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14 January 2022

The Offices of Harry Benjamin. Part I: to 1968

Thank you to Ken Lustbader and the NYCLGBT Historic Sites Project who, with input from me and close research in New York’s medical directories etc, has compiled a list of all Harry Benjamin’s offices with dates - but not moving dates. Here I have added information about each site.

All photographs are from GoogleMaps and show buildings as they are recently, not exactly as they were when Benjamin was there.


See also my biography of Harry Benjamin:

Harry Benjamin's other books
The other Harry Benjamin 
Benjamin's first 10 patients: a disambiguation

and a close reading of The Transsexual Phenomenon

Part I:  intro and the Scale
Part II:  transvestites
Part III: trans women
Part IV: photos, legal, trans men, conclusions
Comments

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Harry Benjamin arrived in New York early 1913 as assistant to Friedrich Franz Friedmann who had developed a cure for tuberculosis of the joints by passing the tubercule baccilli through turtles. The results of his work were exaggerated in the press, and a New York banker offered a very large sum to treat his son in the hope that the treatment would work for tuberculosis of the lung also. After a media fuss, the good results proved to be transitory, and Benjamin refused to fudge the findings. He resigned and Friedmann refused to pay for his voyage home.

As a medical student in Berlin and Rostock Benjamin had served in the Prussian Guards, and was still a reserve member. Thus when war broke out in August 1914, he should have returned to Germany and reported for duty. Benjamin gave out three different accounts of how he did not return.

1069 Madison Avenue, at East 81st St

Erwin Haeberle: How did you get a foothold in America?

Benjamin: At first, it was not easy. After various attempts, in 1915 I simply opened a consultation room, in which I also slept. My income was not substantial: $2 for a consultation, $3 for a house call. The rent was $6 per week.

Wages in 1914 New York were 50-75 cents/hour. So you had to work about three hours to visit the doctor for 10 minutes - more if you were a woman.

Benjamin had applied for US citizenship by 1916. The process took 5-7 years. While not completed, the application helped him avoid being hounded as an enemy alien when the US joined the Great War in 1917.



237 Central Park West, at W 83rd St


By 1920 Benjamin was in a larger suite on the other side of Central Park, and across from the Park. 

1940
His father died in 1920, and he became a US citizen in 1921.

He became intrigued by the burgeoning new field of endocrinology and joined the New York Neurological Institute. In 1920 there was enormous publicity about Sergei Voronoff of the Collège de France who rejuvenated old men by transplanting monkey glands. Benjamin thought to meet with Voronoff, and in 1921 had the opportunity of accompanying a female patient, all expenses paid, to Vienna. There he discussed the idea with Max Herz, the appropriately-named heart specialist in Vienna, who thought that Eugen Steinach of the Vienna Vivarium was the real pioneer in the field.

Steinach’s method was ligation of the vas deferens, which, while causing atrophy of spermatogenic tissue, produced additional testosterone. Most patients reported increased vigour and sexual power. Benjamin met with Steinach and was duly impressed. Benjamin delivered a lecture on Steinach and his work at the New York Academy of Medicine in late 1921, and screened the Steinach film in 1923. In 1922 he published two articles in medical journals. Benjamin performed over 500 Steinach operations in New York (unlike Steinach who never did the surgery himself),

Along with Steinach, Benjamin pioneered an equivalent operation for women, diathermy, applied to one ovary, supplemented by x-ray treatment of the area. The prolific and celebrated novelist, Gertrude Atherton, then in her sixties, credited Benjamin’s treatment for overcoming her writer’s block. She wrote the experience into a new novel, Black Oxen, 1923,with a renowned scientist-doctor who was a composite of Steinach and Benjamin. The novel was filmed the same year.

Atherton continued as a devoted patron, and introduced Benjamin to San Francisco society. This led to his summertime practice in San Francisco that he continued for 37 years. Until Atherton died in 1948, his first dinner in San Francisco was always with her. Benjamin also visited Europe nearly every summer during the inter-war period.

239 West 75th St, west of Broadway


1940
237 Central Park West was demolished and replaced by a new building 1925-6.

