Professor Fredrick Artz and the Cultural Stance of the “Queer,” Page 2

It was in Paris, immediately after the end of World War I, that Artz became acquainted with Raymond Stetson, then chairman of Oberlin’s Psychological Department. Twenty-two years his senior, Stetson was in France on sabbatical studying speech movements and phonetics, an area for which he gained an “international reputation.”[100]

Stetson was later part of a group of Oberlin faculty that petitioned for a “Committee on Sex Education” in 1931, which described him as a “psychologist frequently consulted by students with such problems and…one acquainted with the literature of the subject.” Their bibliography, which may have well been constructed by Stetson, included authors such as the homosexual utopian socialist Edward Carpenter and sexologists Havelock Ellis and Richard von Krafft-Ebing.[101]

Professor Raymond Stetson in Paris. 1922. Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.

Professor Raymond Stetson in Paris. 1922. Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.

In contrast to the gregarious, “colorful” Artz, the Oberlin News Tribune described Stetson as “a shy and modest man, shunning publicity and society almost to the point of being a recluse.”[102] Artz himself recalled Stetson’s “great feeling for ‘le mot juste,’” and his “vivid way of saying things. He once said to me, ‘Herr Artz, you are always either set-up or up-set!,’” Artz later wrote. “All in all, he was the keenest and most gifted person I ever knew well.”[103]

The two men began living together in 1924, immediately after Artz completed graduate work at Harvard and started teaching at Oberlin. In 1940, they moved into a home Artz himself designed, located at 157 North Professor Street. In all, they would live together for a twenty-six years. Yet little information exists about the relationship between the two “bachelors.” Artz’s papers in the Oberlin College Archives “contain virtually no information on his personal life after he came to Oberlin,” undoubtedly a result of Artz’s own sense of privacy and the unwritten social contract that forbade direct acknowledgement of same-sex relationships and love.[104]

“[Artz’s] prestige and the taste with however that relationship was handled was impeccable,” Raymond Donnell (OC 53) remembered. “It was not something that was just splattered out in people’s faces.” In this way, Artz also reflected the “cultural stance of the queer,” which embodied “the general middle class preference for privacy, self-restraint, and lack of self-disclosure;”[105] a preference that would later come to be identified, in Donnell’s words, as “all that ‘closet-y’ stuff.” “Yes, I guess it was ‘closet-y stuff,’” Donnell recalled, “but also there was a great deal of civility and compassion involved in some of that. [A] consideration of people’s privacy.”

Some of this “civility and compassion” is revealed in the more than fifty condolence letters Artz received upon Stetson’s death in December 1950—some of the few personal items Artz retained in his Archives papers.

“Only a few days ago we sent a Xmas card to you and Professor Stetson,” began one letter, “and yesterday mother wrote me of your long-time friend’s death. We are with you at this time of grief and sorrow…We know how great the loss was that you sustained.” Another former student expressed his grief, quickly adding it was “nothing to the stimulating companionship you…men had at 157 No. Professor.” While one well-wisher acknowledged that “neither one of you was ever given to any outwards signs of affection towards each other,” the author nonetheless “knew” that “you both must have cared greatly for each other.” One friend noted that he could “understand what a great difference this will make in your life.” Another former student wrote:

It must be extremely lonely for you without him. He liked to tell about the man who commented, when you decided to live together, ‘That’s just what they both deserved.’ And he liked to make frantic motions on the table, descriptive of your temperament. But certainly the combination of your two personalities must have become so thoroughly fused, with the years, that its dissolution leaves you a stranger in your own house. My sympathy and friendship are yours, for what they might be worth.[106]

Polaroid taken circa 1964 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Courtesy of anonymous.

Polaroid taken circa 1964 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Courtesy of anonymous.

After Stetson’s death, Artz began to rent out his spare room to students—most of them gay. Artz “was always proud of his ‘apostolic’ succession of gay roomers,” recalled one German professor who taught at Oberlin in the late 1950s. The students were “exposed to much European culture in Artz’s home,” he recalled, remembering Artz’s “huge book-lined living room with very beautiful antiques, and a wonderful old music box which used cylinders.”[107]

Larry Palmer (OC 60) roomed at Artz’s house during his senior year. Artz, he recalled, “could be the most exasperating person, but underneath everything he was very kind and generous human being, and extraordinarily lonely after Stetson died.” Palmer felt one incident in particular illustrated Artz’s character. Palmer’s long-term boyfriend, Robert (pseudonym), spent the night during one of his first weekends living in Artz’s house.

