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What is the history of ONE Inc.?


Liz Highleyman | March 28, 2007

August 1953 cover of ONE
ONE Inc., founded in the early 1950s, was at the forefront of the nascent homophile movement, and has played an important role, in America, in preserving GLBT history and culture to the present day.

In the wake of World War II, Los Angeles became the hub of a burgeoning homosexual community. In October 1952, two years after Harry Hay co-founded the Mattachine Society, several members decided to start the first gay magazine with a national circulation. The founding members included Dorr Legg, Donald Slater, Martin Block, Tony Reyes, Merton Bird, and Dale Jennings. The group was interracial from the start, and before long women took part, too, including Joan Corbin, Irma Wolf, and Stella Rush.

In November, the group incorporated as an independent nonprofit called ONE Inc. The first issue of ONE was published in January 1953. Along with essays, poetry, and book reviews, the magazine also featured the "Tangents" column by Jim Kepner, which compiled news from around the world. Initially sold in gay bars for 25 cents, the magazine achieved a nationwide circulation of 5,000 copies by the end of the decade.

In 1954, the Los Angeles postmaster refused to accept the October issue, branding it "obscene, lewd, lascivious, and filthy." ONE Inc. sued, and the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court. In January 1958, the high court unanimously overturned two lower court rulings, affirming that gay publications were not, per se, obscene.

ONE Inc. also made history as the first homophile organization to open a public office, which became the original de facto gay community center. Legg quit his job as an architect and was hired as the nascent movement's first full-time paid employee. ONE soon began offering courses and public lectures on various aspects of homosexuality and compiled a library of research materials. In 1956, Legg, Kepner, and Merritt Thompson established the ONE Institute of Homophile Studies, the first American academic institution dealing with gay issues. Kepner served as initial editor of the new scholarly journal, the ONE Institute Quarterly of Homophile Studies, but left to concentrate on his own gay archives, which he had started in the early 1940s.

In 1964, ONE began receiving funding from female-to-male philanthropist Reed Erickson, but the influx of money spurred disagreement about ONE's mission. In 1965, Legg, the chairman, installed his allies on ONE's board, and Slater (then editor of ONE magazine) retaliated by removing the contents of ONE's offices in a late-night raid. After a series of lawsuits, Slater obtained the organization's property, while Legg retained exclusive use of the "ONE" name. Slater changed the title of his magazine to Tangents, while Legg's faction continued to publish a separate magazine called ONE until 1968.

In 1981, the ONE Institute Graduate School of Homophile Studies was accredited by California to offer the first master's and doctoral degrees in GLBT studies. But the relationship between Legg and Erickson grew increasingly contentious, sparking a legal battle that consumed the organization's attention well into the 1990s.

After Legg�s death in 1994, what remained of the ONE Institute and ISHR merged with Kepner's International Gay and Lesbian Archives. In May 2001, the combined ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives opened in a building donated by the University of Southern California. More than 50 years after its founding, ONE remains, according to its mission statement, "dedicated to collecting, preserving, documenting, studying, and communicating our history, our challenges, and our aspirations."

For further information:

  • ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives: www.onearchives.org.
  • D'Emilio, John. 1983. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the U.S., 1940-1970 (University of Chicago Press).
  • Faderman, Lillian, and Stuart Timmons. 2006. Gay L.A. (Basic Books).

    Liz Highleyman is a freelance writer and editor who has written widely on health, sexuality, and politics.


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