Alfred Charles Kinsey (June 23, 1894 – August 25, 1956), was an American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology who
in 1947 founded the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University Bloomington, now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.
The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University promotes interdisciplinary research and scholarship in the fields of human sexuality, gender,
and reproduction. The Institute was founded in 1947, just before the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948. Today the Institute investigates sexual behavior and sexual health today, and
carries out its mission through: development of collections of resources for scholars; programs of research and research publications; presentation of interdisciplinary conferences and seminars; provision
of information services; and graduate training.
The following biographical information has been adapted from the Wikipedia: Alfred Kinsey website.
Alfred Kinsey was born on June 23, 1894, in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Alfred Seguine Kinsey and Sarah Ann Charles. Kinsey was the eldest of three children. His mother had received little formal education; his father was a professor at
Stevens Institute of Technology. His parents were rather poor for most of Kinsey's childhood. Consequently, the family often could not afford proper medical care, which may have led to young Kinsey's receiving inadequate treatment for a variety of diseases
including rickets, rheumatic fever, and typhoid fever. This health record indicates that Kinsey received suboptimal exposure to sunlight (the cause of rickets in those days before milk and other foods were fortified with vitamin D) and lived in unsanitary
conditions for at least part of his childhood. Rickets, leading to a curvature of the spine, resulted in a slight stoop that was to prevent Kinsey from being drafted in 1917 for World War I.
Both of Kinsey's parents were extremely conservative Christians; this left a powerful imprint on Kinsey for the rest of his life. His father was known as one of the most devout members of the local Methodist church and as a result
most of Kinsey's social interactions were with other members of the church, often merely as a silent observer while his parents discussed religion with other similarly devout adults. Kinsey's father imposed strict rules on the household including mandating
Sunday as a day of prayer (and little else), outlawing social relationships with girls, and prohibiting knowledge of anything remotely sexual including masturbation. Such a strict upbringing was not entirely uncommon at the time. As a child, Kinsey was
forbidden to learn anything about the subject that was to later bring him such fame. Kinsey ultimately disavowed the Methodist religion of his parents and became an atheist.
At a young age, Kinsey showed great interest in nature and camping. He worked and camped with the local YMCA often throughout his early years. He enjoyed these activities to such an extent that he intended to work professionally for
the YMCA after his education was completed. Even Kinsey's senior undergraduate thesis for psychology, a dissertation on the group dynamics of young boys, echoed this interest. He joined the Boy Scouts when a troop was formed in his community. His parents
strongly supported this (and joined as well) because at the time the Boy Scouts was an organization heavily grounded on the principles of Christianity. Kinsey diligently worked his way up through the Scouting ranks to Eagle Scout in only two years, rather
than in the five or six years it took most boys. Despite earlier disease having weakened his heart, Kinsey followed an intense sequence of difficult hikes and camping expeditions throughout his early life.
In high school, Kinsey was a quiet but extremely hard-working student. He was not interested in sports, but rather devoted his prodigious energy to academic work and the piano. At one time, Kinsey had hoped to become a concert pianist,
but decided to concentrate on his scientific pursuits instead. Kinsey's ability early on to spend immense amounts of time deeply focused on study was a trait that would serve him well in college and during his professional career. Kinsey seems not to
have formed strong social relationships during high school, but he earned respect for his academic ability. While there, Kinsey became interested in biology, botany and zoology. Kinsey was later to claim that his high school biology teacher, Natalie Roeth,
was the most important influence on his decision to become a scientist.
Upon graduation at Columbia High School, Kinsey approached his father with plans to study botany at college. His father demanded that he study engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Kinsey was unhappy at Stevens,
and later remarked that his time there was one of the most wasteful periods of his life. Regardless, however, he continued his obsessive commitment to studying. At Stevens, he primarily took courses related to English and engineering, but was unable to
satisfy his interest in biology. At the end of two years at Stevens, Kinsey gathered the courage to confront his father about his interest in biology and his intent to continue studying at Bowdoin College in Maine. His father vehemently opposed this,
but finally relented. Accompanying Kinsey's victory, however, came the effective loss of his relationship with his father, which deeply troubled him for years to come.
