HOOKER, EVELYN (1907-1996)
Born in North Platte, Nebraska, on September 2, 1907, Evelyn Hooker, a pioneer in the scientific study of male homosexuality, revolutionized the psychological establishment's understanding of homosexuality during the second half of the twentieth century. Her research and activism contributed significantly to the modern gay rights movement.
Evelyn Gentry, the sixth of nine children of poor farming parents, was born in her grandmother's home, close by Col. William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody's, barely eluding the Sandhills sod house in which her family had recently been dwelling. She spent her youth on small farms in northeastern Colorado until her education-minded mother, who had migrated to Nebraska by prairie schooner, moved the family to Sterling in the Colorado Plains, where Evelyn could attend a large and progressive high school. There her teachers encouraged her to apply to the University of Colorado, which she entered on a tuition scholarship in 1924, eventually majoring in psychology.
After completing her master's degree at Boulder in 1930, she pursued doctoral work at Johns Hopkins University, where she earned her doctorate in psychology in 1932. After several years of teaching at small colleges, a bout with tuberculosis, and study and travel in Germany (where she witnessed Nazi repression firsthand), she applied for a position in psychology at UCLA, becoming a research associate through the extension division in 1939. She taught and conducted her research there until 1970, and then pursued private practice for another decade.
Prompted by a gay former student, Hooker began preliminary research with male homosexuals in the late 1940s. In 1953 she applied to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for a stipend to undertake a comparative study of adjustment in nonclinical homosexual and heterosexual men, which to her surprise was granted, despite McCarthy-era attacks on homosexuals, ubiquitous sodomy statutes, and orthodox psychiatry's conviction that adult homosexual behavior was a serious mental disorder producing severe maladjustment.
Contradicting firmly entrenched psychiatric dogma, Hooker's findings, which were presented at meetings of the American Psychological Association and published from the mid-1950s onward in a succession of rigorously researched articles, demonstrated that there was no distinct male homosexual personality type, that homosexual men were no more inherently abnormal in psychological makeup than their heterosexual counterparts, and that the results of standard projective tests and attitude scales (Rorschachs, Thematic Apperception Tests, and the like) of wellmatched heterosexual and homosexual men were, in terms of social adjustment, indistinguishable to expert clinicians. (Other researchers, replicating Hooker's experiments, have repeatedly turned up identical results.) In 1961 she was encouraged to continue her empirical studies of homosexual men through an nimh Research Career Award.
Years later Hooker was appointed to head the nimh Task Force on Homosexuality. Among the recommendations of its 1969 report were increased funding for empirical scientific research into homosexuality, repeal of laws criminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults, and an end to job discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 1973, largely as a result of Hooker's sustained research, members of the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality as a pathological condition from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Two years later the American Psychological Association took a similar stance, and since then, in the spirit of Hooker's groundbreaking work, has become a leading force in the movement for social equality for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons. In 1991 the American Psychological Association honored Hooker's "Distinguished Contribution to Psychology in the Public Interest." The University of Chicago's Evelyn Hooker Center for Gay and Lesbian Mental Health was named in her memory.
Evelyn Hooker died in Santa Monica, California, on November 18, 1996.
George E. Wolf University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Hooker, Evelyn. "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual." Journal of Projective Techniques 21 (1957): 18–31.
Hooker, Evelyn. "An Empirical Study of Some Relations between Sexual Patterns and Gender Identity in Male Homosexuals." In Sex Research: New Development, edited by John Money. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965: 24–52.
Schmiechen, Richard, director. Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker. 16 mm and videocassette. New York: Changing Our Minds, Inc., 1992.