Harvard's Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals

Harvard's Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals

by William Wright

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In 2002, a researcher for The Harvard Crimson came across a restricted archive labeled "Secret Court Files, 1920." The mystery he uncovered involved a tragic scandal in which Harvard University secretly put a dozen students on trial for homosexuality and then systematically and persistently tried to ruin their lives.

In May of 1920, Cyril Wilcox, a freshman suspended from Harvard, was found sprawled dead on his bed, his room filled with gas—a suicide. The note he left behind revealed his secret life as part of a circle of (cut "young") homosexual students. The resulting witch hunt and the lives it cost remains one of the most shameful episodes in the history of America's premiere university. Supported by legendary Harvard President Lawrence Lowell, Harvard conducted its investigation in secrecy. Several students committed suicide; others had their lives destroyed by an ongoing effort on the part of Harvard to destroy their reputations. Harvard's Secret Court is a deeply moving indictment of the human toll of intolerance and the horrors of injustice that can result when a powerful institution loses its balance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312322724
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/31/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 815,426
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

William Wright graduated from Yale University in 1952. He is a New York Times bestselling author who has contributed to Vanity Fair, Town and Country, and the New York Times.

Table of Contents

Author's Noteix
Prologue: A Dark Place1
Part 1The Students
1A Death on High Street9
2Shaken Harvard21
3A Walk Along the Charles35
4A Rare Outbreak of Evil45
5Harvard and the Homosexual61
6America's Gay Dossier79
7A Party in Perkins87
8The Court in Session95
9The Cunning and the Damned107
10Farce to Tragedy119
11Enduring Wrath137
Part 2Surviving Harvard
12Settling Dust153
13The Kenneth Day Story163
14The Joe Lumbard Story175
15The Keith Smerage Story187
16Survival Struggles203
17The Nathaniel Wollf Story215
18The Lester Wilcox Story223
19Homophobia's Long March243
20Loose Ends263
Epilogue: Discovering Secrets275
Select Bibliography283

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Harvard's Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
IsolaBlue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Written midway through the past decade, Harvard's Secret Court hasn't been touted as it should be or read as widely as it needs to be. Wright's nonfiction study of a gay witch hunt at one of the country's most respected universities reads like a fiction thriller. Those who tend to shy away from nonfiction will find this book as exciting to read as the best of the mystery genre. The sad part is that the witch hunt, the suspense with which Wright seduces the reader, and the characters are all real. Everyone should read this book: gay folks, straight folks, history buffs, parents with sons or daughters at universities, and anyone who fears prejudice and hate. This well-written and well-researched book shows us how easy it is for the fear of one or two individuals to ruin the lives of many. Yes, the action in Harvard's Secret Court took place in 1920, but what happened then could happen again. This book, although of gay and lesbian interest, should not be stuck on a "gay ghetto" bookshelf awaiting only gay readers. Wright's work deserves to be read - and thought about - by a large cross section of the reading public: high-school students, college graduates, atheists, and the right-wing religious. Harvard's Secret Court will keep the reader up all night as the action - and the appalling reality - sends one back to a New England campus in the 1920s to meet an interesting cast of characters. We will all look forward to future work of this caliber from William Wright.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Power corrupts. Common theme. We are seeing it in the media everyday. The arrogance of power leads to the suffering of individuals. In 1920, the suicide of a Harvard student led to a secret court that set about purging the campus of the harmful effects of homosexuality. The court, convened by President A. Lawrence Lowell, blazed through a small community of students ignited by the distraught and angry brother of the dead youth. William Wright narrates the story of this event hidden for 82 years in his book Harvard¿s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals. Cyril Wilcox¿s suicide was the first domino that resulted indirectly with 2 more suicides and numerous life aspirations of families and students being destroyed. Wright attempts to uncover the motivation behind this court. Was Lowell¿s flamboyantly lesbian sister a fuel for the fire. Was it fueled by the courts view that homosexuality, despite quickly changing views and the influence of homosexuality on a rich culture, had no place in an institution that took its job of creating the men of a nation serious. Wright looks at this and offers his own insights and opinions. It was not enough that students were expelled from Harvard. Harvard expected them to get far from Cambridge. The expelled students were informed that any attempt to reference their time at Harvard would lead to letters describing explicitly their crimes. This in effect ended the college careers of promising young men. Men whose immediate and extended families had invested much in these youth¿s future. Joe Lumbard, one student expelled, was allowed to return the following year. If Lumbard is an example of the caliber of futures lost, it is truly sad. Joe Lumbard had legal career that spanned 8 decades. He won glory as a federal prosecutor. He sat on the New York supreme court. He was cofounder of the OSS, which later became the CIA. He conclude his career as a senior judge on the US Court of Appeals. In 1967 Lumbard was close to a seat on the Supreme Court but in the end, Lyndon Johnson selected another lawyer in Lumbard¿s firm, Thurgood Marshall. Lumbard was even elected to the Board of Overseers of Harvard. Lumbard¿s opinion was that 'the legal system was in place to help people resolve conflicts, but not to impose anything on anyone'. What would Joe Lumbard say about the current discrimination issues rampant in communities today? Wright shows the reader how the entire country benefited from Lumbard¿s work. As late as 1953, his expulsion from Harvard turned up during an FBI background search. Lumbard¿s crime? He was not gay, but simply was too friendly to the campus homosexuals. Wrights book is powerful both in its content and warning. The tides of public opinion can be unpredictable, and the vindictiveness of those in power can have long term effects. Humanity deserves better.