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Mattachine Society Project collection

Identifier: Coll2008-016

Scope and Content of Collection

The Mattachine Society Project Collection contains minutes, bylaws, reports, manuscripts, correspondence, newsletters, financial records, legal papers, transcripts, pamphlets, flyers, clippings, sound recordings and other material relating to the Mattachine Society, Inc., and its predecessor, the Mattachine Foundation. Materials in this collection represent Mattachine activities throughout the United States and date from the founding of the organization in 1951 to the creation of the Mattachine Society Project in 1990. The bulk of the materials relate to activities of the organization in Los Angeles and San Francisco from 1953 to approximately 1968.

The collection is divided into ten series:

1. Mattachine Project History Series, comprising materials documenting the Mattachine Society Project at ONE Institute (now ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives), which created this collection by combining Mattachine records taken from collections held by ONE Institute, as well as from collections in Jim Kepner's International Gay & Lesbian Archives and materials donated by Harold Call and his estate from 1987 to 2000.

2. Mattachine Foundation Series, containing administrative records and other materials documenting the activities of the Mattachine Foundation, as originally conceived, from 1951 to 1953. The series also contains a number of writings by Harry Hay.

3. Administration (Mattachine Society, Inc.), comprising minutes, correspondence, committee files, financial records, personnel and membership information from Mattachine Society, Inc., the restructured national organization incorporated in the state of California in 1954. This series includes the bylaws and constitution, the Articles of Incorporation and meeting minutes of the Board of Directors.

4. Area Councils and Chapters Series, comprising files from the various Mattachine chapters in California and throughout the United States, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Florida, New York and Washington, D.C.

5. Conventions Series, containing materials from the Society's annual conventions, including the founding Constitutional Conventions in 1953.

6. General Correspondence Series, comprising correspondence from the members and the general public.

7. Mattachine Review Series, comprising administrative records and issues of Mattachine Review, the official newsletter of the Society from 1954 to 1966.

8. Newsletters Series, consisting of newsletters published by various Mattachine chapters.

9. Subject Files and Resources Series, consisting of a variety of research materials used by the editors of the Mattachine Review and other Mattachine Society personnel.

10. Sound Recordings Series, comprising 12 reels of 1/4 inch reel-to-reel audiotape, documenting Mattachine events as well as television and radio programs relating to homosexuality.


  • 1927-2000



The collection is open to researchers. There are no access restrictions.

Publication Rights

Researchers wishing to publish materials must obtain permission in writing from ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives as the physical owner. Researchers must also obtain clearance from the holder(s) of any copyrights in the materials. Note that ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives can grant copyright clearance only for those materials for which we hold the copyright. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain copyright clearance for all other materials directly from the copyright holder(s).

Administrative History

The Mattachine Society traces its roots to Los Angeles in the late 1940s, when Harry Hay--a married man and actor who also taught music at the University of Southern California--began formulating his idea for a homophile organization, which he initially named the "International Bachelors Fraternal Orders for Peace and Social Dignity." Beginning in 1951, groups of homosexual men and women began meeting secretly at various locations throughout Los Angeles to discuss issues relevant to the homosexual community. At Hay's suggestion, this organization took the name "Mattachine Foundation"--after traveling performers in medieval Europe who staged satires wearing masks--because contemporary American homosexuals were also forced to hide behind masks. Hay had been active in the Communist Party, and many of the Foundation's founders, including Rudi Gernreich, Bob Hull and Chuck Rowland, shared Hay's leftist politics. The Foundation, or "fraternal order," was organized along the lines of the secretive, cell-like structure of the Communist Party, which also needed to protect the identities of its members. Hay also took from Marxism the idea that for homosexuals to end their oppression they must develop a group consciousness as an oppressed class.

Between 1951 and early 1953, membership in the Mattachine Foundation expanded rapidly in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay area. However, in March 1953 a journalist, who had received a Foundation mailing, published an article suggesting that the Foundation, with its secretive leadership, might be a Communist front organization. The reaction of the Foundation's membership exposed a growing schism between Hay and his leftist allies, who wished to continue with the secretive "fraternal order" focused on developing self-understanding and social consciousness; and those, led by Ken Burns and Harold Call, who sought a more "public" organization focused on assimilating the homosexual community into mainstream society.

