Legg, Dorr

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LEGG, Dorr

LEGG, Dorr (b. 12 December 1904; d. 26 July 1994), activist, publisher.

Primarily associated with the first openly gay magazine, ONE, Dorr Legg also influenced the shaping of gay studies in U.S. colleges and universities by creating the first gay educational institution, the ONE Institute. Legg remained an important gay activist and educator up until the time of his death.

William Lambert Dorr Legg grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the son of a piano manufacturer. Intellectually gifted, he studied piano and architecture at the University of Michigan. After graduating in 1928, Legg spent the next two decades working as a private landscape architect in New York, Miami, and Detroit, and also taught architecture at the University of Oregon from 1935 to 1942. His architecture career was cut short, however, when an interracial affair in Detroit led to police harassment and professional jeopardy. In 1948, Legg and his lover ventured to Los Angeles seeking a more tolerant atmosphere.

Hardly a paradise of acceptance or inclusivity during the late 1940s, Los Angeles nonetheless offered opportunities for gay life and activism not available elsewhere in the country. Legg began attending Mattachine Foundation meetings, and in 1950 he helped organize the Knights of the Clock, a small group dedicated to interracial homosexual solidarity. On 15 October 1952, Legg officially embarked on his second career when a small group of disgruntled Mattachine activists concocted ONE magazine (1953–1967), the first national gay magazine, in Legg's kitchen. For the next fifteen years, under the pseudonym "William Lambert," Legg managed ONE's business affairs, performed editorial duties, contributed hundreds of articles and editorials, answered ONE's mail, and spent the majority of his waking hours in ONE's cramped office space. Thousands of gay men and women who visited ONE's offices in the 1950s and 1960s were greeted (and often put to work) by Dorr Legg.

The magazine remained the principal activity of ONE, Inc., until the 1960s, but many of the activists, Legg included, had larger ambitions for the organization. A book press was created—Legg's involvement included editing ONE Press's second book, Homosexuals Today (1956), the first extensive account of American and European homophile movement achievements. ONE Press never quite took off, but the idea of an educational institution where gay people could conduct research and take classes on gay culture and history seemed the ideal remedy for what Legg considered gay people's chief problem in the postwar years: ignorance about themselves. This led to the creation of the ONE Institute, which offered its first class in 1956 called "The Homophile in Society," taught by Legg. During the next several years, Legg taught several courses, recruited instructors, and developed the ONE Institute into a stable intellectual bedrock of the gay rights struggle.

As ONE, Inc., took on more projects, bitter disputes arose over the organization's direction and purpose. During the early 1960s, Legg was increasingly devoted to the ONE Institute, seeking more resources to fund its educational programs, annual meetings, and quarterly journal. ONE magazine editor Don Slater, meanwhile, felt the original magazine should remain the organization's focus, claiming that Legg's projects drained resources necessary to improve the magazine's quality. By 1965, Legg and Slater were battling each other in court, attempting to gain control of the name "ONE." A compromise awarded Legg the name ONE while allowing Slater the resources necessary to start a rival magazine, which became Tangents (1967–1970). ONE magazine disappeared from newsstands, but for the next three decades, under Legg's firm control, the ONE Institute continued offering classes and facilitating research from its Los Angeles facilities, adding a graduate school in 1981.

Legg was an unusual gay activist in many respects. Commencing his "second career" (in his own words) at age forty-eight, Legg was considerably older than many of his colleagues. He was a staunch Republican throughout his life, and deeply libertarian. His tough-love, pull-your-self-up-by-the-bootstraps philosophy rubbed some left-leaning gay activists the wrong way. His advocacy of homosexuality as a method of population control also outraged many fellow activists. Legg disapproved of militant gay activism such as street protests during the late 1960s and 1970s, preferring a more intellectual approach that branded him old-fashioned to many younger activists. Legg's stubborn use of the word "homophile," rejected by gay liberation activists during the 1960s and 1970s, also damaged his credibility within the gay movement in his later years. When Legg died at age eighty-nine on 26 July 1994, survived by longtime partner John Nojima, the resources of the ONE Institute merged with Jim Kepner's International Lesbian and Gay Archives, creating the largest gay archive in the world, the ONE Institute and Archives in Los Angeles. This facility is Legg's chief legacy. In an era when gay organizations form and fold almost daily, ONE has survived for fifty years, primarily due to Legg's tenacious, and sometimes domineering, leadership.


Bullough, Vern, ed. Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2002.

Bullough, Vern, Dorr Legg, Barry Elcano, et al., eds. An Annotated Bibliography of Homosexuality. New York: Garland, 1976.

Cutler, Marvin, ed. (psuedonym for W. Dorr Legg). Homosexuals Today: A Handbook of Organizations and Publications. Los Angeles: ONE, Inc., 1956.

D'Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Legg, W. Dorr. Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice. San Francisco: GLB Publishers and ONE Institute Press, 1994.

Craig M. Loftin

see alsohomophile movement; homophile press; one; one institute.