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Friedemann Pfäfflin,
Ulm University, Germany

Walter O. Bockting,
University of Minnesota, USA

Eli Coleman,
University of Minnesota, USA

Richard Ekins,
University of Ulster at Coleraine, UK

Dave King,
University of Liverpool, UK

Managing Editor:
Noelle N Gray,
University of Minnesota, USA

Editorial Assistant:
Erin Pellett,
University of Minnesota, USA

Editorial Board


book Historic Papers


© Copyright

Published by
Symposion Publishing

ISSN 1434-4599

Volume 5, Number 2, April - June 2001

Special Issue on David O. Cauldwell (1897-1959): Classic Reprints Series
(Reprints Series edited by Richard Ekins and Dave King)

Pioneers of Transgendering: The Popular Sexology of David O. Cauldwell

By Richard Ekins and Dave King

Citation: Ekins R., King D. (2001) Pioneers of Transgendering: The Popular Sexology of David O. Cauldwell. IJT 5,2, http://www.symposion.com/ijt/cauldwell/cauldwell_01.htm

David O. Cauldwell is usually credited with being the first person to use the term 'transsexual' and 'transsexualism' (Pauly, 1965: 173; Billings and Urban, 1996: 115). Harry Benjamin (1969: 4) claims to have given the first public lecture in December 1953 in which the term 'transsexualism' was used. Benjamin (1969: 4) refers to David O. Cauldwell's paper in Sexology (Cauldwell, 1949b) concerning a girl who wanted to be a boy. Noting that Cauldwell called her condition 'psychopathia transsexualis' 1 Benjamin (1969: 4) continues: "Whether I had ever read that article and the expression remained in my subconscious, frankly, I do not know".

Benjamin's acknowledgement is confusing on two counts. In the first place, it is Magnus Hirschfeld (1923: 14) who should be credited with coining the term 'transsexualism' when he first mentioned the term 'seelischer Transsexualismus' [psychic transsexualism], 2 thus identifying the clinical category later developed by Benjamin (Pfaefflin, 1997; Ekins, 2001). In the second place, prior to Benjamin's lecture in 1953, Cauldwell had elaborated his position on transsexuality on a number of occasions (Cauldwell, 1950b; 1951). In 1950 (1950b: 3), for instance, after noting that his use of the term 'polysexual' has "started it on the road to popularity", Cauldwell notes his interest "in observing whether the term transsexual has been launched on the sea of popularity". "The combination" (trans and sexual), he writes "is mine as far as I know, but I hereby give it freely to all who desire to use it." In the same publication (Cauldwell, 1950b: 29), he concludes: "Transsexuality, although individuals do not thus define it, occurs in a far greater number of people than the surveys have revealed. It would seem that here is a fertile field for research which has been neglected because sexologists, taxonomists, statisticians and others have been looking for such departures from sex codes as those diversions of the sex instinct known as homosexualism, bisexualism, etc."

The main source of biographical information about Cauldwell is his autobiographical The Diary of a Sexologist (1949a) and the various notices about him in Sexology and in his publications (Cauldwell, 1947b; 1947c). He was born on 17 June 1897 in Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a surgeon and anatomist. As an adolescent, Cauldwell took a special interest in the study of sexuality, spending many hours in his father’s library pouring over anatomical works. As Cauldwell (1949a: 6) puts it: "I all but made a fetish of my study of the genital and related organs". He was schooled at Cleveland – at Purdue – and began medical studies at the Chester College of Medicine and Surgery. Later, this College, together with Bennett Medical College, was merged with Loyola U. (Chicago). According to a publisher’s notice in Cauldwell (1947b: [31]), presumably endorsed by Cauldwell, if not actually written by him, at Loyola "the ecclesiastical authorities in control failed to appreciate the advanced students of the merger, most of whom drifted away." A "Freethinker", Cauldwell was "forever in bad odor with the pious professors". He took his transcript to the Universidad Nacional de Mexico where he took his degrees in medicine and science. After working in private (general) practice he served as an Army contract surgeon and was a neuro psychiatrist in the U.S. War Department. In 1945 he gave up his practice to devote his time to writing and to what he referred to as "research in science" (Cauldwell, 1949b: 276). His details as a member of the Board of Medical and Sexological Consultants of Sexology state: "David O. Cauldwell, M.D., Sc.D. Specialist in Sexology and Military Medicine. Formerly civilian medical officer, Adjutant General's Department, U.S. Army. Author of books and articles on health and sex science" (Sexology, 1957: cover note). He died on 30 August 1959.