In two conventions in April and May 1953--in a climate of suspicions about financial improprieties, personal misrepresentations, communist infiltration and the aims of the organization--the membership elected a new slate of leaders, replacing Hay and his followers with Call and his party. The new leaders in turn officially dissolved the Mattachine Foundation with its secretive structure and recognized the establishment of the Mattachine Society with a national, "open" structure. Officially incorporated in California in March 1954, the reorganized Mattachine Society had its headquarters in San Francisco, with "area councils" and chapters throughout the United States. During its most active period in the late 1950s, the Society's activities included group discussions, social and psychological research in relation to sexuality, research in legal cases and legislation regarding sexual equality, annual conventions and the publication of the Mattachine Review and various newsletters.

In the face of financial troubles, languishing membership, and dissatisfaction among local chapters, the Board of Directors decided to dissolve the Society's national structure in 1961. The national chapters subsequently reorganized into independent organizations. The former San Francisco Area Council continued under Call's leadership, and by 1960 it had become less a membership group and more of an education and social service organization, which all but ceased operation in 1967. The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., became the most active and committed to political change of the former chapters. Its leader, Franklin Kameny, challenged the discriminatory policies of the U.S. Civil Service and was instrumental in the campaign to change the American Psychological Association definition of homosexuality as an illness. The Mattachine Society of New York played an activist role in the gay liberation movement of the 1970s. The Philadelphia chapter evolved into the Janus Society. By the end of the 1960s, most of the Mattachine organizations had ended their operations, while only a few--including Chicago, Florida, and New York--continued to operate until the 1980s.

Sources: Mattachine Society Project Collection, Coll2008-016, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California.

Sears, James T. Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2006.


15.5 Linear Feet (12 archive boxes, 3 archive cartons, 1 archive shoebox, 1 flat file, 12 sound tape reels)

Language of Materials



Minutes, bylaws, correspondence, manuscripts, newsletters, financial records, legal papers, transcripts, pamphlets, flyers, clippings, sound recordings, and other papers relating to the Mattachine Society, brought together by the Mattachine Society Project from materials donated to ONE Institute (now ONE International Gay & Lesbian Archives) by Harold Call; from other collections held by ONE; and from collections in Jim Kepner's International Gay & Lesbian Archives. Founded in Los Angeles in 1951 by actor and activist Harry Hay--who originally structured it as a secret society, or "fraternal order"--the Mattachine Society was reorganized and incorporated in California in 1954, and established "area councils" and chapters around the United States. Its activities included group discussions, research, annual conventions and the periodical, Mattachine Review. Financial and organizational conflicts, however, led to the dissolution of the national organization in 1961. Although several chapters-- including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C.--continued as independent organizations, most of these had ceased operations by the mid-1970s. Materials in the collection date from the earliest days of the organization to the creation of the Mattachine Society Project in 1990.

Acquisition Information

The collection consists of materials donated to ONE Institute (now ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives) by Harold Call and his estate between 1987 and 2005, and materials from other collections held by ONE and from collections in Jim Kepner's International Gay & Lesbian Archives (which merged with ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in 1994).

Separated Material

Between 1987 and 2005, ONE Institute and its successors received from Harold Call and his estate a series of donations that included Mattachine Society records and Call's personal papers. In 1990, these materials were combined with Mattachine Society materials taken from other collections held by ONE Institute, as well as from collections in Jim Kepner's International Gay & Lesbian Archives to create the "Mattachine Society Project." In May 2008, this collection was divided: the Mattachine Society materials forming the Mattachine Society Project Collection (this collection), and Call's personal, family and business papers forming the Harold L. Call Papers (Coll2008-010).

General Physical Description note

10 archive boxes + 9 archive cartons.

Processing Information

Formerly in boxes 103-125; 103-143; 103-196; 103-199; 103-200; 103-201; 103-202; 103-205; 103-207; 103-208; 103-209; 103-224; 103-297; 103-313 and 103-330. Collection processed by Loni Shibuyama, August 28, 2008.

In June 2013, open-reel audiotapes were assigned call numbers (ARR####), replacing the box/item numbers that were assigned to the audiotapes when this collection was originally processed. These items were formerly housed in Box 13 and Box 14 of this collection.

Processing this collection has been funded by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Accrual processed by Kyle Morgan, 2015.


Finding aid of the Mattachine Society Project collection
Loni Shibuyama
© 2008, 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the ONE Archives at the USC Libraries, University of Southern California Repository

909 West Adams Boulevard
Los Angeles California 90007 United States
(213) 821-2771