him down for decades. The last few years had been particularly nasty, as he waged his losing battle against chest pains, shortness of breath, and fluid buildup in his lungs, the classic symptoms of congestive heart failure. This is not a gentle death, and Kinsey was suffering greatly.

Yet far greater than his physical pain was the torment that had gripped his soul. Things had not gone well for Kinsey since 1953 when his portrait had appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Sales of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), his Long-awaited sequel to Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948), had been disappointing; a congressional committee had investigated his research and all but accused him of being a Communist; the Rockefeller Foundation, his financial patron, had withdrawn its support; and financial problems were threatening to close his beloved Institute for Sex Research.

The prospect of seeing his lifework destroyed was more than Kinsey could bear. For nearly two decades, he had devoted himself to sex research, working at a feverish pace and with a single-mindedness that left everyone who knew him in awe. Together, he and his coworkers had interviewed over 18,000 people, compiling more data on human sexual behavior than any scientists before them. This was the public part of his research, the work known to the world.

Privately, Kinsey had always been more than a fact-finder. He was a social reformer, a man who waged with fanatical consistency his own private waragainst sexual repression and hypocrisy. Always he had been sustained by the belief that he would win. Once people learned the facts about human sexual behavior, he reasoned, they would jettison guilt and embrace their sexuality with abandonment and joy. By 1956, however, Kinsey was a broken man. He had come to despair of victory, believing he had failed to produce significant changes in the sexual attitudes, mores, and laws of the United States.

Why had Kinsey cared so passionately and worked so hard all those years? The answer lies in his private life, in the fearful things he had kept hidden from the world. Kinsey was a man with secrets, a man whose stupendous guilt had combined with his puritan work ethic to produce his spring-coil vitality. Beginning with childhood, Kinsey had lived with two shameful secrets: he was both a homosexual and a masochist. He had not asked to be either, and he had spent his life deeply conflicted on both accounts. Yet Kinsey understood firsthand how difficult it was to change, and he knew better than to expect sympathy or understanding from society. In order to help himself, he would have to help others. Thus, his messianic crusade to reform the world that oppressed him.

Kinsey's guilt about his sexuality was hardly unique. It mirrored, albeit in exaggerated form, the sexual tensions and anxieties of his generation. Many late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Protestants, middle-class, and small-town Americans felt anxious and guilty about sex. They simply could not reconcile their culture's demands for moral rectitude with their own sexual needs and desires. To understand how Kinsey's complex character was formed, our search should begin with his childhood, for it was then that he developed his love for science and first took up the heavy burden of self-criticism.

* * *

Flowers. As objects of beauty, they are supposed to make people happy, but they made Alfred Charles Kinsey sad. Not all flowers, to be sure. Only those that had grown in his family's tiny yard in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he spent the first ten years of his life. "He disliked Hoboken and everything connected with it," Clara Kinsey, his wife, later told an interviewer, "even the flowers that grew in the garden they had in their small backyard." As an adult, Kinsey became an ardent gardener, but he would not permit marigolds, zinnias, or wisteria in his yard--the flowers his parents had grown in Hoboken. While his reaction was truly visceral, it was not the flowers he loathed but the childhood memories they triggered. Not that he dwelled on these years, for Kinsey believed that bad memories should be suppressed. As an adult, he advised young people "to learn the art of weighing down unprofitable things in our thoughts." Referring specifically to unwanted memories, Kinsey added, "We may not be responsible for the birds (memories) that fly over our heads but we can keep them from roosting in our hair."

After he gained world fame as a sex researcher, Kinsey received numerous inquiries about his past. People wanted to know his birthday, where he had been born, the names of his ancestors, whether he was married and had children, and even intimate details about his sex history. For a man who had become a celebrity by invading other people's privacy, he guarded his own with cool determination.

Many of the inquiries came from people who wondered if they might be related. In response, Kinsey revealed only the barest details about his family. Mostly, he talked about genealogy, telling one would-be relative that Kinsey was the English version of the Scottish name MacKinsey and that his forebears had crossed the ocean with the Quaker William Penn, who founded Philadelphia. Indeed, he maintained that all present-day Kinseys living in the United States could trace their ancestry back to the three brothers who accompanied Penn. Nor was Kinsey above claiming distinguished personages for his family tree. He boasted that one of the original three brothers became a famous jurist in New Jersey, while other Kinseys rose to the office of state treasurer in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania during colonial times.

