First Gay and Lesbian Archives Is Founded

Jim Kepner amassed a collection of gay-related materials that are now a major part of one of the world’s largest and most significant GLBT archival collections, the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives. Kepner is regarded by some as the first historian and archivist of gay and lesbian culture in the United States.

Summary of Event

Jim Kepner was born and raised in Texas by adoptive parents. When his father sought better work, Kepner moved with him in 1942 to San Francisco. While there, Kepner visited the public library but found no objective materials about homosexuality. [kw]First Gay and Lesbian Archives Is Founded (1975)
[kw]Gay and Lesbian Archives Is Founded, First (1975)
[kw]Lesbian Archives Is Founded, First Gay and (1975)
[kw]Archives Is Founded, First Gay and Lesbian (1975)
ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives
Archives;gay and lesbian
[c]Civil rights;1975: First Gay and Lesbian Archives Is Founded[1080]
[c]Cultural and intellectual history;1975: First Gay and Lesbian Archives Is Founded[1080]
[c]Organizations and institutions;1975: First Gay and Lesbian Archives Is Founded[1080]
[c]Publications;1975: First Gay and Lesbian Archives Is Founded[1080]
Kepner, Jim
Legg, W. Dorr

One of the earliest books on homosexuality remembered by Kepner is Homosexuality in the Lives of the Great (1930), a Haldeman-Julius Blue Book, which were small-format books issued in wrappers. It was the lack of materials in San Francisco’s library, though, books and other works that he knew existed, that inspired Kepner to start his collection, which had been made up first of clippings about gay life in San Francisco during the time he lived there.

Kepner moved to Los Angeles in 1943, then to New York, then back to San Francisco, where he co-owned a bookstore with his friend Mel Brown; the store failed, however. Kepner then moved back to Los Angeles in 1951, to reside again with his friend in the Echo Park area of the city. Gay friends met there for informal discussions, and in 1952, Kepner attended his first meeting of the Mattachine Society.

Beginning in 1954, Kepner wrote articles under pseudonyms for Mattachine’s ONE magazine, and he became the first journalist to have a gay news column, called “tangents, news & views” (printed in lower case letters) for which he collected further clippings, including those sent to him by readers.

The materials grew to include not only books but also printed ephemera, posters, and media materials. In 1975, Kepner announced the formation of the Western Gay Archives Western Gay Archives in his Torrance, California, apartment. At his crowded Lexington Avenue (Hollywood) apartment, a photograph shows him in front of a massive wall of books, sitting at a desk with more books and archival items in the foreground.

In 1979, Kepner’s Western Gay Archives was incorporated as The Gay Archives: Natalie Barney/Edward Carpenter Library Gay Archives: Natalie Barney/Edward Carpenter Library[Gay Archives Natalie Barney Edward Carpenter Library] and opened in a storefront in Hollywood. The archives came to be known as the National Gay Archives, National Gay Archives and then, after 1984, as the International Gay and Lesbian Archives International Gay and Lesbian Archives (IGLA). After the rent at that location increased, IGLA moved to the Werle Building, a space provided by the city of West Hollywood. Kepner financed his archives by living frugally and by soliciting funds from the community. IGLA received a small amount of institutional funding only.


Jim Kepner’s knowledge of gay and lesbian history was first put to use in publications and gay studies classes. With W. Dorr Legg (William Lambert Dorr Legg), Kepner founded in 1956 the ONE Institute of Homophile Studies, the first gay studies program in the United States, and issued its quarterly, beginning in 1958, the first such gay-studies publication in the country.

Kepner’s writings for ONE magazine and other publications were collected in his book Rough News, Daring Views: 1950’s Pioneer Gay Journalism
Rough News, Daring Views (Kepner) (1998), and they show the breadth of his approaches to GLBT history. He simply wanted to present items of GLBT interest that had long been suppressed, but he also wanted to do so through thoughtful activism. His writings framed early GLBT debates about civil rights and in some cases, they still apply today.

