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THE STORY OF THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO IN THE 1950S HELPED CREATE THE SEXUAL LANDSCAPE WE INHABIT TODAY
May/june 1993 | Volume 44, Issue 3
The new book was the final straw for the Rockefeller Foundation. In November 1953 Kinsey’s supporters there made passionate presentations on his behalf and put in a request for eighty thousand dollars. Rusk rejected it. It was a shattering moment. Kinsey wrote a note to Rusk pleading with him to come out to Bloomington to see what they were doing and telling of how well things looked for the future. Later, in another letter to Rusk, he noted, “To have fifteen years of accumulated data in this area fail to reach publication would constitute an indictment of the Institute, its sponsors, and all others who have contributed time and material resources to the work.”
Kinsey redoubled his efforts. If he had been driven before, now there was a manic quality to his work. His friends began to worry about his health. He suffered from insomnia, began to take sleeping pills, and started showing up groggy at work in the morning. Problems with his heart grew more serious. On several occasions he was hospitalized, and by the middle of 1956 he was forced to stay home and rest. In the summer of 1956 he conducted sex interviews number 7984 and 7985. On August 25, 1956, he died at the age of sixty-two.
“This is the magic and mystery of our time”
There had never been any doubt among those who knew him that Goody Pincus was a genius. Born in 1903, in Woodbine, New Jersey, Pincus was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who lived in a Jewish farm colony founded by the Baron de Hirsch Fund, a German Jewish philanthropy. Joseph Pincus, Goody’s father, ran the local farm, lectured to Jewish farmers all over the East, and for a time was editor of the Yiddish-language newspaper The Jewish Farmer . As a boy Goody was fascinated by animals and told his father he wanted to be a farmer when he grew up; his father told him there was no money in farming. The oldest of six children, Goody was always studying or reading and usually seemed pleasantly preoccupied. The Pincus home was filled with intellectual energy and curiosity, and Goody always seemed to be at its center. Evelyn Isaacson, a cousin, remembered a typical evening. John, the youngest of the children, then about six, turned to Goody, then about sixteen, and said, “Goody, I have three questions for you.” “What are they, John?” asked the obliging older brother. “One, why are we here? Two, why were we born? And three, there is no God.” The family believed Goody a genius; his IQ was said to be 210. He remained fond of animals and eventually majored in biology. He continued his studies at Harvard Graduate School under William Castle, the leader of the first generation of American geneticists. Genetics seemed a perfect vocation for someone with Pincus’s immense talents. The field was just beginning to explode as scientists forged breakthrough after breakthrough.
Goody Pincus’s early work involved parthenogenic—that is, fatherless—rabbits. In 1934 he announced that he had achieved in vitro (that is, inside a test tube) fertilization of rabbit eggs. Pincus took great joy in his work and was uncommonly candid about it. That candor might have served him well in other fields, but in genetics it got him into trouble. His work, some contemporaries felt, scared people, creating visions of Frankenstein- Brave New World nightmares. The New York Times headline ran: RABBITS BORN IN GLASS: HALDANE-HUXLEY FANTASY MADE REAL BY HARVARD BIOLOGISTS . The Times , as one writer observed, “pictured Pincus as a sinister character bent on hatching humans in bottles.”
But that was nothing compared with an article in Collier’s entitled “No Father to Guide Them.” The article managed, as the writer James Reed noted, to combine antifeminism, antiSemitism, and a phobia of science. Pincus was depicted as a kind of Rasputin of the science lab, bent on evil deeds. In Pincus’s world, the Collier’s author J. D. Ratcliff wrote, “man’s value would shrink. It is conceivable that the process would not even produce males. The mythical land of the Amazons would then come to life. A world where women would be self-sufficient; man’s value precisely zero.”
In reality, Pincus was the gentlest and most orthodox of men, a devoted husband and father, who left little poems behind on the pillow for his wife when he went to the lab in the morning. Still, the publicity did not sit well at Harvard. Pincus was already something of a controversial figure: he was Jewish in an age when American academia was still largely anti-Semitic, and his critics claimed he was too ambitious for his own good (and probably theirs).
In 1936 Harvard, celebrating its tercentenary, cited Pincus’s work as one of the university’s outstanding scientific achievements in its entire history. The next year, when Pincus was thirty-two, it denied him tenure. He was devastated. Fortunately, his old colleague Hudson Hoagland had just gone to Clark University in Worcester as the chairman of its biology department. Clark was a small school with a long tradition of excellent science departments. Enraged by Harvard’s cowardice and pettiness, Hoagland invited Pincus to come as a visiting professor.