Cauldwell published his early articles in Physical Culture and a number of other magazines. In 1946 he became associated with Sexology: Sex Science Magazine of New York and began his work as editor of the magazine's 'Questions and Answers Department' in April of that year. Sexology is, perhaps, best described as a popular science, sex education magazine for the layman. Cauldwell continued as editor of the ‘Questions and Answers Department’ and contributed a number of articles to Sexology until his death. He also produced over 140 popular and inexpensive booklets (published by E. Haldeman-Julius) and, in 1956, edited a book:Transvestism – Men in Female Dress, which included a chapter by Harry Benjamin entitled "Trans-sexualism and Transvestism".3 Cauldwell wrote widely on sexual behaviour (especially 'deviant' behaviour) and on reproductive issues, but was something of a 'specialist' on transvestism, transsexuality and hermaphroditism. Copies of Sexology and the Haldeman-Julius booklets were apparently quite freely available in the USA. How available they were elsewhere is impossible to tell, although some did, evidently, come to Europe.

Cauldwell is rarely referred to in the academic literature (though, see Meyerowitz, 1998: 168-170) except (incorrectly) as the person who first coined the term transsexual. His booklets are described as "written in plain and simple language for the average man to understand" (Cauldwell, 1947d: cover note). His first Haldeman-Julius booklet on transvestism (1947d) is titled Why Males Wear Female Attire. Strange Stories, Weird Confessions, Historical Data and Scientific Explanations of Transvestism, and this is an accurate summary of its contents. It was a formula which he was to repeat in his other booklets which consist mainly of what he calls 'confessions' sent to him by his readers, historical and cross-cultural examples interwoven with popular accounts of the scientific and medical knowledge of the day, and his own comments and advice. Cauldwell rarely refers to specific scientific or medical writers in his writings, though, as Cauldwell (1949a) makes clear, he was well acquainted with the sexological literature having made it a specialist interest from his teens onwards. "I lived with the books of the great sexologists at my elbow", he writes (Cauldwell, 1949a: 6). Noting his sympathy towards the homosexual nurses he met in his work at the clinic following graduation, he remarks: "I was developing a growing sympathy for humanity . . . and felt that it was nobody’s business how they expressed their love – nor towards whom. I'd studied Hirschfeld on homosexuality, and my attitude was an open one. Who was who to dictate how anyone should satisfy the sexual demands, or live his love life?" (Cauldwell, 1949a: 7-8). Following the reception of his writings from the late-1940s onwards, Cauldwell was known in some quarters as "the American Havelock Ellis" (Haldeman-Julius, 1951).

The titles of his booklets warrant a comment. Most of his booklets were published by E. Haldeman-Julius, an American publisher, who believed in the importance of the title in selling a publication. Writing in the context of his reprints of the classics, Haldeman-Julius argued that if the title had some connection with the three great subjects which appeal passionately to the reading masses – sex, self improvement, and attacks upon respectability and religion – success was assured (Evening Standard, 1928). One of Cauldwell's 'Question and Answer' booklets on 'transvestites' was titled Questions and Answers on the Sex Life and Sexual Problems of Transvestites. An Exhaustive, Revealing, Surprising, Informative, Educational, Entertaining and Even Shocking Encyclopedic Compilation of Seldom-Suspected Facts (Cauldwell, 1950a). Although arguably the most striking of his titles, it is typical of many of the others and conveys an impression of the style of the contents. Cauldwell stated "my work is to fight ignorance and intolerance" (Cauldwell, 1949d: 6) and indeed his approach is generally tolerant. Transvestism is often described as a "personality quirk" (Cauldwell, 1949d: 6). As such, it is not an illness or disorder. "To attempt to medically treat transvestism would be as foolish as to try to treat some star to make it behave differently in its relation to the solar system".

By 1949, Cauldwell is using the term transexual (sic) to refer to "individuals who wish to be members of the sex to which they do not properly belong" (Cauldwell, 1949b: 275) and who desired surgery to alter their physical characteristics to resemble those of the opposite sex. In Cauldwell (1950b) he uses the spellings "trans-sexual" and "transsexual" interchangeably. On other occasions he used different terms, such as "sex transmutationist" (Cauldwell, 1947a: 12-16; 1951) to refer to the same individuals. Interestingly, as late as 1957, the "Sex Glossary" published in Sexology (1957: 189) has entries for Eonism, gynecomastia, hermaphrodite, intersexual, transvestite – but not transsexual, despite the fact that Cauldwell was heavily involved in the publication of the journal, and despite the journal's claim to provide for the layman "true sex information of a scientific nature" (Editorial, 1958: 751).

