Campus News

Kinsey Didn't "Talk About Sex" at Bowdoin

Story posted November 23, 2004

For Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey - the man who conducted the first scientifically based study of human sexuality and is the subject of the new Fox Searchlight movie Kinsey starring Liam Neeson - the road to becoming one of the world's most influential and controversial scientists began at Bowdoin College.

The 20-year-old "Al," as he was known, transferred to the small, liberal arts college in the fall of 1914 as a junior. As biographer James H. Jones writes in Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997), Al needed financial aid to pay for tuition, room, board and books, since his stern and controlling father disapproved of the transfer, and cut him off. Always fascinated by birds, bugs and snakes, however, Al was driven to become a biologist, and had heard of Bowdoin's strong biology program under the direction of professors Manton Copeland and Alfred Otto Gross, the two brilliant Harvard-educated scientists that made up Bowdoin's biology faculty. Al Kinsey was determined to study with them at the venerable midcoast Maine institution.

According to Jones, "Kinsey's years at Bowdoin ranked among the happiest of his youth," and "Bowdoin introduced Kinsey to the life of the mind" (p. 125).

Happily toiling long hours in the biology labs of Searles Science Building, Kinsey excelled as a student, ultimately graduating magna cum laude with a degree in biology and psychology, and winning the honor of speaking at his 1916 graduation (his commencement address was titled "Art and Science: Companions"; his estranged family did not attend the ceremony to hear it). During his Bowdoin years he also served as president of the biology club and the debating council, became a biology teaching assistant, led scientific field trips, put together a biology museum on campus, played classical piano, and devoted countless hours to community service through the YMCA.

What Kinsey didn't do was become Mr. Popularity at the then-all-male college. While he did pledge a fraternity (apparently, because they served pie for breakfast), he was considered aloof and had little in common with his fraternity brothers and classmates. He hated popular music, parties, dances, sports - and never dated. Not that he appeared to mind his non-existent social life; for him, it was all about the work.

As history has shown, however, all work and no play hardly made for a dull boy when it came to Alfred Kinsey, the man who went on to found The Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University, and publish the groundbreaking Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).

In addition to Jones's biography, Bowdoin Alumni Magazine (Vol. 58, No. 2, Fall 1984) provided information for this article.

The official Web site for the film Kinsey is at

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