Here he must have been repeating family lore, for he offered no genealogical evidence to prove his ancestry. According to Kinsey, descendants of the three brothers who helped found Pennsylvania eventually moved out of Philadelphia into other parts of the country. One group moved to New Jersey and New York, another to Indiana and Ohio, and still a third to San Francisco.

Both truth and error attended Kinsey's version of history. Men who bore his family name had indeed been important leaders in colonial days. John Kinsey (1693-1750), a brilliant Quaker lawyer, politician, and jurist, was elected the speaker of the New Jersey assembly before moving to Philadelphia, where he enjoyed even greater success, serving at different times as speaker of the Pennsylvania assembly, attorney general of the province, and chief justice of the supreme court of Pennsylvania. His son, James Kinsey (1731-1803), also compiled a distinguished record of public service, following his father into the law, winning election to the Continental Congress, and serving as chief justice of New Jersey's supreme court.

By the end of the American Revolution, scores of Kinseys lived in what became the northeastern United States, but Alfred Charles Kinsey's belief that all modern-day Kinseys derived from three Pennsylvania brothers was mistaken. Numerous Kinseys immigrated from the British Isles directly to the United States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and many more followed in the nineteenth. Nevertheless, two (not three) Kinsey brothers did accompany William Penn on his journey to Pennsylvania in 1682, and it is possible (although by no means certain) that Alfred Charles Kinsey descended from one of them.

Because he seldom spoke of his childhood, Kinsey's silence allowed others to speculate about his background. Before he became world famous, many of his graduate students at Indiana University had the distinct impression that Kinsey came from a well-to-do family. Perhaps it was his eastern accent, his educational pedigree (Bowdoin College undergraduate, Harvard University graduate school), and his intimidating knowledge of classical music, or maybe it was the stiff, formal bearing he often displayed. Whatever the explanation, many people found Kinsey cool and aloof, every inch a portrait of old money, with more than a sliver of ice in his heart. One of his former graduate students complained of Kinsey's "upper-class arrogance."

The truth of the matter was that Kinsey's immediate ancestors, who hailed from the New Jersey branch, were plain folks whose lives paralleled those of millions of working-class families. Theirs was a tale of ordinary people in search of work, migrating from villages to towns, towns to cities, and, finally, into the orbit of the great metropolis. Kinsey's paternal great-grandfather was Charles M. Kinsey. He was listed in the 1850 census as a carpet weaver in Bergen County, New Jersey. Charles, forty-five, was married to "Margaret C.," two years his junior. Their household consisted of six children, including their youngest, Benjamin, age two. The family apparently managed to get by on Charles's wages as a craftsman, for in an era in which child labor was not uncommon, none of the older children was put to work full-time. According to census records, all of the Kinsey children over the age of three (including the girls) had attended school within the year preceding the census.

Two decades later found Charles living in the same small town and still working as a carpet weaver, the trade he plied well into his seventies. In 1870, his real estate was valued at $1,700 and his personal effects at $300. In sum, Alfred Charles Kinsey's paternal great-grandfather was an ordinary fellow who held to his trade, who owned little beyond the means of survival, and who saw to the schooling of his children but could pass little on to them in the way of advanced education, land, a monetary inheritance, or a family business.

The same could be said about Alfred Charles Kinsey's paternal grandfather, Benjamin Kinsey. Throughout his long life, Benjamin's economic footing remained precarious, and he never managed to rise above his meager legacy. Duplicating the experience of so many other working-class youths in the nineteenth century, he married at an early age and abandoned the small farming community of his childhood to seek employment in the city. At some point in the early 1870s, Benjamin left Mendham and lived briefly in Ralston, before moving to Hoboken, across the river from New York City, where he spent the rest of his life in the shadow of America's greatest metropolis. In 1870, the census listed his occupation as "wheelwright"--certainly not a job with great prospects in an age of increasing industrialization. In subsequent years, he worked as a carpenter, chair maker, "huckster," and cabinetmaker. Not until 1888 did he obtain employment as a foreman, the job he maintained until old age forced him to retire.

