Arthur Cyrus Warner

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Prominent in the gay-liberation movement, Arthur Cyrus Warner (February 14, 1918 - July 22, 2007) focused his considerable energies on legal reform to protect the civil liberties of homosexuals (John Lauritsen, "Arthur Cyrus Warner" in Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context, pp. 282-290, Harrington Park Press, 2002, New York). Crowned by successful efforts, first in his home state of New Jersey, to overturn anti-sodomy and other laws used to persecute gay people in several US states, he has now been largely forgotten in the prevailing paradigm to belittle everything before Stonewall. He was long more important than Frank Kaminy, another jew with a Harvard PhD who, in 1967, joined Mattachine and coined the phrase "gay is good." Kaminy's house is now a national monument and Arthur is not even on Wikipedia.

Born in Newark, Warner for almost the last half century of his life lived in the house built by his socially ambitious parents in Princeton, abutting the Institute for Advanced Study. His mother born on a farm in Paynesville, Minnesota, and his father to a family engaged in the wholesale grocery business in Newark, both were of Russian-Jewish origin, a secret he kept until a few years before his death. Raised as a Presbyterian, he became in his later years a secular humanist, who regarded the homophile cause as being, on one level, a struggle against superstition, part of the unfinished business of the Enlightenment.

Arthur engagement with issues of homosexual civil rights began early, when in the late 1940s he started to attend meetings of a New York City group known simply as The League. From 1954 on he was active in the Mattachine Society of New York, serving as chairman of its legal department. Initially he chose to mask his identity under the name of Austin Wade, As the legal adviser of Mattachine.New York, Arthur was certainly the best educated and arguably the most influential of all the early East Coast homophile leaders. In 1967, he was upstaged by Frank Kameny of the new small Washington, D.C. branch of Mattachine with his “Gay is good” slogan. When Arthur, in coat and tie, tried to quiet and disperse the Stone Wall rioters, he lost more support.

Early life led to personal peculiarities

Arthur was the second son born to a dominating uneducated Jewish farm girl, whose husband also tried to “pass” as gentile. His shrewd parents made a considerable fortune as wholesale grocers in Newark, New Jersey. His ambitious mother moved her nouveaux riche brood to Princeton into a tacky French style house with wrought iron decorations that bordered the Institute for Advanced Study, close by the Graduate School. Albert Einstein and other geniuses had to pass by it on their way to their more modest residences closer to the main campus.

His mother refused to hire blacks because they were dirty. It had long been the custom of English aristocrats to have both a French and German governess so that their children would grow up learning both those languages. Mrs. Warner presumed to hire for a very modest salary the retired German governess of the Governor General of Australia to enlighten her two children, Arthur and his older brother. That old bird, who lived in the attached gardener room, was a very effective teacher, but a bit too strict. Arthur became obsessed with cleanliness. When, as an adult, he went to restaurants, he would imperiously demand a second glass of ice water from the waiter and proceed to dip the silverware into one of them to rinse it and dry it off with a napkin to the astonishment of the waiter and the embarrassment of his companions. A more frequent taboo was to pull down the sleeve of his suit jacket, which he always had made to be overly long to cover a doorknob whenever he opened one, though he tried to attract as little attention as possible when he was doing it. Another bizarre eccentricity, which only a select few were privileged to observe, was that when things dropped on the floor of his house, he would only pick them up once a week, after which he did appropriate ablutions.

This germaphobia, however, in no way interfered with the preference that he developed during his teenage years for poor, unkempt and often dirty black males. They were very plentiful in Newark where he attended a private high school, and for his whole life he remained what was called a “dinge queen”. He could not get into a prep school because those in the know knew that he was Jewish, and Jews in those days were not normally admitted to prep schools.

Mrs. Warner loaded her spotlessly clean house with silverware, candelabras, serving dishes, etc., fancy sets of ornate books, a grand piano, and somewhat gouache plastic pillows on the wrought iron furniture in her sun porch. She gave fancy dinner parties, enticing some of the scholars from the institute with fine wines and food, creating some sort of salon over which she grandly presided.

