Minutes, bylaws, correspondence, manuscripts,
newsletters, financial records, legal papers, transcripts, pamphlets, flyers,
clippings, sound recordings, and other papers relating to the Mattachine
Society, brought together by the Mattachine Society Project from materials
donated to ONE Institute (now ONE International Gay & Lesbian Archives) by
Harold Call; from other collections held by ONE; and from collections in Jim
Kepner's International Gay & Lesbian Archives. Founded in Los Angeles in
1951 by actor and activist Harry Hay--who originally structured it as a secret
society, or "fraternal order"--the Mattachine Society was reorganized and
incorporated in California in 1954, and established "area councils" and
chapters around the United States. Its activities included group discussions,
research, annual conventions and the periodical,
Mattachine Review. Financial and
organizational conflicts, however, led to the dissolution of the national
organization in 1961. Although several chapters-- including Los Angeles, San
Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C.--continued as independent
organizations, most of these had ceased operations by the mid-1970s. Materials
in the collection date from the earliest days of the organization to the
creation of the Mattachine Society Project in 1990.
The Mattachine Society traces its roots to Los Angeles in the late
1940s, when Harry Hay--a married man and actor who also taught music at the
University of Southern California--began formulating his idea for a homophile
organization, which he initially named the "International Bachelors Fraternal
Orders for Peace and Social Dignity." Beginning in 1951, groups of homosexual
men and women began meeting secretly at various locations throughout Los
Angeles to discuss issues relevant to the homosexual community. At Hay's
suggestion, this organization took the name "Mattachine Foundation"--after
traveling performers in medieval Europe who staged satires wearing
masks--because contemporary American homosexuals were also forced to hide
behind masks. Hay had been active in the Communist Party, and many of the
Foundation's founders, including Rudi Gernreich, Bob Hull and Chuck Rowland,
shared Hay's leftist politics. The Foundation, or "fraternal order," was
organized along the lines of the secretive, cell-like structure of the
Communist Party, which also needed to protect the identities of its members.
Hay also took from Marxism the idea that for homosexuals to end their
oppression they must develop a group consciousness as an oppressed class.
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