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LGBTQ+ Studies: A Resource Guide

The Mattachine Society

The Mattachine Society (Initially called the Mattachine Foundation) began as a secret organization in Los Angeles in 1950, with their first Statement of Purpose drawn up in 1951. The group was founded by Communist organizer Harry Hay and other leftists including Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Dale Jennings, Konrad Stevens and James Gruber. The Mattachine founders borrowed the initial structure of the organization from the Community Party, and the leadership, the "fifth order" was anonymous, so members didn't even know their names The Mattachine Society went on to become one of several prominent groups organizing during the period of LGBTQ+ activism referred to as the Homophile Movement.

Out of the Shadows in 1953, the Mattachine Society Goes Public.

On March 12, 1953 journalist Paul Coates published the inflammatory article, “Well, Medium and Rare,” in the Los Angeles Mirror. During the height of McCarthyism, the Coates article outed Mattachine legal adviser Fred Smith as an un-friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee. At the time this article was published, the Mattachine Society was still not a public organization. At the next discussion group meeting on March 20, 1953, the meeting notes of Marilyn Rieger conclude that "...It was felt that if the entire organizational set-up is open and above board, there should be no fear of the Board of Directors and those involved with making policy for the Mattachine to make themselves known to the discussion groups."

In April 1953, in the aftermath of the article and amidst the increased concern of Mattachine members and discussion groups, a two-day conference was called. The purpose of this conference was not only to reassure members, but also to, "...draw up a constitution, adopt by-laws, and elect officers for an open membership organization" (D'Emilio, 1983, p. 77). A second conference was held in May 1953 to continue this work, and at this convention the Mattachine officially became a membership organization with regional branches able to elect their own officers. Facing pressure over their Communist and radical leftist ties from more conservative members, the original founders resigned from their positions in May 1953, and new leaders were elected. At the November 1953 convention, the new leadership presented a resolution to form a "committee for investigating of communist infiltration." The resolution was tabled, but the original founders of the Mattachine had been officially ousted.

Around 1957, the National Mattachine Society moved their headquarters from Los Angeles to San Francisco. By 1961 Mattachine affiliates became fully independent as the National Organization disbanded. The now unafillated San Francisco Mattachine chapter went on until 1967

The Mattachine Society began publishing The Mattachine Review in 1955. Regional organizations also published their own periodicals and newsletters

Sources:

D'Emilio, John (1983). Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Library of Congress General Collections.

Coates, Paul. "Well, Medium and Rare,” in theLos Angeles Mirror,March 12, 1953. Accessed via Gale's Archives of Sexuality and Gender, The Homophile Movement: Papers of Donald Stewart Lucas, 1941-1976, Homophile Organizations Mattachine Foundation Correspondence. Library of Congress Electronic Resources.

Rieger, Mariyln. Notes of Discussion Group Meeting March 20,1953. Accessed via Gale's Archives of Sexuality and Gender, The Homophile Movement: Papers of Donald Stewart Lucas, 1941-1976, Homophile Organizations Mattachine Foundation Correspondence. Library of Congress Electronic Resources.

Finding Primary Sources

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Regional Organizations

  • The Washington Mattachine, established in 1956 by Buell Dwight Huggins. 
  • The Mattachine Society of Washington (DC), formed in 1961. Founded by Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols. The first DC office space was located at 1319 F St. NW. 
  • The Mattachine Society of New York, External formed in 1955, disbanded in 1987.
  • The Mattachine Society of Philadelphia, formed in January 1965 by four women. 
  • Mattachine Midwest,1965 – 1986
  • Denver
  • Boston
  • Chicago

The National Mattachine Society (LA/San Francisco) held annual conventions. In addition, local branches often held conferences and events of their own. You can find a great deal of the conference proceedings in the subscription database linked below, the Archives of Sexuality and Gender.

Government surveillance occurred at a number of these conventions, and you can find FBI and CIA files on their investigation of homophile organizations including at conferences and events. 

The subscription resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.