Today we cover an amazing individual who’s all but been erased from history, Dr. Alan Hart. While he achieved much academic success starting at a young age, Alan would struggle with his career for decades. This was due to his transition from female to male in the early 1900s.
As Alan fought against extreme prejudice and discrimination, he still managed to become a national expert on the deadly disease of tuberculosis. Sadly, the information about Hart is limited. But never fear, we have been able to piece together an amazing story. So hit the play button and head back in time to a century past.
Today we discuss the incredible life of doctor Alan L. Hart. Who is vastly responsible for the sharp decline in tuberculosis in our country. Born in the country on October 4, 1890, Alan was assigned female at birth and given the name Lucille. We want to pause and state that we normally do not dead-name our transgender icons. – Dead naming is the act of calling a transgender person by their given name and not their chosen name. – Because we take it upon ourselves to accurately preserve our hero’s legacy. However, in the case of Dr. Hart, you will find it is difficult to find research that does not include his deadname. And in fact, many people have chosen to ignore his transition altogether. A point we will address later in the episode. But for now, we return to Alan Hart’s story.
At the age of 2, Alan Hart’s father would die of typhoid fever and Edna Hart would relocate the family to Linn County, Oregon. There Alan says he found happiness as he was allowed to wear boys clothes and live in a masculine fashion. He preferred hunting and football to any girlish activities and insisted from a young age that he was a boy. He carried a pocket-knife with him at all times and begged his mother to cut his hair. This was one request she never granted. Though Alan was allowed to spend his free time with the boys, helping out with farm chores. Rather than being cooped up inside doing domestic work. While this would have been generally frowned up, most people in Linn County became used to the Hart child’s unusual preferences.
In high school, Alan began to struggle socially. He was an awkward teen, especially considering he had to wear dresses to school which he did not like. He also found that he had no romantic interest in boys and this further isolated him. Instead, he dove into his studies and preferred the comforts of a good book to palling around with kids in town. His one solace in school was the teacher’s allowance that he use a pseudonym for his essays. This was actually a common practice at the time. And Alan chose the name Robert Allen Bamford (Bamford being his mother’s maiden name). The young man was quite an accomplished writer, even as a teen and his work would be published in local newspapers and publications, all under his male pseudonym. The hard work and studying paid off and Alan graduated high school in 1908 at the top of his class.
He headed off to Albany College (Now named Lewis and Clark College) where he studied science and joined the debate club. There he met Eva Cushman and, to our knowledge, entered his first romantic relationship. The two lovebirds suddenly transferred to Stanford University in 1911 and Alan helped to form Stanford’s first female debate team. San Francisco also offered the chance for the closeted transgender man to further explored his sexuality and identity. Most of this exploring was done in the Tenderloin district. The infamous area derived its name from a similar location in New York. Supposedly a police chief – transferred to a low-income, crime-ridden area – became so rich off of the bribes he took to ignore crimes that he could afford to eat tenderloin rather than chuck roast. Similar locations around the U.S. would adopt the nickname, but San Francisco is by far the most notorious. Especially in regards to trans and queer history.
But while Alan had one of the most exhilarating years of his young life, he and Eva would return to Albany College after one year away. However, from this moment on, Alan only wore masculine clothing. Wearing full male attire whenever possible. He graduated with his Bachelors in 1912 and headed off to the University of Oregon. But unlike Albany, Alan faced harsh discrimination and isolation at the University. Because of his choice of clothing and lack of social conformity, he was left out of the college social scene. But never one to be deterred, Alan devoted himself to his studies and goal of becoming a doctor. He graduated with his doctorate in four years, earning the Saylor medal along the way. Still unrecognized as the man that he was, Alan would earn critical acclaim for being the first female to win the prestigious award. Which applauded the individual with the highest standings across all departments. As 1917 came to a close, Alan decided it was time to make another huge change.