In the late 1860s, Benjamin Kinsey married Margaret Seguine, the daughter of Alfred and Renzila Seguine, a working-class couple whose residences had fluctuated between New York and New Jersey. As often happened among members of the working class, the marriage between Benjamin and Margaret led to an economic alliance between their families. By 1873, Alfred and Benjamin had opened their own business in Hoboken, "Seguine & Kinsey, Wheelwrights," on the corner of Ferry and Garden Streets. Two years later, the business dissolved, and Alfred found work as a laborer, while Benjamin returned to carpentry. Despite the failed business, Benjamin and Margaret Kinsey remained in Hoboken, where their growing family must have pinched their meager resources. Their first child, Alfred Seguine Kinsey, named in honor of Margaret's father, arrived on February 18, 1871, shortly before the family moved from Mendham to Hoboken. A second son followed two years later, joined within a span of eight years by two daughters and a third son. Of all the children, Alfred, the firstborn, became the most successful.

A self-made man and proud of it, Alfred Seguine Kinsey started at the bottom and worked his way up. His father, Benjamin Kinsey, like his father before him, could do no more than earn a living for his large family. His six children all attended primary school, but their prospects for additional education were bleak. Thus, when a job for a shop boy opened at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, Benjamin jumped at the opportunity to place his fifteen-year-old son, Alfred, in this position. Alfred Seguine Kinsey would spend the next fifty-five years at the Stevens Institute.

In gaining his son an apprenticeship at the Stevens Institute, Benjamin Kinsey had the boy's best interest at heart. Manufacturing and industry had come of age in America. The new aristocrats among skilled workers were the machinists and the tool-and-die men who made and repaired the machines that kept the wheels of industry turning. As a shop boy, Alfred would have to pay his dues. At first he would sweep floors, clean machinery, and perform other menial tasks, but gradually he would also be taught to operate and repair the machines. Over time, he could reasonably hope to become a senior mechanic, a trade that would guarantee lifelong employment in a society that depended upon technology.

The machine shop was housed in the main building on campus, a three-story structure erected in 1881. The first floor contained various laboratories, the second floor the woodshop and the newly formed Department of Applied Electricity, and the third-floor classrooms and offices for the professors. As the son of a wheelwright turned carpenter, Alfred was well prepared for the woodshop. It was equipped with the usual assortment of small tools--wood lathes, wood-planing machines, band and circular saws, mortising machines, and the like. Here he remained for four years.

From his first day on the job, April 12, 1886, Alfred Seguine Kinsey set his sights high. In Hoboken's city directory for 1886-87, he listed his occupation as "machinist," a considerable inflation of his job as a shop boy. In the years to come, he repeated this practice again and again. At every stage of his climb to the middle class, he exaggerated his actual vocation to a higher status.

Endowed with a fierce desire to make something of himself, Alfred Seguine Kinsey wanted to escape the blue-collar world of his father by becoming a mechanical engineer. To achieve upward mobility, he confronted daunting challenges. He would have to earn the respect of his supervisors through hard work and diligent service, learn everything he could on the job, and somehow manage to advance his meager education. He moved forward on all fronts simultaneously. Blessed with great mechanical aptitude, he quickly learned all there was to know about the machines in the woodshop, and he impressed his supervisors as bright and hardworking. And most important for his future, from 1886 to 1890 he commuted across the Hudson to night classes at the Cooper Institute (later renamed Cooper Union), located on New York's Lower East Side.

That he was able to live at home with his parents helped financially, but it could not have been easy to work all day, commute to Manhattan, and attend evening classes. Still, he persevered, for he needed all the education he could get. By the late nineteenth century, the professional standards of colleges and universities across the United States were rising rapidly. People without college degrees held few positions on college faculties, and the days when a bright B.A. could hope to teach at the college level had all but passed. In fact, the better schools refused to consider anyone who did not have graduate training. Owing to the rapid growth in college enrollments and the relative shortage of college teachers, many schools had to settle for candidates with master's degrees, but the strongest institutions recruited faculty who had earned their doctorates. The Stevens Institute was no exception.

