Collection ID: X7906338
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Collection context


The collection of Robert Latou Dickinson (1861-1950), sex researcher and gynecologist, is comprised of 136 archival folders (2.5 linear ft.) of manuscripts and publication drafts, clinical case files and related sexually explicit materials, professional correspondence, a few medical drawings, and an incomplete draft biography of Dickinson written by his son-in-law, George Barbour. The collection also includes organizational records, minutes, and correspondence associated with The American Association of Marriage Counselors (1944), the Institute for Sex Research (1945-1949), The National Committee on Maternal Health (1931-1949) and the World League for Sex Reform (1926). The majority of the Dickinson collection consists of case studies, sexual histories, and gynecological/sexology subject files selected from the original 5200 files (1883-1923). The bulk of the original collection is held by the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School.
2.5 linear ft. (136 folders)
Undetermined .
Preferred citation:

[item], Collection Name, Library and Special Collections, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, Indiana University, Bloomington.


Biographical / Historical:

Robert Latou Dickinson, gynecological clinician and researcher, advocate of birth control, sex therapy, and the needs of "the gentler sex," was a devout Episcopalian, an indefatigable athlete, devoted husband and father of two daughters, and a gifted artist and naturalist. Trained at the Brooklyn College of Medicine, he began practice as an apprentice to Dr. Alexander Skene, author of A Treatise on the Diseases of Women (1889), an experience that led him to specialize in gynecology in his own Brooklyn practice from 1883. An enthusiastic defender of "the New Woman," he studied the appalling anatomical and physiological impact of the corset on his mainly white middle to upper class patients, contrasting it with the benefits of cycling for women, despite 1890s controversy about negative effects on uterine health. Later during the Second World War, he would acclaim the advent of the menstrual tampon as a milestone in women's emancipation.

Scope and Content:

The manuscripts portion of the RLD collection consists primarily of a selection of patient case files in various formats, drawn from RLD's clinical practice in Brooklyn and from other patients retained after his retirement. References survive in this holding to some ??? cases, amounting to ??% of the original 5,200 case files bequeathed to Kinsey. These and other materials are divided into the following series:

2 Boxes total, each measures: 10.5" h x 13" w x 15.5" d

Photos, sculpture, and other materials located in Gallery

Dickinson pioneered many non-surgical treatments for common, painful conditions which women suffered as a consequence of frequent childbearing, sexually-transmitted diseases, menstrual and menopausal symptoms, and sexual assault or abuse. He published his results to the accolades of peers in his emerging medical specialty. His extensive publication record was grounded in his meticulously detailed case files and life drawings of patient anatomy and conditions pertinent to the topics analyzed. Moreover, he became convinced of the interconnection between gynecological conditions and emotional, conjugal and family pressures. The frequent lack of orgasm in wives' experience of coitus contrasted strikingly with his finding that clitoral/vulval "auto-eroticism" was common for two-thirds of women. He believed moreover, that auto-eroticism altered the physical appearance of women's sexual anatomy. Credited as the specialist who introduced the vibrator into gynecological practice, Dickinson sought to assist couples to achieve sexual harmony, solving problems such as so-called "frigidity," "impotence," "dyspareunia," and premature ejaculation.

After forty years of practice and a term as president of the American Gynecological Association, Dickinson retired from clinical practice and moved with his wife, Sarah Trunslow Dickinson (18??-1939?), to Manhattan's Upper West Side. Devoting himself thereafter to research and medical policy reform, he spent nearly thirty further years working in advocacy organizations, particularly the National Committee on Maternal Health [NCMH]. Through this body, he hoped to engage medical leaders in research pertinent to practical problems of contraception, abortion, infertility treatments, menstruation, and other topics. After a tense initial relationship with Margaret Higgins Sanger (1881-1975) in which he advocated medical rather than "lay" leadership of the birth control movement, it soon became clear that his medical peers declined association with the birth control issue, while serious clinical research would depend on close and cordial co-operation with Sanger and other birth control advocates. By the 1930s, Dickinson served on Sanger's clinical research board, and worked to foster productive support of younger research scholars.

