Evelyn Hooker (Evelyn Hooker)

Evelyn Hooker

Evelyn Hooker was born Evelyn Gentry in North Platte, Nebraska, in her grandmother’s house and grew up with eight brothers and sisters in the Colorado Plains. When she was 13, her family moved to Sterling, Colorado. The journey to Sterling would be one of Evelyn’s fondest memories. Evelyn’s mother, Jessie Bethel, who had a third grade education, told her to pursue an education because that was the only thing that could not be taken away from her. The Gentry family was not wealthy in the least, and Evelyn was further stigmatized by her nearly six-foot stature. Still an advocate of education, Jessie Bethel enrolled Evelyn at Sterling High School, which was large and unusually progressive for the time. There, Evelyn was in an honors program and was able to take a course in psychology. Evelyn wanted to go to a teachers college, but her instructors saw her potential and encouraged her to go to the University of Colorado. By the time she was ready to graduate, she had obtained a scholarship to the University of Colorado Boulder. In 1924 Evelyn Hooker became a student at the University of Colorado while working as a maid for a rich Boulder family. Her mentor, Dr. Karl Munzinger, guided her in her challenge of the then-prevalent psychological theory of behaviourism. She wrote her thesis paper on trial-and-error learning in rats. He invited her to write her own case history. After receiving her Masters degree, she became one of 11 women involved in the PhD program in psychology at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, having been refused referral from the chairman of Yale for being a female. She studied with Knight Dunlap, who also generally did not approve of women doctorates. She was awarded her PhD in 1932.

In her early career, Evelyn Hooker wasn’t especially interested in the psychology of homosexual people. After teaching for only one year at the Maryland College for Women, she contracted tuberculosis and spent the next year in a sanatorium in Arizona. After her recovery she began teaching at Whittier College in Southern California. Then in 1937 Gentry received a fellowship to the Berlin Institute of Psychotherapy, at which point she left Whittier. Evelyn lived with a Jewish family while she studied in Europe. While there, she got a first-hand look at the rise of Adolf Hitler and witnessed such events as the Kristallnacht. She learned later that the Jewish family she lived with was killed in concentration camps. Before returning home, Evelyn went on a group tour to Russia, arriving just after a major purge. The events that Evelyn would see in Europe ultimately sparked her desire to help overcome social injustice. When Evelyn was ready to return to work at Whittier, she found that she could not return. The heads at Whittier were afraid of her because she had spent a year living in a totalitarian Europe. She and several other staff were let go because they were suspected of subversive behavior. As a result, she applied for work in the psychology department at the University of California, Los Angeles. The chair of the psychology department at UCLA at the time was Knight Dunlap, Evelyn’s mentor from Johns Hopkins. Dunlap said he would like to give her a job, but they already had three female faculty members and they were “cordially disliked”. She was able to get a position as a research associate, however. Evelyn quickly gained a reputation as a brilliant teacher and researcher. She stayed at UCLA for 31 years, where she conducted research and taught experimental and physiological psychology until 1970 when she went into private practice.

However, during the 1940s, she first became interested in what would turn out to be her life’s work. Evelyn was teaching an introductory psychology class in 1944 when a student approached her after class. He identified himself as Sam From; he confided in her that he was gay and so were most of his friends. Evelyn Hooker realized Sam was one of the brightest students in the class and quickly became friends with him. They would spend time between and after classes to talk and get to know each other. Sam introduced Evelyn to his circle of homosexual friends. They would go to clubs, bars, and parties where Evelyn was able to fraternize with more homosexuals. Sam’s closest friends were some of the most intelligent students Evelyn had the pleasure to meet, including Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender, a writer and a poet. He challenged her to scientifically study “people like him”. Sam proposed a question to Evelyn Hooker: Why not conduct research on homosexuals to determine whether homosexuality was some sort of disease or disorder and not relevant to a person’s psychological makeup? Sam urged her to conduct research on homosexuals, saying it was “her scientific duty to study people like us”. Evelyn was intrigued by the question and further persuaded by her experience with social rejection as a child, witnessing the effects of racial and political persecution in her travels, and discrimination in her professional life. Over the next two decades she became established professionally. In 1948 she moved to a guest cottage at the Salter Avenue home of Edward Hooker, professor of English at UCLA and poetry scholar. They married in London in 1951, and she took his surname. In the mid-fifties Christopher Isherwood became their neighbor. She was against the relationship of Christopher Isherwood with the much younger Don Bachardy; they were not welcome at her house Sam From died in a car accident in 1956, just before Hooker’s ground-breaking research was published. Hooker’s husband died in January 1957 of cardiac arrest.

The 1960s saw her work find a wider audience, and her conclusions were taken up by the gay rights movement. In 1961 Hooker was invited to lecture in Europe and in 1967, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) asked her to produce a report on what the institution should do about homosexual men. Richard Nixon’s election in 1969 delayed the publication of the report, which was published by a magazine, without authorization, in 1970. The report recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality and the provision of similar rights to both homosexual and heterosexual people. The burgeoning gay rights movement seized on this. Evelyn Hooker retired from her research at UCLA in 1970 at the age of 63 and started a private practice in Santa Monica. Most of her clients were gay men and lesbians. In her later life she would be awarded with the Distinguished Contribution in the Public Interest Award. The University of Chicago opened the Evelyn Hooker Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies in her honor. She was also the subject of the 1992 Academy Award–nominated film Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker. Evelyn Hooker died at her home in Santa Monica, California, in 1996, at the age of 89.

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Born

  • September, 02, 1907
  • USA
  • North Platte, Nebraska

Died

  • November, 18, 1996
  • USA
  • Santa Monica, California

Cemetery

  • Woodlawn Cemetery
  • Santa Monica, California
  • USA

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