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February 24, 2006

We've Come A Long Way, Baby

Obituaries are not just windows into the lives of others, but also upon our society and recent history. For example, this obituary from today's LAT surprised the hell out of me:

Joel Dorius, 87; Educator Convicted, Exonerated in '60s Gay Pornography Case
By Dennis McLellan, Times Staff Writer
February 23 2006

Joel Dorius was teaching Shakespeare, classic English literature and poetry at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., when his quiet life as an academic was shattered in 1960.

The victim of a federal crackdown on obscenity in the mails, he was arrested, dismissed from his job at the elite women's college and left feeling like a "criminal" for decades.

Dorius, one of three teachers at Smith College who lost their jobs after being convicted of possessing gay pornography but were later exonerated in the headline-making case, died Feb. 14 at his home in San Francisco after a battle with bone marrow cancer. He was 87.

I was shocked that this kind of thing had gone on, in Northampton, of all places, as recently as 1960. (Now Northampton, for those who don't know, is considered to be the lesbian capital of North America.) Of course, this was back in the day when Lenny Bruce was arrested for using language on stage that today would probably not raise an eyebrow on late night television, but still, it is amazing the degree to which societal attitudes have changed over the last 50 years.

Perhaps Professor Dorius would be cheered to know that even in death, he continues to teach us all.

February 24, 2006 at 10:30 AM | Permalink


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Just wanted to say that you are indeed correct that Joel would never have imagined that his name would have reverberated so deeply after his death, that he would indeed be teaching us all even now. Those of us who were blest to know him cannot begin to communicate this, but thank God his story is being told now. There was so much more to the man--so much humanity--which is what made the events of 1960 so savage and cruel. But his life was living testimony to what great good the human spirit is capable of achieving. And, I might add, alternating out of darkness, he had a wickedly wonderful sense of humor about this whole adventure called human life.


Posted by: Paul Crowley | Mar 7, 2006 2:23:08 AM

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