Through the NCMH publication committee, and the collaboration of gifted scholars he employed, such as Lura Ella Beam (1887-1978) and Louise Stevens Bryant (18??-19??), Dickinson oversaw the publication of such landmark works as Cecil I. B. Voge, The Chemistry and Physics of Contraceptives (1933), Gilbert Wheeler Beebe, Contraception and Fertility in the Southern Appalachians (1942), Marie Kopp, Birth Control in Practice : Analysis of Ten Thousand Case Histories of the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (1934), Caroline Hadley Robinson, Seventy Birth Control Clinics (1930), and Frederick J. Taussig, Abortion, Spontaneous and Induced (1936). Moreover, he personally published critical book-length studies drawn from his own clinical research under NCMH auspices, including: A Thousand Marriages (1931), Human Sex Anatomy (1933), A Birth Atlas (1933), The Single Woman(1934), and Technique of Conception Control (1941). Throughout this fertile book-writing period, he regularly contributed articles to medical journals, chapters to thematic anthologies, and papers and speeches to conferences and other fora. Yet, he regarded all his publications as work in progress towards his penultimate magnum opus, The Doctor as Marriage Counselor, drafted across the 1930s.

Dickinson met Kinsey as he began his life's eighth decade, contact established through Kinsey's application for NCMH funding to process his early homosexual case histories. Impressed with the monumental scale of Kinsey's research plan and his innovative methodology, the recently widowed Dickinson devoted himself to fostering Kinsey's endeavors. He helped him to secure foundation support, extended his professional networks, and diversified his access to informants. Furthermore, he attempted to influence the direction of Kinsey's research, especially in relation to the female volume, by stressing the critical importance of research beyond the interview. He urged Kinsey to incorporate the findings of cognate scientists and clinician, to undertake direct observation of the diversity of human sexual behaviors and practices just as would any zoologist. In addition, he impressed upon Kinsey the importance of birth control and reproductive issues within sexual experience, as well as the unresolved status of various debates within gynecological research, especially as related to orgasm, the cervix, the vulva, and vaginal lubrication.

With his decision that Kinsey was the successor who would carry forward the torch of sexology, Dickinson determined that the Institute for Sex Research should be the repository of as many previous collections and materials related to the field as could be amassed. He gave Kinsey all his own materials collected from international forebears, as well as first selection from his book collection associated with the NCMH. Moreover he designed a bookplate for printed works and other materials held in the Institute's collections. Sending Kinsey in search of the collections of "founding fathers" such as Magnus Hirschfeld, Max Marcuse, Max Hodann, and Wilhelm Reich, he also established connections with dealers and agents in Scandinavia, Japan, China, Germany to actively seek cross-cultural evidence on cultural representations of sexuality and erotic life to send to Kinsey's collection.

Beyond his work with and on behalf of Kinsey, the last decade of Dickinson's life was dominated by efforts to establish and strengthen the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. His objectives here included fostering medical acceptance of the responsibility for providing patients with contraceptive advice and supplies, broadening grounds for legal or therapeutic abortion to include socio-economic indicators and irrespective of unwillingly pregnant women's marital status, promoting research on problems of sterility, artificial insemination, hormonal anti-ovulant contraceptives, and to incorporate marriage counseling with birth control counseling. Dickinson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1950, and contracted pneumonia following surgery. In one of his last letters to Kinsey, written from his hospital bed, he asserted that "The Doctor as Marriage Counselor" would "misfire" if published before Kinsey's eagerly anticipated female volume, concluding then that Kinsey would determine when Dickinson's opus appeared. It was not to be. Dickinson died on November 29, 1950.

Series I: Biographical and Personal

Series II: Clinical

Series III: Publications

Series IV: Organizations

Series V: Correspondence

Series VI: Illustrations

The manuscripts collection documents RLD's career as a clinician, researcher, and reform advocate. The case files provide perceptive observations upon the conflicts and cultural circumstances of white, middle- and upper-class women in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, in a unique form of psychical history. The value of RLD's records are enhanced by their longitudinal scope, sometimes tracking the same woman from menarche to menopause and beyond, the longest dating from 1889 to 1937. His insights from clinical work, including ongoing correspondence with many patients, informed increasingly his passionate support of abortion and contraceptive access and research.

Acquisition information:
donor(s), 19xx.
General note:
  1. Sex research
  2. obstetrics and gynecology
  3. sexual anatomy



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[item], Collection Name, Library and Special Collections, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Indiana University Bloomington
The Library and Special Collections
1165 East Third Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405, United States
Indiana University Bloomington