With his doctorate in hand, Alan headed to Pennsylvania to take a job with the Red Cross. Unfortunately, the medical degree had Alan’s birth name on the front. He was currently going as Robert in his daily life. And even while administrators had noted his chosen name on school records, the new doctor would forever be outed by his own Doctoral diploma. Perhaps this latest slight is what pushed Alan to ask contemporary Dr. Joseph Gilbert to perform a hysterectomy on him. Initially, Gilbert was reluctant, but Alan pressed him stating that he had an “abnormal inversion” and should thus be sterilized. Finally, Gilbert agreed. It is sad to note that Alan could only receive his necessary surgery by stating a eugenics argument. In the winter of 1917, Joseph Gilbert removed Alan’s uterus and replaced it with testicular tissue. In the early 1900s, a hysterectomy was automatic grounds for sex reassignment surgery. Which made Alan the first transgender man in America to undergo a sex change (to use the terminology of the day).
Gilbert would be heralded as a hero while Alan Hart would have a LONG road to social acceptance. Following the groundbreaking procedure, Gilbert would publish a case study on the even titled Homosexuality and its Treatment. He said of Alan and the surgery:
“From a sociological and psychological standpoint [Hart] is a man.[the surgery is] the best that can be done….Let him who finds in himself a tendency to criticize to offer some constructive method of dealing with the problem on hand. He will not want for difficulties. The patient and I have done our best with it.”
It is clear that Gilbert did the surgery in an attempt to cure Alan’s homosexual tendencies. Which says much about the homophobia of the time.
Promptly after his surgery, Alan Hart changed his legal name to Alan Lucille Hart. He kept his birth name no doubt, out of necessity for his medical career. He then moved back to San Francisco and briefly interned at a downtown hospital. During this time he met a local school teacher named Inez Stark. The two eloped and then headed out to Gardiner, Oregon so Alan could set up his own medical practice, However, shortly after establishing his office, Alan was outed by a former classmate. He told the local newspaper:
I have long suspected my condition and now I know. I had not intended to make it known on account of the embarrassment which it might cause on the part of former associates. But since it is out the best thing to do is to tell the facts as they are. I have never concealed anything … I came home to show my friends that I am ashamed of nothing.”
However, the pressure was eventually too much. As Alan wrote to Gilbert “the hounding process began”. Hart felt compelled to resign from his post, and soon after he and Inez left Oregon. The two settled in Montanna for a few years before Alan got a job as a staff physician at the Albuquerque Sanitorium. The couple moved again, but Inez was becoming resentful. Perhaps it was the transient life, perhaps it was the pressures and insecurities wrought on by being married to a transgender man in the 1920’s. Whatever the reason, in 1923 Inez left Alan and forbid him from ever speaking to her again. Two years later she would officially file for divorce.
Broken hearted and unsure of his next steps, Alan returned to his home of Oregon and enrolled in some writing classes. While there he met the love of his life, Edna Ruddick. The two quickly fell in love and when Alan’s divorce was finalized in 1925, they promptly got married. Alan went back to school – again, such is the life of a doctor – and earned his master’s in radiology at the University of Pennsylvania. He then secured a position as Director of Radiology at Tacoma General Hospital in 1928. This is when Alan would truly begin his life’s research into the disease of tuberculosis. TB (also known as the great white plague) was one of the biggest killers in human history. And while advancements and research had been made to subdue the disease, in 1930 there was still no cure and TB was the biggest killer in America. Over 110,000 Americans died each year from the disease and millions more around the world. Just a few decades earlier, 1 in 7 Americans were dying of the dreaded plague.
Alan Hart realized that the new technology of the x-ray machine could detect signs of TB. While there was no cure, early detection could lead to quarantine and treatment that may allow the patient to heal on their own. And most importantly, would prevent the spread of the disease as TB is highly contagious. Throughout the 1930s and into the ’40s Alan and Edna would travel across the northern midwest, planting a base in Idaho, and branching out to surrounding areas. Hart would conduct lectures, coordinate training for new staff, and provide on the spot screenings for TB. By 1937 he was named Idaho’s Tuberculosis Control Officer. Because of the extreme stigma against TB, Alan had his clinic called “chest clinics” so that patients could discreetly get the help they needed.