Notable early collections acquired by Kepner include Manuel Boyfrank’s (also known as Monwell Boyfrank) correspondence with Henry Gerber, Gerber, Henry who founded the Society for Human Rights in 1924, the first gay organization in the United States, and published the first American gay journal called Friendship and Freedom. Friendship and Freedom (periodical) Kepner also acquired, beginning in 1972, the records of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center from cofounder Morris Kight, and he collected art from Sidney Bronstein, Bronstein, Sidney who published in ONE magazine.

Kepner made his collection available to early GLBT researchers beginning about 1971, so he had a profound influence not only on those writing GLBT-liberation histories but also those who read these works. To take one example, Kepner had opened his files in 1971 to Jonathan Ned Katz, who published the comprehensive work Gay American History in 1976.

With his health getting worse, Kepner and those close to him began to seek more permanent housing for the archives. The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), one possible permanent location, declined the offer to house the archives because doing so would have been too expensive for the campus at the time. Also, Kepner had requested a staff position in “exchange” for the archives, but UCLA library policy did not allow for such an exchange.

In 1956, a ONE, Inc., report noted that its library “may well be…the most important contribution of ONE.” The library was named the Blanche M. Baker Memorial Library, for a doctor and psychologist who was not a lesbian but was a ONE ally and speaker until her death.

The libraries of ONE Institute and IGLA (ONE/IGLA) merged in 1995, through the efforts of Walter Williams, an anthropology professor at the University of Southern California (USC) and others on the two boards. Housing, but not funding, has since been provided by USC. In 1996, the collection of Don Slater (and the Homosexual Information Center), which started with books and records originally housed by ONE until 1965, was added back to ONE/IGLA, the new name of the archives.

Kepner’s vision statements always included the idea that his archive and library were not just for storage of material but were made up of “one of the richest and most usable informational tools the gay community has.” He envisioned the archives with multiple purposes: fostering research and publication and sponsoring events.

Kepner’s vision and life work is now part of ONE/IGLA. His vision is shared by the work of an active IGLA board seeking more ties with USC for permanent housing, seeking endowed funds for preservation and further cataloging of the books, and looking for funds to fully process the archival collections. The ONE Institute archives includes collections at the Werle Building in West Hollywood.

ONE celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in May of 2002. It remains the longest-lived American GLBT organization, housing collections begun by Kepner in 1942. ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives
Archives;gay and lesbian

Further Reading

  • Carmichael, James V., Jr. “’They Sure Got to Prove It on Me’: Millennial Thoughts on Gay Archives, Gay Biography, and Gay. . . .” Libraries & Culture 35, no. 1 (Winter, 2000).
  • _______, ed. Daring to Find Our Names: The Search for Lesbigay Library History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.
  • Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003.
  • Gannett, Lewis, and William A. Percy, III. “Jim Kepner (1923-1997).” In Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context, edited by Vern L. Bullough, Judith M. Saunders, and C. Todd White. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2002.
  • Hall, Richard. “Reclaiming Our Gay American Past: Jonathan Katz, Activist in the Archive.” The Advocate, January 12, 1977, 19-21.
  • Kepner, Jim. Rough News, Daring Views: 1950’s Pioneer Gay Press Journalism. New York: Haworth Press, 1998.
  • Legg, W. Dorr, David G. Cameron, and Walter L. Williams, eds. Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice. San Francisco, Calif.: GLB Publishers and ONE Institute Press, 1994.
  • Potvin, Ernie. “Kepner Remembered.” In ONE IGLA Bulletin no. 5 (Summer, 1998).
  • _______. Subject Files, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives. Kepner’s files contain mission statements, drafts of articles of incorporation, resumes, and more.

1952: ONE, Inc., Is Founded

1953: ONE Magazine Begins Publication

Fall, 1973: Lesbian Herstory Archives Is Founded

1976: Katz Publishes First Lesbian and Gay History Anthology

August, 1991: Leather Archives and Museum Is Founded