At my suggestion, John Lauritsen undertook the nearly impossible task of interviewing Warner for Before Stonewall, being consigned, as all guests were, to the maid's quarters of his mother's house, which Warner maintained as a sort of Victorian mausoleum to her. For most of the past half century, Arthur Warner lived in that house. Nothing in it changed since the deaths of his parents about four decades ago, except for some of the books. He was particularly proud of the antique furniture: the tall clock and dozens of old and unusual table lamps, which he himself collected. But Lauritsen did learn and then retell tales that were decidedly un-Victorian in nature:

“His mother came from a background which, although educated, reflected the Victorian ethos in matters of sex. A a child, Warner was not told myths about where babies came from, and he was allowed to see biology books showing the birth of animals, and so on, up to the point of fornication. However, when he was put to bed, his hands always had to be on top of the blanket, even on the coldest nights. Because the windows were always open for health reasons, his shoulders also would be cold.”
“Nevertheless, as with virtually all boys, he discovered the pleasures of masturbation, and at the age of seven or eight he did this several times a day, although without ejaculation. On one such occasion he was apprehended by his governess, who felt dutifully obliged to tell his parents. Early the next morning the case was presented to his parents, who had just returned from a trip. His mother, "who wore the pants," took charge. She was in a frenzy and told him that if he ever did this again he would be taken to the state prison at Rahway, "where the bad boys go." He was also told that if he continued to do this, he would certainly become crazy. He was shaken by these warnings and for a year remained "good and pure." “When nine, again found masturbating, he was driven the twelve miles to Rahway State Prison, ordered out of the car, and for about twenty minutes stood outside the car, screaming for forgiveness, finally given "one more chance."
“Warner's first sexual experience - mutual masturbation with a black man in an abandoned school yard - occurred when he was seventeen during his sophomore year at Princeton, and he ran away, terrified. In 42nd Street movies in 1938, he caught gonorrhea from a person he had met and gone home with - it was in the pre-penicillin days, and Warner suffered for eight weeks from sulfanilamide that was injected into the urethra.”

Mrs. Warner was delighted when both her sons graduated with honors from Princeton and from Harvard Law School. Arthur interrupted his Law School to serve as a navel officer in World War II. While serving, he was arrested in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, for soliciting a black male. Though he went back to finish his law degree, that citation barred him from ever practicing law, even after he managed to get his discharge upgraded from undesirable. So Arthur told his doting mother that he really didn't like law anyway after all. She sent him back to England and helped him get a Ph.D. from Harvard in English history. Sir Llewellyn, one of her “friends” from the institute and a great expert in English history helped with his dissertation. Arthur taught for two years at the branch of University of Texas, El Paso, didn't like it, probably because the students who, were none to bright and eager, didn't like his imperious style. So he returned to live the rest of his life at his mother's house.

A gay think tank, funded by gay baths

In 1971 Warner founded the National Committee for Sexual Civil Liberties (later renamed the American Association for Personal Privacy), a high-level think tank comprising lawyers, historians, theologians, and other professionals. From the beginning, Warner's focus, and that of the group he founded, was legal reform--especially the repeal of the sodomy statutes, which he regarded as the linchpin of all discrimination against homosexuals (Warner, Authur and Barnet, Walter, "Why Reform the Sodomy Laws?" Princeton: National Committee for Sexual Civil Liberties, 1971). He had been encouraged by the recommendations for decriminalization of homosexual conduct embodied in the Wolfenden Report in England (1957), and the Model Penal Code (MPC), a statutory text approved by the American Law Institute (ALI) in 1962. Among those closely associated with Warner in this work were Thomas F. Coleman, an attorney from California; Paul Hardman, an gay activist in San Francisco who published the California Voice weekly gay newspaper in that city for many years; and Wayne R. Dynes, chair of the Gay Academic Union.

To pay for his expenses and obtain donations for his organization, Warner also worked for the owner James Campbell, owner of the prosperous Club Baths chain who ran for Senator in Florida, who would donate a lot of money to Warner's organization in lieu of salary. Warner gave advice to the lawyers representing local managers of the baths about how to proceed whenever they got in legal trouble, which they often did. Working largely behind the scenes, Warner and his associates achieved success in several individual states, including Nebraska, where Louis Crompton gave strong local support from his post at the university there, preparing the way for the eventual victory in the U. S. Supreme Court in the Lawrence case of 2003. ( Warner, Authur, "Non-commercial Sexual Solicitation: The Case for Judicial Invalidation", SexuaLaw Reporter, 1978, January-Marchm 4:1, pp. 1, 10-20) (Clendinen, Dudley and Sigourney, Adam, Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America, pp. 96 and 259, 1999, Simon & Schuster, New York)

Warner's papers document his involvement in legal reform and other issues pertaining to homosexual civil rights. The bulk of them consist of legislative and court documents about cases affecting gay civil liberties, and related memoranda, correspondence, and writings. The papers, mainly covering the period from 1946 to 2000, are preserved in the Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University Libraries Totally rewritten several times when he was unwell, his will directed that his funds be used to establish the Sentience Foundation, headquartered by his long-time accountant in Freehold, New Jersey (, which doesn't seem to have done much.

