Outing History

Outing History

Brady Commons on MU's campus: It's just a place to eat, shop, cash a check or grab a cup of coffee before rushing off to class. It's a place bustling with activity all day long, yet few know about Thomas A. Brady's "long and distinguished service" to the university, the reason the Board of Curators passed a resolution in 1966 naming the student commons after the former dean.

Now, 40 years after the curators honored Brady, a group of student activists claim he actually brought dishonor to the campus by ousting homosexuals and, in some instances, humiliating them to the point of suicide. And those students are committed to making sure campus officials think twice before putting Brady's name on the new expanded student center.

Students Patrick Buckalew, Erin Kennedy and Megan Lee banded together this summer after a class explored Brady's actions. They say Brady overstepped his duties as dean of extra-divisional activities while the university counters that he was a product of his era and was legitimately following the state's anti-sodomy laws.

Given the different perceptions of sexuality between today's world and Brady's, is it fair to judge his actions by contemporary standards?

Once upon a time...

Brady began teaching history at MU in 1926 and in 1946 became vice president in charge of extra-divisional educational activities, a position later renamed dean of extra-divisional administration. MU enrollment surged after World War II as returning veterans filled the campus. Brady created counseling and vocational programs for veterans, and he expanded student services and degree programs. He was the first MU faculty member ever awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a prestigious grant to further scholarly development and research. As the faculty member responsible for student discipline, Brady played an instrumental role in shaping MU's policies for keeping homosexuals off campus. In those days, same-sex relationships were deeply closeted, a necessary action considering the potential criminal penalties and moral strictures that existed.

Nevertheless, "he was considered an excellent dean of students," says Wayne Anderson, an MU professor emeritus who worked as a therapist during Brady's tenure. "And they named the building after him advisably. The guy had been very well thought of — a real gentleman."

When Brady became vice president in 1946, few females were enrolled at the university, and blacks couldn't set foot on campus as students or faculty. In this atmosphere of sanctioned prejudice, Anderson says, homophobia also prevailed.

"There was this feeling that they were predatory, and as predatory people they were capturing others and bringing them into the mold," Anderson says. "It was almost as if homosexuality was such a powerful thing that once you were exposed to it, you could become one."

The removal of homosexual faculty and students fell under Brady's disciplinary duties as dean. In a memo to President Frederick Middlebush dated Nov. 29, 1949, Brady recommended that homosexual cases be "handled by the regular disciplinary machinery" and that subjects should, if possible, be referred to the Student Health Service to determine whether they were homosexuals. Although sending them to doctors might sound strange, the American Psychiatric Association didn't remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses until 1973.

Brady's son, Thomas Brady Jr., a professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Berkeley, recalled during a recent telephone interview that there were two prevailing views of homosexuality at the time. The first was that it was strictly a criminal act.

"The other view was that it was a psychiatric problem, and that was clearly my dad's view," he says.

A closeted past

Regardless of Brady's personal views, students and faculty suspected of homosexuality were cast out of the university. Records of the number of people affected by this policy are not available, and the Board of Curators permanently seals student disciplinary files.

In the late 1940s, Missouri law classified homosexual acts as felony crimes against nature. The university first began ousting homosexuals during this period, Anderson says, after Columbia developed a reputation as a "safe haven" for gay men. Under orders from the state legislature, MU developed policies to halt the influx of homosexuals, and university officials set up a committee to investigate suspects, Anderson says. The university identified homosexuals based on the testimonies of students and faculty who were offered immunity from discipline in return for testifying against one another.

To catch homosexuals in the act, Anderson says, the university installed a "one-way screen" in the men's restroom in Ellis Library, where discipline officials could secretly watch men engage in homosexual acts before apprehending them. Although official records are nearly impossible to find, anecdotal evidence still survives after more than four decades.

In interviews conducted by the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) Historical Society in San Francisco, homosexual men who attended MU in the late 1940s describe the "gay witch hunts" that took place. Published in the society's winter 1995 newsletter Our Stories, the interviews, given under pseudonyms, describe the "tremendous crackdown at the university on the gay activity" and the students who committed suicide after MU officials expelled them.

Mary Jo Neitz, an MU sociology professor who has researched and written about gay history here, says Brady's policies against homosexuals had effects beyond mere dismissal.

"People's lives were ruined," Neitz says. "Some of those guys committed suicide. Relationships with their families were disrupted. Many of them were people coming back from the war, and their lives were ruined."

"Phillip," a former MU student interviewed by Jim Duggins of the GLBT Historical Society, describes running into a gay friend who'd been caught "at a party out in the woods in Salem, Mo., in a cabin, having a wild time."

"The university got rid of everyone," Phillip says. "Each student who had been involved had his transcripts stamped, 'This student will not be readmitted to the University of Missouri until he is cleared of charges regarding homosexual activities.' That's why one kid killed himself right away, and others killed themselves during the ensuing months. It was just tragic."

Phillip and the other interviewees also discuss the 1948 dismissal of MU advertising professor E.K. Johnston. "E.K. Johnston had been at the party," Phillip says. "He was immediately dismissed; the chancellor of the university, or whoever it was, said, 'We had no idea. Such a respected man,' though Johnston had been talked about for years."

According to Boone County court documents and articles from The Kansas City Star, Johnston was arrested in May 1948 and charged with sodomy in connection with a "homosexual ring" in Salem, Mo. On May 28, 1948, MU issued a formal statement explaining Johnston's dismissal "in view of the nature and gravity of the charges." Johnston moved to Kansas City, where he lived until his death in 1990.

In a 1966 memo he wrote to an MU counseling committee, Bob Callis, who became dean after Brady's retirement and death in 1964, reflected on the homosexuality scandal in the late 1940s.