Whereas, Cauldwell is inclined to regard transvestism as a quirk, in Cauldwell (1949b: 275) he regards transsexualism as "mentally unhealthy". However, in 1950 (Cauldwell 1950b: 4) Cauldwell is writing: "Are transsexuals crazy? One may as well ask whether heterosexuals are crazy. Some are and some are not. Some transsexuals are brilliant. Now and then one may be a borderline genius. Transsexuals are eccentric. Some of them are not of sound mind, but this is true of heterosexuals." Cauldwell warns strongly against 'sex change surgery' on a mixture of ethical (Cauldwell, 1955) and practical grounds – it cannot, he argues, make a 'real' member of the opposite sex.

The post second world war period was one in which there was emerging a more liberal attitude towards sexual matters, as exemplified in the Kinsey Studies. Cauldwell's work fitted in well with this liberal approach which can also be seen, of course, in the writings of others who write about transvestism and transsexualism at that time, such as Harry Benjamin and (in Britain) Kenneth Walker (e.g., Walker and Fletcher, 1955). Such writers advocated understanding and public enlightenment, not condemnation; self acceptance, not cure, was the goal.

Despite his identification as a sexologist, there is no evidence that Cauldwell worked specifically with sexual or gender difficulties as part of his medical practice, although he evidently encountered these, particularly when he worked for the Armed Forces (Cauldwell, 1950b). And, although he often refers to his 'research', there is no account of what this involved and there is no trace of Cauldwell publishing in the academic literature. Much of his published work is based on his correspondence with letter writers asking for his advice. During his period with Sexology, for instance, he published over 3,100 answers to questions, and answered untold thousands of others directly (Sexology, 1959: 323). His contribution as a sexologist, and particularly to transgenderism, therefore, is as a popular writer disseminating information and helping to create a climate in which such things could be discussed in a more open and liberal way. His writings (which in content and form resemble the later subcultural publications Transvestia in the U.S.A. and Beaumont Bulletin in the U.K.) are, therefore, arguably best located in relation to the emergence of a transvestite/transsexual subculture rather than in relation to the scientific community. Interestingly, neither the Kinsey Institute nor the British Library or the Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, hold Cauldwell's booklets on transsexuality (although they do hold copies of Sexology which contain pieces by Cauldwell and the Kinsey Institute holds a number of the booklets on transvestism). By contrast, for many years, most of the of the booklets on transsexualism were held by the library of the British Beaumont Society.

In 1949, Cauldwell (1949d: 6) reported that several of his readers had asked him to form a society for transvestites. He died in 1959 just before his readers’ wish was to be granted by Virginia Prince. Fittingly, the first copy of Virginia Prince's magazine Transvestia included an "In Memoriam" to David O. Cauldwell, a "longtime friend of the transvestite", presumably written by Virginia Prince, herself (Prince, 1960: 45):

A long time friend of the Transvestite, Dr. D.O. Cauldwell, one of the editors of Sexology, recently passed away.

I say that he was a long time friend because in many an answer to a Transvestite's letter in Sexology, he emphasized that the activities of a Transvestite were not dangerous, criminal or immoral. While he was not justifying the practice, he at least did much to explain and take the sting out of the problem for the benefit of non-TV's who might read Sexology.

In addition to this, he was the author of a number of booklets published by Haldeman-Julius, such as "Why I a Man, Must Wear Girls' Clothes", and "Transvestites Tell Their Stories". Several years ago he also published a book entitled "Transvestism" which was largely a compilation of his earlier works.

In recent years he took positions in regard to sex-conversion surgery that the writer thought were unfair but he was entitled to his opinions. In any case, in his years of association with Sexology, he wrote articles explaining Transvestism and answered many a letter regarding it, all with a pretty reasonable and fair attitude.

Soon after this obituary was written, sub-cultural voices began to eclipse the quasi-medical, quasi-scientific voices of writers such as Cauldwell. Nevertheless, by his death Cauldwell had established himself as the most prominent of quasi-scientific writers in the area of what we would now term 'transgenderism'. He was a significant pioneer who deserves due recognition in the history of the field.


1. Actually, Cauldwell (1949b) uses the spelling "psychopathia transexualis" (with one 's'). Many writers repeat Benjamin's incorrect spelling. The lecture Benjamin refers to was published as Benjamin (1954). In this latter publication, the spelling is incorrect in the text and correct in the references. His earlier publication, Benjamin (1953), makes no mention of Cauldwell.