Passions for cruising and cavorting with Blacks

Arthur loved driving, whether to get away from his mother, to explore, or to cruise, I was never quite able to figure out. He bought two identically models of a Nash that had a back that could be converted into a bed, which he used for sex. He loved the Deep South and often traveled it for months at a time. While there, he would stop when he saw a chain gang working on a roadside. He would approach white guard who was bored to death holding the shotgun and chat him up. The guards were always intrigued by Arthur's conversation. He would find out from them which of the black convicts was going to be released and when and where. Then he would show up there to greet the man as he came out. He would welcome him, invite him to dinner, have sex with him either in the back of his car or in a motel or hotel, realizing that the man was horny and would not cause any trouble.

Another of Arthur's games was to wave to black men on the highways. One of his best stories was that he attracted a carful of five black guys. They followed him to a small shoulder off the highway and agreed that one at a time they would get in his car and he would blow them, giving them each five dollars a piece. When the fifth began to approach his car, which has been revved up, he zoomed away, presuming that they had intended to roll him. His presumption must have been correct because they pursued him at high speed for miles along the New Jersey highways. Occasionally, if he trusted one he would talk him back to the gardener's cottage attached to his mother's house pretending that he was the gardener.

During the 1970s and 80s, Arthur would mingle among black politicians in the legislature of New Jersey and other states, coming across as an elegant intellect, genuinely interested in advancing the black civil rights movement. When it came time for these same Black politicians to vote on gay issues like sodomy decriminalization, he would often be successful in persuading them to vote for the pro gay position. Arthur’s quiet and subtle outreach to black politicians, creating early bridges between the Black and gay civil rights movements, is an unsung effort that laid important groundwork for several early decriminalization victories for gays and lesbians.

Arthur's intense interest in Blacks led surreptitiously to my discovering an important aspect of my own family history. In (1989?), when I lived on Tremont street, Arthur Warner was sitting out on my step on a summer's when my neighbor Millie Commodore, who lived two houses down, happened to stroll by. The two struck up a conversation where Mrs. Commodore related how my Uncle Will (William Alexander Percy), surrounded himself with fetching teenage black servants, maintaining a very close relationship with them with obvious romantic overtones. This conversation made me realize the significance of this testimonial evidence for his homosexuality, which I later relayed to Wyatt Brown during his research of House of Percy. Though Wyatt Brown did not pursue this evidence as far as he should, claiming that it was not substantiated, he did reference it a footnote. That footnote was was seen by John Barry who did follow up further at my urging, interviewing several of Commodore's friends in Greenville and including it in Rising Tide. Although Millie Commodore was featured as a narrator in the derived movie, Fatal Flood, the producers chose to ignore her testimony on this important aspect of Will's life. Nevertheless, if it were not for Arthur, I might never have known to pursue this evidence myself while Mrs. Commodore was still alive and this important aspect of Will's life might have been obscured forever.

A mausoleum to his Jewish mother

In his old age Arthur finally “confessed,” in fact bragged that both of his parents were Jewish. He went on to claim that his mother was not Ashkenazi but in fact Sephardi because she had what to him sounded like an Arabic name but was in fact wasn't. Those Jews who lived among the German more tolerant Muslims were generally more prosperous and educated then those who lived among the more persecuting Christians. But those Sephardi who fled from Spain after 1498 and didn’t go to Morocco or the Ottoman Empire but settled in Genoa of the Netherlands looked down on the Ashkenazim that they found there. So from trying to pass as an upper class gentile, Arthur decided to become an upper class Jew.

In the stark rooms of his late mother’s house, unchanged to his own demise, attachments replete with austere bath, he would put up guests such as his Lauritsen his most intimate associate Wayne R. Dynes and me because he wanted to create a mausoleum of the main house to his mother. The only rooms in it he used were his own bedroom, kitchen and the sun porch. His plan was to move Wayne there to create an institute for homophile rights after his death. But because he was so impossible, Wayne refused and Arthur left everything to a corporation that his long serving Jewish accountant ran. In an obituary written by Lauritsen, published on, Warner was remembered for the strength of his convictions and the unbridled nerve with which he expounded them.:

“Warner held strong opinions, and was never hesitant in expressing them. I vividly remember the monthly meetings of the New York Scholarship Committee, held during the 1970s in the apartment of Art History Professor Wayne R. Dynes. In response to what he perceived to be an incorrect or sloppy statement, Warner would command attention with the interjection: "Now just a minute!". He would then -- for many minutes -- patiently and ruthlessly analyze the offending statement, exposing factual errors, carrying faulty arguments to conclusions of manifest absurdity, and dissecting the underlying philosophical premises. On such occasions we were ultimately grateful, if a bit shaken or annoyed at the time.”

It is a disgrace that we've been thwarted in our repeated efforts to get an entry for Arthur Cyrus Warner on Wikipedia.

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