"The record does show rather clear evidence that several incidences of homicide and suicide were a direct outgrowth of the activities of homosexual rings in operation at that time," Callis wrote. "Damage to human life and welfare of less serious proportion than suicide and homicide is also evident from the record."

It's all in a name

Students should consider that Brady was a product of his time, and the Brady name, though not tied to any financial donations, will likely remain on the building in some way, says Cathy Scroggs, MU's vice chancellor for student affairs.

But that won't be the case if students Buckalew, Kennedy and Lee have their way. Since September, the three have worked to get the word out about Brady's anti-homosexual policies. They created a blog (link) and covered the MU campus with flyers asking, "Who was Thomas A. Brady?"

The students began researching Brady this summer after their women and gender studies class Sex Radicals required them to read a memo he wrote on MU's policy on homosexuals. After spending the summer searching through file after file of Brady's documents in the University Archives, the students took their findings to Scroggs and asked about the possibility of a new name for the student center.

"My response was that this is interesting information for sure, but ... if we walked around and looked at the past of a number of people in history, we may find some things that we're not very happy about or very proud of," Scroggs said.

In a July 26 e-mail to Buckalew, Student Life Director Mark Lucas wrote, "It seems clear that" President Elson Floyd and Chancellor Brady Deaton "will not consider changing the name of ANY building on this campus. Regretfully, this seems to be the final stance on this issue."

Scroggs, however, says a final decision on the name has not yet been reached, as the building will not be completed for another four years, and it's possible the new center will be named after a donor.

The $58.7 million student center project, approved by MU students in April 2005, will expand the center and renovate some existing portions. The expansion, which began this fall, is slated for completion in fall 2008. Final renovations will be finished by 2010.

"It's more than just a refurbishment," says Michelle Froese, public relations manager for MU student auxiliary services. "We're gutting Brady Commons to its girders."

A new name, the students say, is right for a new building.

"Our response is, 'We're not asking you to rename an old building,' " Buckalew says. "We're asking them to give a new name to what is essentially a new building."

Scroggs says the 1966 Board of Curators had good reasons for choosing Brady as the namesake for the student center completed in 1963. The information about the university's stance on homosexuality and Brady's implementation of its policies doesn't affect the original rationale, she says.

"Here's a man who kept the med school and the hospital in Columbia, and that's significant," Scroggs says. "People liked him; the students liked him. He was a real advocate for them."

Even though university officials maintain that Brady was just following anti-sodomy laws in place at the time, Buckalew says he and the other students reject that notion.

"He wasn't just following the letter of the law," Buckalew says. "There was no law saying you had to purge all homosexuals from the university."

Neitz says Brady went beyond what the law required.

"It is true that homosexuality was not widely accepted, but Brady went after these people," Neitz says. "He opened the closet and pulled them out and tossed them out of the university."

Anderson says the fact that Brady held the same views as everyone else was a key to his success.

"He was a person of his time," Anderson says. "He had to pretty much think like everybody else. If he had thought differently, he would have been in trouble."

Buckalew says although Brady's actions were consistent with the prevailing views, the students feel there might be better options for the building's name.

"We're not trying to say he was this awful, awful man, but he did do some awful, awful things," Buckalew says. "Why shouldn't we memorialize the people who fought this?"

Case closed?

The students are now working to involve student organizations, including Four Front, the umbrella organization for campus minority groups. Buckalew says although he'd ultimately like to see a new name on the student center, he's most interested in how and why the university memorializes historical figures.

Kennedy, another student working with Buckalew on the issue, says her main goal is to educate the campus. She says she's hopeful for some sort of university acknowledgment of Brady's role in gay and lesbian discrimination.

When asked about the students' work, Brady Jr. says he doesn't know the motives behind their research and the methods they used.

"As historians, we're taught to look at context," he says. "You have to treat these people how you would want your grandparents to be treated, or your great-grandparents."

Neitz says although it is important to understand the social views and attitudes of the '40s, '50s and '60s, she would like to see MU recognize its history of discrimination.

"By being in a public position, we have this opportunity to give a good example and move toward less discrimination," Neitz says. "So when they say we aren't going to do that, I find that very disturbing."

Scroggs says she doesn't think an apology from the university is likely.

"You want us to say that what he did was wrong ... but haven't we fixed it?" Scroggs says. "Haven't we changed laws, haven't we changed our behavior? I mean, we're not doing the same things he did, so we did fix it."

But Scroggs says there is plenty of room for discussion about Brady's role in MU's history and his place on today's buildings. She says it might be possible that other figures, such as fired advertising professor E.K. Johnston, will be memorialized in other ways, such as a "social justice wall." Scroggs also emphasizes that the student center project is still in the early stages, and that MU plans to "open a dialogue" on the issue.

"The plan is in some way to leave something about Brady in the building," Scroggs says. "There's a history there. There's a history of what used to be on that land, and for the people here before us, we wanted to preserve that part of the history."

Froese, spokeswoman for the Brady Commons expansion project, says there are many opportunities for donations to the new student center, and parts of the building might be named after donors. But Brady Jr. says he is opposed to removing the name of a building to replace it with that of a donor.

"I might have my opinions on it, but I have no power to change it," Brady Jr. says. "I don't think universities ought to be for sale. I know that's old-fashioned, but I don't mind being old-fashioned."

For the time being, the question remains for both campus officials and students: Can we reasonably apply contemporary standards to a man who lived in a world much different than ours? We can argue about beliefs and standards for ages, but is there a resolution?

"It's easy to fight with the dead," Brady Jr. says. "But it takes courage to fight with the living."

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