In 1914, Kinsey entered Bowdoin College, where he became familiar with insect research under Manton Copeland. Two years later, Kinsey was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude with degrees in biology and psychology.
He continued his graduate studies at Harvard University's Bussey Institute, which had one of the most highly regarded biology programs in the United States. It was there that Kinsey studied applied biology under William Morton Wheeler, a scientist who
made outstanding contributions to entomology. Under Wheeler, Kinsey worked almost completely autonomously, which suited both men quite well. For his doctoral thesis, Kinsey chose to do research on gall wasps. Kinsey began collecting samples of gall wasps
with obsessive zeal. He traveled widely and took 26 detailed measurements on hundreds of thousands of gall wasps. His methodology made an important contribution to entomology as a science. Kinsey was granted a Sc.D. degree in 1919 by Harvard University.
He published several papers in 1920 under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, introducing the gall wasp to the scientific community and laying out its phylogeny. Of the more than 18 million insects in the museum's collection,
some 5 million are gall wasps collected by Kinsey.
Upon the completion of his doctorate, Kinsey joined the department of zoology at Indiana University Bloomington in 1920 as an assistant professor. His wife and colleagues referred to Kinsey as Prok (for Professor Kinsey). At Indiana University, the indefatigable
Kinsey continued his work on gall wasps, traveling widely over the next 16 years to collect and catalogue specimens. Kinsey was particularly interested in the evolutionary history of the tiny insect, which measures 1-8 millimeters, and published a monograph
devoted to the origin of gall wasp species in 1930, The Gall Wasp Genus Cynips: A Study in the Origin of Species, with a second major work in 1935, The Origin of Higher Categories in Cynips.
Kinsey married Clara Bracken McMillen, whom he called Mac, in 1921. They had four children. Their first-born, Don, died from the complications of juvenile diabetes in 1927, just before his fifth birthday. Anne was born in 1924, Joan
in 1925 and Bruce in 1928.
Kinsey died on August 25, 1956, at the age of 62. The cause of death was reported to be heart disease and pneumonia.
Human sexual behavior and the Kinsey Reports
Kinsey is generally regarded as the father of sexology, the systematic, scientific study of human sexuality. He initially became interested in the different forms of sexual practices around 1933, after discussing the topic extensively with a colleague,
Robert Kroc. It is likely that Kinsey's study of the variation of mating practices among gall wasps led him to wonder how widely varied sexual practices among humans were. During this work, he developed a scale measuring sexual orientation now known as
the Kinsey Scale which ranks from 0 to 6, where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual.
In 1935, Kinsey delivered a lecture to a faculty discussion group at Indiana University, his first public discussion of the topic, wherein he attacked the "widespread ignorance of sexual structure and physiology" and promoted
his view that "delayed marriage" (that is, delayed sexual experience) was psychologically harmful. Kinsey obtained research funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, which enabled him to inquire into human sexual behavior through interviews of
thousands of subjects.
His Kinsey Reports - starting with the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 followed in 1953 by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female - reached the top of bestseller lists and turned Kinsey into an instant celebrity,
and are still the bestselling scientific books of all time. Articles about him appeared in magazines such as Time, Life, Look, and McCall's. Kinsey's reports, which led to a storm of controversy, are regarded by many as a trigger for the sexual revolution
of the 1960s. Indiana University's president Herman B Wells defended Kinsey's research in what became a well-known test of academic freedom.
Although the investigation into sexual behavior carried out by Kinsey resulted in an explosion of knowledge about topics previously considered taboo, there are continuing claims that the Kinsey Reports contain statistical and methodological
errors. Nonetheless, his data are still widely cited despite questions by some about their validity.