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Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
Engraving of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, taken from Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen, vol. 1 (1899)
Born (1825-08-28)August 28, 1825
Aurich, Kingdom of Hanover
Died July 14, 1895(1895-07-14) (aged 69)
L'Aquila, Kingdom of Italy
Nationality German
Known for Campaigning for LGBT rights

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (28 August 1825 – 14 July 1895) was a German writer who is seen today as the pioneer of the modern gay rights movement.


  • Early life 1
  • Campaigner for sexual reform 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Latin writer 4
  • Araxes 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Ulrichs was born in Aurich, then part of the Kingdom of Hanover, in present-day north-western Germany. Ulrichs recalled that as a young child he wore girls' clothes, preferred playing with girls, and wanted to be a girl.[1] His first homosexual experience was in 1839 at the age of fourteen, in the course of a brief affair with his riding instructor. He graduated in law and theology from Göttingen University in 1846. From 1846 to 1848, he studied history at Berlin University, writing a dissertation in Latin on the Peace of Westphalia.

From 1849 to 1857 Ulrichs worked as an official legal adviser for the district court of Hildesheim in the Kingdom of Hanover. He was dismissed when his homosexuality became open knowledge.

Campaigner for sexual reform

In 1862, Ulrichs took the momentous step of telling his family and friends that he was, in his own words, an Urning, and began writing under the pseudonym of "Numa Numantius". His first five essays, collected as Forschungen über das Rätsel der mannmännlichen Liebe (Studies on the Riddle of Male-Male Love), explained such love as natural and biological, summed up with the Latin phrase anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa (a female psyche confined in a male body). In these essays, Ulrichs coined various terms to describe different sexual orientations/gender identities, including "Urning" for a male who desires men (English "Uranian"), and "Dioning" for a male who is attracted to women. These terms are in reference to a section of Plato's Symposium in which two kinds of love are discussed, symbolised by an Aphrodite who is born from a male (Uranos), and an Aphrodite who is born from a female (Dione). Ulrichs also coined words for the female counterparts ("Urningin" and "Dioningin"), and for bisexuals and intersexual persons.[2]

The first and only issue of Uranus (January 1870), intended by Ulrichs as a regular periodical, bears its own title: Prometheus

He soon began publishing under his real name (possibly the first public "coming out" in modern society) and wrote a statement of legal and moral support for a man arrested for homosexual offences. On August 29, 1867, Ulrichs became the first homosexual to speak out publicly in defence of homosexuality when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich for a resolution urging the repeal of anti-homosexual laws. He was shouted down. Two years later, in 1869, the Austrian writer Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the word "homosexual", and from the 1870s the subject of sexual orientation (as we would now say) began to be widely discussed.

In the 1860s, Ulrichs moved around Germany, always writing and publishing, and always in trouble with the law — though always for his words rather than for sexual offences. In 1864, his books were confiscated and banned by police in Saxony. Later the same thing happened in Berlin, and his works were banned throughout Prussia. Some of these papers were found in the Prussian state archives and were published in 2004. Already several of Ulrichs's more important works are back in print, both in German and in translation.

Ulrichs was a patriotic Hannoverian, and when Prussia annexed Hannover in 1866 he was briefly imprisoned for opposing Prussian rule. The next year he left Hannover for good and moved to Munich, where he addressed the Association of German Jurists on the need to reform German laws against homosexuality. Later he lived in Würzburg and Stuttgart.

In 1879, Ulrichs published the twelfth and final book of his Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love. In poor health, and feeling he had done all he could in Germany, he went into self-imposed exile in Naples, Italy. For several years he travelled around the country before settling in L'Aquila, where his health improved.

He continued to write prolifically and publish his works (in German and Latin) at his own expense. In 1895, he received an honorary diploma from the University of Naples. Shortly afterwards he died in L'Aquila. His gravestone is marked (in Latin), "Exile and Pauper." "Pauper" may have been a bit of a romantic licence. Ulrichs lived in L'Aquila as the guest of a local landowner, Marquis Niccolò Persichetti, who gave the eulogy at his funeral. At the end of his eulogy, he said:

Late in life Ulrichs wrote: "Until my dying day I will look back with pride that I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the spectre which for time immemorial has been injecting poison into me and into men of my nature. Many have been driven to suicide because all their happiness in life was tainted. Indeed, I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contempt."


Forgotten for many years, Ulrichs later became something of a cult figure in Europe. There are streets named for him in Munich, Bremen, Hanover and Berlin.[3] His birthday is marked each year by a lively street party and poetry reading at Karl-Heinrich-Ulrichs-Platz in Munich. The city of L'Aquila has restored his grave and hosts the annual pilgrimage to the cemetery. Later gay rights advocates were aware of their debt to Ulrichs. Magnus Hirschfeld thoroughly referenced Ulrichs in his The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1914). Volkmar Sigusch called Ulrichs the "first gay man in world history."[4]

In Ulrichs' memory, the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association presents a Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Award for distinguished contributions to the advancement of LGBTI equality.[5]

Latin writer

During his stay in Italy, he devoted himself, between 1889 and 1895, to the international use of Latin with the publishing of the literary review Alaudae,[6] which was widely disseminated and made known many European Latin poets of his time. This review found a suite,[7] in Vox Urbis: de litteris et bonis artibus commentarius published twice monthly by the architect and engineer Aristide Leonori between 1898 and 1913.


Published in 1870, Ulrich's "Araxes: a Call to Free the Nature of the Urning from Penal Law" is remarkable for its similarity to the discourse of the modern lesbian and gay rights movement:

See also


  1. ^ LeVay, Simon, 1996. Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality, MIT Press
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Volkmar Sigusch, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Der erste Schwule der Weltgeschichte, Männerschwarm 2000.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Wielfried Stroh (ed.), Alaudæ. Eine lateinische Zeitschrift 1889–1895 herausgegeben von Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Nachdruck mit einer Einleitung von Wielfried Stroh, Hamburg, MännerschwarmSkript Verlag, 2004.
  7. ^ Vox Urbis (1898–1913) quid sibi proposuerit, in : Melissa, 139 (2007) pp. 8–11.

Further reading

  • K. H. Ulrichs, Forschungen über das Rätsel der mannmännlichen Liebe (1898; repr. 1994)
  • Documents of the Homosexual Rights Movement in Germany 1836–1927 (1975)
  • H. Kennedy, Ulrichs The Life and Works of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Pioneer of the Modern Gay Movement (1988)
  • K. H. Ulrichs, "The Riddle of Man-Manly Love." Trans. Michael Lombardi-Nash (1994)

External links

  • Website dedicated to his name and legacy (German)
  • The Life and Times of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
  • Works by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Karl Heinrich Ulrichs at Internet Archive
  • Hubert Kennedy's work on Ulrichs
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