Alfred Seguine Kinsey was not without advantages. Added to his ambition and fierce work ethic, his four years of study at the Cooper Institute had given him a leg up on other workmen. Furthermore, he was lucky. His career at the Stevens Institute got a boost at several key junctures from fortuitous developments that would enable a former shop boy to join the ranks of the faculty.

From its founding, the Stevens Institute, in the words of one of its graduates, "emphasized a hands-on approach to the practical world of machines." During their freshman year, students had to learn how to make wood patterns in the woodshop, ram greens and molds into which molten iron was poured in the foundry, and cut castings to practical dimensions and specifications in the machine shop--jobs that fell within the domain of the Department of Shop Practice. In 1890, Alfred Seguine Kinsey was named an assistant instructor of shop work, a promotion that probably came as a reward for completing his studies at the Cooper Institute. True, his position occupied the gray area between manual arts and professional training, but no other department at the Stevens Institute offered a man of his background any chance of advancement. Since "shop" was required of all freshmen, his promotion to an assistant instructorship gave him a toehold in college teaching, and this set him apart from his fellow shop boys.

Having crossed the line from blue-collar shop boy to white-collar college teacher, Alfred Seguine Kinsey was determined to continue to improve his status. To compensate for his lack of academic credentials, he needed to acquire practical experience that would enhance his value to the Stevens Institute. His big break came in 1891, the year he transferred to the Department of Tests. There he was selected by Professor James Edgar Denton to serve as his assistant, beginning an apprenticeship that would last more than a decade. As luck would have it, "Jimmie D.," as he was known affectionately to his colleagues and students, was the ideal mentor. Not only did Denton hold a chair in mechanical engineering, but he himself had been upwardly mobile, which predisposed him to look with favor on ambitious, working-class youths.

From 1891 to 1902, Alfred Seguine Kinsey worked side by side with Jimmy D., learning mechanical engineering firsthand through on-the-job experience. Because his expertise was remarkably diverse, Denton's services were in great demand, assuring his assistants broad training in commercial engineering. Most of their assignments involved testing machinery for private industries, and over the years they performed tests "on boilers, pumping stations, electric plants, private yachts, ferryboats, ocean liners, locomotives, gas plants, artificial refrigeration, lubrication of machinery, metal cutting coolants, early Curtis turbines and the first Diesel motors." Of necessity, the work involved constant travel, because it was "not only done at Stevens, but all over the United States and in Europe."

Thanks to his position with Jimmy D., Alfred Seguine Kinsey gained enough financial security to wed. On February 19, 1892, one day after his twenty-first birthday and a year and a half after becoming Denton's assistant, he married Sarah Ann Charles, a quiet, soft-spoken woman, two years his senior. The Reverend Charles R. Barnes performed the ceremony in the parsonage of the First Methodist Church in Hoboken, the church that would serve as the focal point of the Kinseys' spiritual lives for the next thirteen years.

Sarah Charles's background is obscure. Her father was Robert Charles, a Welshman born in 1840, who immigrated to the United States as a boy. In 1860, he married a Welsh immigrant named Elizabeth, also twenty. They resided in Maryland until 1863 and then headed west, finding little success but pausing long enough to have children at regular intervals along the way. Their fourth child and third daughter, Sarah Ann Charles, Alfred Charles Kinsey's mother, was born in 1869 in Colorado.

The Charles family's trek to the Great American West earned an honored place in family folklore. In his high school biology textbook, An Introduction to Biology (1926), Alfred Charles Kinsey included a story about his grandmother's life as a pioneer. "Nine long months it took to cross the prairies and plains, and the deserts and the mountains, moving in ox-drawn prairie schooners," he wrote. "Then in time they toiled over the rugged Wasatch and down through the canyons and out into a veritable 'Land of Promise,' the valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah. Here they planted their crops."