The following morning, “there was a knock on the bedroom door,” he recalled. “And Freddie, with his dirty old apron on, came bustling in and said, ‘Here’s breakfast youngins.’ And he brought us breakfast in bed [laughs]…And he said, ‘Now, children, we need to talk…Robert: you’re not going to be able to sleep here because the neighbors will talk.’” Palmer successfully negotiated for more frequent visits, but Artz’s outlook, according to Palmer, again reflected the cultural stance of the “queer”: “It’s okay to be queer—nelly—but don’t flaunt it.”

“Faked slide” of Artz. 1960s. Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.

“Faked slide” of Artz. 1960s. Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.

Artz may have become bolder toward the end of this life, according to Ken Sherrill, a professor in the government department in the late 1960s. “It was well known he was leaving everything in his possession, which was fairly substantial, to the college,” Sherrill recalled. “And when a gay person got into trouble, he would threaten to disinherit the college.” Gay faculty and students also knew to go to him if there were any problems with the administration, Sherrill recalled. “I suspect that the college never [responded] to his threats to disinherit them,” Sherrill said, “but they did respond to his moral authority.”

In classic queen fashion, Freddie Artz in fact spoke on the “decline of morals and manners among college youth” at the 1966 Alumni Luncheon.[108]

During his years at Oberlin, Artz is believed to have taught over 7,500 Oberlin students, of whom at least eighty-five went on to become historians themselves. As a teacher, Artz was renowned for his encyclopedic mind and skill at synthesizing several disciplines—music, art, literature, and theology—to express broad themes of western history. Palmer remembered Artz “polish[ing[ those lectures right up to the very end.” A year before his retirement, Palmer recalled hearing Artz, at 6:30 in the morning, “upstairs in his bedroom declaiming and reading through the lectures and making corrections and so on.”

In 1964, three years after his retirement, Artz’s former students honored him with A Festschrift for Frederick B. Artz, a published series of historical studies. Artz is now also honored by a chair in the History Department and a research grants program in his name. His collection of 10,000 rare books, maps, and manuscripts can now be found in the Allen Art Museum and Oberlin College libraries.

The “colorful character” in 1974. Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.

The “colorful character” in 1974. Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.

Artz died on July 20, 1983. Then History Department chairman Robert Neil (OC 53), a friend of Artz’s and another confirmed “bachelor,” partly attributed to Artz the fact that in the period since 1920 more students at Oberlin had gone on to professional careers in history than from any other undergraduate institution in the country. “But Fred was more than an inspiring teacher and internationally known scholar,” Neil wrote. “To his many friends in town and thousands of former students he was simply ‘Freddie Artz’—an Oberlin institution for over half a century. We have lost a truly colorful character.”[109]

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One thought on “Professor Fredrick Artz and the Cultural Stance of the “Queer,” Page 2

  1. Earle Goodwin

    My name was given to Freddie by Gertrude Jacobs who was secretary at the Theological Seminary at Oberlin. She knew I had to find a place to stay for two years as the home of Leo Holden, Organ Prof. where I lived for two years prior was not going to be available after Uncle Leo remarried. I knew Artz’s reputation for being a tyrant and was scared to death as I approached the big front door of his home behind the Library. A loud voice boomed out from the Library, “Come in and close the door”. My heart was pounding as I entered the long Library and there he sat in clouds of smoke at the far end of the room. I sat on the large Victorian Sofa which seemed miles away from him and explained that Miss Jacobs had given my name as a prospective roomer. “Well, would you like to stay here ? I have heard nothing but good reports about you.” was his forceful declamatory statement. Of course I said yes. (At that stage of my education I had not learned of Artz’s power and influence in the college affairs) I was shown what would be my room adjacent to the Library running across the back of the house with a picture window at my desk providing a beautiful view of the back yard and garden. What a paradise ! A private bathroom just off the bedroom and the kitchen door exit which I was instructed to use rather than the front door.
    The following semester I moved in to my new quarters. The next morning I was awakened to a gentle knock on my room door and in walked Freddie with a little plate on which there was something: “Would you like a little Dobosh Torte for Breakfast” was his query. And that began my first day in my new lodgings.
    One day, several months later, the big front door opened wide and in came Artz. He threw his attache on the stairs and exclaimed: “I was grand today and there were 125 students in attendance” “you know, he continued, they all think I’m a Tiger when in fact I’m just a Pussy Cat” and with that Freddie adjourned to his favorite spot in the long library dropping cigarette ashes along the way onto the carpet and rubbing them into the carpet exclaiming: “keeps out the mouths”
    So many wonderful memories of this glorious man. We never spoke about gay issues but I think that we both knew the score and respected each others private affairs. Remember it was 1956 not today.


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