2. Bullough and Bullough (1993: 257) state that "Hirschfeld in 1910 called one of his patients a psychic transsexual". They give no reference. We have been unable to locate such a reference in Hirschfeld (1910). Benjamin visited Hirschfeld and his Institute many times in the 1920s and saw transvestites who were there (Benjamin 1966: 12). The term 'transsexual' was used by Kinsey, Pomeroy and Martin (1948: 612) "as one of a number of terms applied to homosexuality and embodying an ‘intermediate sex’ conception of that phenomenon" (King, 1993: 43). Lombardi-Nash translated 'Geschlechtsuebergaenge' as 'Transsexuals' in his 1991 English translation of Hirschfeld (1910: 148).

3. The chapter is a condensation of Benjamin (1954), with additional illustrations.


Benjamin, H. (1953) Transvestism and transsexualism. International Journal of Sexology, 7: 12-14.

Benjamin, H. (1954) Transsexualism and transvestism as psycho-somatic and somatico-psychic syndromes. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 8: 219-230.

Benjamin, H. (1966) The Transsexual Phenomenon, New York: The Julian Press.

Benjamin, H. (1969) Introduction. In Green, R. and Money, J. (Eds.), Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press.

Billings, D.W. and Urban, T. (1996) The socio-medical construction of transsexualism: an interpretation and a critique. In Ekins, R. and King, D. (Eds.), Blending Genders: Social Aspects of Cross-Dressing and Sex-Changing, London: Routledge.

Bullough, V.L. and Bullough, B. (1993) Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Cauldwell, D. O. (1947a) Effects of Castration on Men and Women, Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Cauldwell, D. O. (1947b) The Problem of Unwed Fathers, Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Cauldwell, D.O. (1947c) What is Hermaphroditism? Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Cauldwell, D.O. (1947d) Why Males Wear Female Attire, Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Cauldwell, D.O. (1949a) The Diary of a Sexologist, Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Cauldwell, D.O. (1949b) Psychopathia transexualis. Sexology, 16: 274-280.

Cauldwell, D.O. (1949c) Unconventional Modes of Sexual Expression, Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Cauldwell, D.O. (1949d) What’s Wrong with Transvestism? Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Cauldwell, D.O. (1950a) Questions and Answers on the Sex Life and Sexual Problems of Transvestites, Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Cauldwell, D.O. (1950b) Questions and Answers on the Sex Life and Sexual Problems of Trans-Sexuals, Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Cauldwell, D. O. (1951) Sex Transmutation – Can One's Sex Be Changed? Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Cauldwell, D.O. (1955) Is "sex change" ethical? Sexology, 22: 108-112.

Cauldwell, D.O. (Ed.) (1956) Transvestism: Men in Female Dress, New York: Sexology Corporation.

Editorial (1958) Sexology, 24: 751.

Ekins, R. (2001) On Colette Chiland’s 'The psychoanalyst and the transsexual patient'. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 82: 389.

Evening Standard (1928) November 17th. In Sieveking, P. (Ed.), Man Bites Man: The Scrapbook of an Edwardian Eccentric – George Ives, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Haldeman-Julius, E. (1951) "Letter to William A. Messner", May 21.

Hirschfeld, M. (1910, trans 1991) Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress, New York: Prometheus Books.

Hirschfeld, M. (1923) Die intersexuelle konstitution. Jahrbuch fuer sexuelle Zwischenstufen, 23: 3-27.

King, D. (1993) The Transvestite and the Transsexual: Public Categories and Private Identities, Aldershot: Avebury.

Kinsey, A.C., Pomeroy, W.B., and Martin, C.E. (1948) Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.

Meyerowitz, J. (1998) Sex change and the popular press: historical notes on transsexuality in the United States, 1930-1955, GLQ, 4: 159-187.

Pauly, I.B. (1965) Male psychosexual inversion: transsexualism. A Review of 100 Cases. Archives of General Psychiatry, 13: 172-181.

Pfaefflin, F. (1997) Sex reassignment, Harry Benjamin, and some European roots. International Journal of Transgenderism, 1,2, http://www.symposion.com/ijt/ijtc0202.htm

Prince, V. (1960) In memoriam. Transvestia, 1 (1): 45.

Sex Glossary (1957) Sexology, 24: 189.

Sexology (1959) David O. Cauldwell, M.D., Sc.D., 1897-1959. Sexology, 26: 323.

Walker, K. and Fletcher, P. (1955) Sex and Society, Harmondsworth: Penguin.


We wish to acknowledge the assistance of Randy Roberts, Curator for Special Collections, Pittsburg State University; and Shawn C. Wilson, User Services Coordinator, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Randy Roberts provided invaluable assistance in locating a number of David Cauldwell booklets and supplementary material concerning E. Haldeman-Julius. Shawn C. Wilson resolved a number of our queries concerning David Cauldwell's involvement with Sexology.