Hart was also a gifted writer and was especially praised for the way he could explain complex medical issues in simple terms. His manual These Mysterious Rays: A Nontechnical Discussion of the Uses of X-rays and Radium, Chiefly in Medicine written in 1943, is still the standard for TB practice and care today.By the time antibiotics were introduced at the end of World War 2, Alan’s research had brought the national toll of TB deaths down to one fiftieth. In 1948, He and Edna would relocate permanently to West Hartford Connecticut. Where Alan, once again, went back to school to obtain a second master’s in Public Health from Yale University. He then accepted a position as Director of Hospitalization and Rehabilitation for the Connecticut State Commission of Tuberculosis. Edna also got a job as a professor at the University of Hartford. Another exciting development for Alan was the production of synthetic hormones. For the first time in his life, he could grow a beard and speak with a deeper voice.
During times when Alan had struggled to find work, due to his transition, he supplemented their income through writing. In fact, Alan Hart became a noted fictional author. His most famous book, Doctor Mallory. was published in 1935. It was a memoir based fictional novel and had many similarities to Hart’s life. Played out through various characters in the book. Most notably Sandy Farquar, a gay man who goes into medicine but finds his orientation is always a problem. Alan wrote of Sandy in his novel:
[Sandy] went into radiology because he thought it wouldn’t matter so much in a laboratory what a man’s personality was. But wherever he went, scandal followed him sooner or later. If he could have gone in for himself, I think he might have succeeded in the face of all odds for he was a grand man with sick people. But he had no capital and so had to work for other doctors or hospitals all his life. That ruined his chances because eventually, his story would get around and then he’d be forced to leave. ‘Resigning by request’ was the way he put it
All-in-all Hart would write 4 novels and many short stories, which were later compiled into the book The Life and Career of Alberta Lucille/Dr. Alan L. Hart, with collected early writings by Brian Booth. The various pseudonyms and perceptions given in the biography like stories, along with the stigma of the 1980’s queer history research, would create a controversy around Alan’s legacy. In 1983 gay historian Jonathan Katz introduced Hart’s story to the world. Only the infamous archivist classified Alan as a closeted lesbian. Even in the ’80s, among queer communities, trans erasure was strong. Katz felt that he needed to bring visibility to butch lesbians and in that attempt, he ignored Alan’s obvious wishes. In fact, Edna – who survived Alan Hart died just before the book was published – was so offended by the historian’s portrayal of her husband as a lesbian that she refused to do an interview with Katz. While it can certainly be difficult to place today’s labels on individuals who did not have our same vocabulary, there are instances where it should be obvious. From the time Alan was a young child, he was insistent that he was a boy. His entire life was lived as a male and he never wavered in that stance no matter what it cost him.
On July 1st, 1962, Hart passed away from heart failure. A beloved member of the community, Alan was sorely missed. He left holes in his memberships to the American Thoracic Society, The ACLU, the Association for the Advancement of Science, and his role as Vice-president of the council for his Unitarian Church. He and Edna had been together for 37 years. Upon his request, Alan’s body was cremated and all letters and pictures destroyed – through a few professional photos did survive. Alan wanted to be remembered for the man he was and the legacy he left. And he feared his letters and pictures might be twisted through time. Twenty years after his death, Edna followed her beloved husband. Having no children to leave their estate, she donated it all to the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon in memory of her husband.
We will end with this quote from the good doctor:
“Each of us must take into account the raw material which heredity dealt us at birth and the opportunities we have had along the way, and then work out for ourselves a sensible evaluation of our personalities and accomplishments”
Re-dressing America’s Frontier Past by Peter Boag
General Information – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_L._Hart
Oregon – https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/hart_alan_1890_1962_/#.XRoBWOtKipo
Out History – http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/tgi-bios/alan-l-hart
Post-transition – https://steemit.com/history/@gvgktang/transcending-the-historiography-the-life-of-dr-alan-l-hart
The Life and Career of Alberta Lucille/Dr. Alan L. Hart with Collected Early Writings by Brian Booth
Booth 2 – http://www.ochcom.org/hart/