Although the Charles family did settle in Salt Lake City, there is no evidence, other than Kinsey's story, that Robert Charles worked the land. According to another family legend, he became a printer after he reached Salt Lake City, where he was later killed by an Indian. Still another version has him working as a carpenter on the Mormon temple. In the 1880 census, Charles listed his occupation as "smelter," but also stated he had been unemployed for the past year. In all likelihood, he went west to work in the mining communities, where smelters would be needed, then adopted a variety of trades out of sheer necessity, including, perhaps, those of carpenter and printer. The Kinseys' Salt Lake City neighborhood, North Temple, contained many families of similar background--English, Welsh, and Scottish immigrants who listed their occupations as plasterer, painter, ice peddler, or blacksmith.

Whatever his vocation, Robert Charles needed work to feed his large family. By 1880, he had two sons and four daughters. The family must have been struggling financially, for the census that year reveals that none of the Charles children had attended school the preceding year. At some point during the 1880s, the Charles family moved back East. Again, family folklore assigns Indians a role in the story. Joan Reid, Alfred Charles Kinsey's second daughter and youngest child, remembered Grandmother Kinsey saying that her family had to be escorted by soldiers part of the way because of the threat of hostile Indians.

Apart from these bare details, virtually nothing is known about Sarah Charles before she married Alfred Seguine Kinsey. The sketchy portrait that emerges reveals a young woman from a working-class family, poorly educated, with no known skills or other means of support. Although her modest fourth-grade education seldom revealed itself in her speech in later life, it was evident from her many spelling and grammatical errors in her letters. Given his strong ambition and yearning for upward mobility, it is surprising that Alfred Seguine Kinsey would marry someone of this background. Over time, he would come to regret it.

The young couple wasted little time in starting a family. Their firstborn arrived two years after their marriage. Named in honor of both his father and his mother, Alfred Charles Kinsey was born on June 23, 1894. A daughter, Mildred Elizabeth, arrived two years later, followed in 1907 by their last child, Robert Benjamin Kinsey, named after his maternal and paternal grandfathers, respectively.

For thirteen years following their marriage, the Kinseys lived in Hoboken. Their son Alfred Charles spent the first decade of his life there. When he looked back on these years as an adult, he mentioned only public events, the sorts of things that make an impression on a young boy but offer little insight into his life. He recalled the first automobiles, the first paved streets, fireworks on holidays, and the like. Moreover, he claimed not to have any memories of the city after his family left when he was ten.

This was a remarkable contention, as Kinsey had returned to Hoboken countless times after his family moved away. He visited his grandparents and aunts and uncles on numerous occasions and played with cousins on Hoboken's streets. Following high school, he attended college for two years at the Stevens Institute, commuting daily from the suburbs. His insistence that his only memories of Hoboken were those of a small boy suggests his time there was so unpleasant that he did not wish to remember, part of his distaste perhaps triggered by the city's poverty and crowding.

Located on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, Hoboken (from the Indian "Hopoghan Hackingh," revised by the Dutch to Hoebuck, and later by the English to Hoboken) was aptly called the Mile Square City. Wedged between the Hudson River and the rump of the Palisades, Hoboken faced the Hudson River to the east, Jersey City to the south and west, and Union City to the north. In the early nineteenth century, Hoboken had served as a summer resort for New York City's wealthy set. On Sundays, New York's gentry would take the Fourteenth Street or Third Street ferry from Manhattan to Hoboken to enjoy the cool breeze along the River Walk and stroll through the beautiful woods in the garden spot known as the Elysian Fields. The rise of New York City during the nineteenth century, however, had transformed Hoboken into a bustling city and major transportation nexus. By the turn of the century, ten steamship lines and five railroads had converged on Hoboken, swelling its population dramatically. In 1890 Hoboken boasted 43,618 residents; in 1900 the number stood at 59,364; and in 1910 more than 70,000 people were jammed into its one-square-mile area, making Hoboken one of the most densely populated cities in the United States.

The city crowded in on everyone. Except for a few postage-stamp parks and the campus of the Stevens Institute, Hoboken contained no empty spaces. Every square foot was filled with railroad tracks, industrial plants, stores, and housing, most of which consisted of cold-water tenements. At the northern end of the city, where shop fronts and tenements crowded flush with the sidewalks, smoke blackened the sky, billowing forth from factories that produced a variety of metal, chemical, food, leather, and foundry products. Running parallel with the Hudson River was River Street, the artery of the city's bawdy nightlife, described by one writer as an "almost unbroken row of saloons with cheap hotels and flats above." River Street formed the heart of Hoboken. Prostitutes solicited customers along its sidewalks lined with bars, raucous dance halls, and boardinghouses, making the city a favorite port of call for seamen around the globe.