He and Greta had recently married. Six months later Harry’s mother, Bertha, came from Germany to live with them as she was now a widow.

In 1930 Harry and Gretchen were largely responsible for arranging Magnus Hirschfeld’s visit to the US. In New York he stayed at their home and gave lectures in Benjamin's office.







728 Park Avenue, at 71st St, between E 70 and E 71st Sts


The marquee outside says 730, but the property has alternate addresses: 726-728 Park Ave, 48-50 E 71st
1939

St.

By 1935 Benjamin had many rich, powerful and famous patients, and himself became rich and a celebrity. He had a twelve-room suite of offices and he lived in a deluxe duplex apartment with a sweeping marble staircase. He had servants and a chauffeur. He was at this location for 20 years.

Benjamin was introduced to Alfred Kinsey in 1945. They both often stayed at the same hotel in San Francisco. Kinsey brought pioneer trans persons Sally Barry, Barbara and Lauren Wilcox and Louise Lawrence to Benjamin.

Virginia Allen and her doctor husband first met Harry Benjamin at a lecture that he gave in Atlantic City in 1950. When she moved to New York two years later, she phoned him, and although he could not remember who she was, he went to lunch with her. Shortly afterwards she became his assistant, at first part time.

In 1952 Norman Haire visited New York and was honored in Benjamin’s office.

In 1953 Benjamin met the now famous Christine Jorgensen and became her endocrinologist.

He also met Virginia Prince and became her endocrinologist.




125 East 72nd St, at Lexington Avenues

By 1956 Benjamin had moved to a smaller ‘retirement office”.










44 East 67th St, between Madison and Park Avenues

125 East 72nd St did not work out and by 1957 Benjamin had moved again. Virginia Allen typed the many drafts of Prostitution and Morality. One day while rearranging his files, she asked about a small group by itself where each patient had both a male and a female name. He decided to pay more attention to them.

In 1961 Ira B Pauly at Cornell Medical Center discovered Benjamin and his practice, and for much of a year, he attended Benjamin's Wednesday afternoon clinic for transsexuals. He set out to aggregate 100 cases from the literature and from among Benjamin’s patients. He completed "Male Psychosexual Inversion: Transsexualism. A Review of 100 Cases" in 1963, but it was not published until 1965.






1045 Park Avenue at 86th St

In 1963 philanthropic trans man Reed Erickson became a Benjamin patient and started transition. Money from Erickson enabled a move to a larger office at 86th and Park.

The next year he donated money to the newly created Harry Benjamin Foundation. They met in the new office mainly on Saturday evenings.

Benjamin began to share his practice with gynecologist and hypnotist Leo Wollman. Benjamin also worked with sexologist Robert Masters, endocrinologist Herbert Kuppermann, psychologist Wardell Pomeroy, previously of the Kinsey Institute, and Richard Green who wrote letters endorsing sex-change surgery in Europe for some patients. John Money, who was keen on opening a Gender Identity Clinic, was a frequent visitor.

The Harry Benjamin Foundation was integrated with the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic, endorsed the gender clinic at Stanford University and met with doctors from Minneapolis who were about to open their own gender clinic.

In 1964 Harry Benjamin finally published his book Prostitution and Morality, co-written with REL Masters. The book has a few passing references to trans prostitutes, and unlike his 1966 book, does acknowledge 'homosexual transvestites'.

Also in 1964 Benjamin published Nature and Management of Transsexualism: With a Report on Thirty-One Operated Cases.

In 1966 Benjamin's The Transsexual Phenomenon was published, and became the seminal work on the subject.  See here for a close reading.

By 1968 Benjamin and Reed Erickson were increasingly in disagreement, mainly over money and who was to decide what.

Continued in Part II.



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Some of these addresses are quite expensive. Which partially explains Benjamin’s high fees.

The following information for 730 Park Avenue is taken from realtor PropertyShark:

Built 1928
42 units
192,445 square feet
assessed market 2022 value $29,651,850.00.
property tax 2022 $3,111,483.00.

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