Hoboken was a rough and dirty city, and by the late nineteenth century its name had become synonymous with urban blight. When Oscar Wilde toured the United States in 1882 (his trademark lily in hand, dressed in knee britches, a flowing shirt with a wide Lord Byron collar, and a great fur-collared, green coat that hung almost to the patent leather shoes on his small feet), he was asked at every stop to define aestheticism, the strange new philosophy of beauty he had come to proclaim to Americans. It was no accident one persistent reporter mockingly asked if beauty could be found "in both the lily and Hoboken."

Alfred Seguine and Sarah Kinsey experienced the same crowding as their neighbors. Unable to buy their own home, they rented a series of apartments within walking distance of the Stevens Institute. At no point during these years did they live more than a few blocks from the older Kinseys, and during at least two separate years (and probably more) the two families moved in together. "Doubling up" with relatives, as the practice was called, was by no means uncommon. Working-class families in the nineteenth century often employed this strategy in order to make ends meet. Moreover, even when they did not live together, blue-collar families often "clustered" in the same neighborhood so that they could assist one another. At least two of Alfred Seguine Kinsey's siblings (and their families) lived in Hoboken, providing a network that could offer companionship and assistance in time of need.

While the streets and apartment numbers may have changed each time the Kinseys moved, the homes were much the same--low-rent housing consisting of two-, three-, and four-story cold-water tenements carved into tiny apartments that often served as multifamily dwellings. Units facing the street offered the luxury of windows, which let in sunlight year round and could be opened in warm weather for fresh air. But families who occupied interior apartments dwelled in shadows and darkness, illuminated only by artificial light. Here the air was stale and heavy, fertile breeding ground for tuberculosis and other diseases of urban blight. Hoboken was a dingy, dirty, crowded city, one that Kinsey desperately wished to escape.

For much of his adult life, Kinsey extended his hatred for Hoboken to all cities. He blamed the city for crowding in around him, shrinking his universe, and narrowing his vision. A sharp sense of claustrophobia marked his description of his childhood in Hoboken: "I was born in the heart of what was reputed to be the most densely populated square mile in the country. In lieu of woods and fields, there were the stones of the streets and the buildings, people, cats, dogs, horses, sparrows, the weeds of the vacant lots, and the frustrated plants of the mostly barren back yards. There was the cramped vision that it is the lot of the boy in the city."

In addition to feeling physically cramped in Hoboken, he felt emotionally crimped there--and for good reasons. One source of pressure was religion. The man whom Billy Graham would one day accuse of doing more to undermine morality than any other American grew up in a family that was deeply religious. The Kinseys belonged to the Methodist Church, and as evangelical Protestants, they practiced a brand of Methodism that was heartfelt and fiery. Their God was no benign patriarch; neither was He a disinterested deity who had created a world that operated according to natural laws and could be left to its own devices. In spirit, if not in name, He was the God of the Old Testament--a jealous and vengeful God, a God who knew a person's every thought and deed and punished those who broke His commandments.

While Sarah had strong religious beliefs of her own, Kinsey's father dominated the spiritual life of his household. Every week, without fail, the family attended Sunday school, Sunday morning services, and Sunday evening prayer meeting. Alfred Seguine Kinsey would not allow family members to ride to church; they had to walk. Nor would he let the milkman make Sunday deliveries. One observer, who had been their neighbor as a boy, insisted that the father would not permit his family to do anything on Sunday except "go to church and eat." The same rules applied to visiting relatives. As an adult, Alfred Charles Kinsey recalled his father ordering his aunt to leave the house for playing the piano one Sunday afternoon.

Religion had a profound influence on Kinsey. One could say he was reared in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord," save for one fact--his pious father admonished far better than he nurtured. Alfred Seguine Kinsey commanded dual authority: he acted as the head of the house and as God's spokesman to his family.

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