Magazine Begins Publication Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

ONE was the first long-term gay magazine published in the United States. In 1958, it won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed texts with gay and lesbian themes, including magazines, to be distributed through the U.S. mail.

Summary of Event

In 1952, members of the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles discussed forming a magazine; that same year, they founded ONE, Inc., the magazine’s parent. The first issue of ONE, dated January, 1953, was published with the subtitle The Homosexual Magazine; later in its history, it carried the subtitle The Homosexual Viewpoint. ONE was one of the first three long-term gay publications in the United States; all three originated in California. [kw]ONE Magazine Begins Publication (1953) [kw]Magazine Begins Publication, ONE (1953) [kw]Publication, ONE Magazine Begins (1953) ONE magazine Publications;ONE magazine Media;ONE magazine [c]Publications;1953: ONE Magazine Begins Publication[0460] [c]Civil rights;1953: ONE Magazine Begins Publication[0460] [c]Cultural and intellectual history;1953: ONE Magazine Begins Publication[0460] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;1953: ONE Magazine Begins Publication[0460] [c]Literature;1953: ONE Magazine Begins Publication[0460] [c]Organizations and institutions;1953: ONE Magazine Begins Publication[0460] Block, Martin Corbin, Joan Hansen, Joseph Julber, Eric Kepner, Jim Legg, W. Dorr Russell, Stella Slater, Don Wolf, Irma “Corky” Jennings, Dale

Early names associated with ONE include W. Dorr Legg, who was hired as business manager, and Martin Block, the first editor. The next editor was Dale Jennings, a Mattachine member, and then Don Slater. Early graphic design was done by Joan Corbin (as Eve Elloree), and Irma “Corky” Wolf (as Ann Carll Reid) was circulation manager.

ONE magazine had a cover story on same-gender marriage as early as 1953.

(Courtesy, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives)

The first issues were plain but had bold graphics, were typeset, and came in an odd size, almost square. This changed to a 5.5 by 8.5-inch format, which came through folding an 8.5 by 11-inch sheet of paper. It was first distributed by hand in bars but then sold at newsstands. It reached readers in all states, and its highest circulation was five thousand.

Women were represented in the pages of ONE as well. The first issue had a poem by Helen Ito and an article by Betty Perdue (a friend of Jim Kepner), writing as Geraldine Jackson. The February, 1954, issue was titled “The Feminine Viewpoint,” and another issue featured a cover portrait of “Sten Rush” (Stella Russell). Kepner, who wrote a news column for ONE, was the first person to do so in a gay publication. Kepner’s news columns were filled primarily with news of arrests and were taken from his own clippings and from those sent to him by readers.

In 1965, Slater, who by this time was a longtime editor of ONE, in an act that has come to be called “The Heist,” removed everything from ONE’s offices to another location. The magazine’s library, office contents, its historical files, and its mailing list were taken by Slater and some of his supporters. Slater had been in conflict with Legg for various reasons, including personal and ideological. After Slater’s “heist,” Legg had to rely on his memory of the mailing list to continue circulating the magazine. Lawsuits ensued, with Legg retaining the right to use the name ONE, Inc. Slater began another magazine titled Tangents Tangents (magazine) , which also drew in Kepner and Joseph Hansen, but Tangents lasted only until 1970. ONE did not adapt to the more militant political messages of the late 1960’s gay and lesbian rights movement and so published its last issue in 1969 (although it published again in 1972).


ONE magazine faced opposition from three sources: the U.S. Postal Service; Postal Service, U.S. the Federal Bureau of Investigation Federal Bureau of Investigation;and obscenity laws[obscenity laws] (FBI); and Alexander Wiley, Wiley, Alexander a Republican senator from Wisconsin. Wiley had alerted the FBI to an issue of ONE that implied that homosexuals held key positions in the FBI. The FBI began its surveillance of ONE and its staff.

The Postal Service seized an issue of ONE and released it. Then, Los Angeles postmaster Otto Olesen stopped the mailing of the October, 1954, issue. ONE sued the Postal Service but lost. ONE’s lawyer, Eric Julber, appealed the decision and lost twice, and the magazine was declared “lewd, obscene, lascivious, and filthy.” Julber used his own money to travel to Washington, D.C., to deliver a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In January, 1958, and in a victory for gay and lesbian rights, the Court Supreme Court, U.S.;obscene mailings decided the case, ONE, Inc. v. Olesen, ONE, Inc. v. Olesen (1958)[ONE Inc v Olesen] without a hearing. It based its decision on the earlier Roth v. United States ruling, in which the Court determined that the mere discussion of sexual matters was not in itself obscene. This decision, although limited, has been termed the sole victory for gays and lesbians of the 1950’s, according to historian John D’Emilio, and paved the way for more lesbian and gay publications. Also in 1958, and after the Court decision, the cover of ONE was emblazoned with the words “I Am Glad I Am a Homosexual,” an article written by Legg (as Hollister Barnes).

Letters from readers to the editors in the early years of ONE remain some of the most valuable windows into gay life in the United States at that time. Readers poured their hearts out in their communications, many for the first and only time able to communicate their innermost feelings. Many letters were published, and many others are archived as valuable resources at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles.

ONE contributors set the debate for the decades that followed the magazine’s early years. A cover story in its first year asked, “Homosexual Marriage?” "Homosexual Marriage?" (ONE magazine)[Homosexual Marriage] ONE treated this topic again in 1963, with the title “Let’s Push Homophile Marriage.” Other special topics included “Homosexual Servicemen” and “What About Religion?” ONE added humor with banners and cover illustrations for “Something About Sailors,” “Homo Beatniks,” and, “Bring Your Own Bikini.”

An early edition of ONE also had a gay travel article, which gave information about a gay beach at Santa Monica Canyon (in Los Angeles County). Book reviews were numerous and contributed to a developing canon of gay literature. Articles also discussed transgender persons to some degree.

The most important writer of nonfiction to emerge from the magazine was Jim Kepner, who framed gay issues in ways that are still germane. The editors also persuaded well-known writer Norman Mailer to contribute “The Homosexual Villain,” a piece about the gay character in his novel The Deer Park. Mailer had been worried that ONE’s readership would be repelled by the novel’s villainous character. The most important writer of fiction for ONE was Joseph Hansen, writing as James Colton. Colton is best known for his successful Dave Brandstetter mysteries, which he wrote after his work for ONE. ONE magazine Publications;ONE magazine Media;ONE magazine

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">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.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kepner, Jim. Rough News, Daring Views: 1950’s Pioneer Gay Press Journalism. New York: Haworth Press, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murdoch, Joyce, and Deb Price. Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Streitmatter, Rodger. Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1995.

1952: ONE, Inc., Is Founded

Fall, 1973: Lesbian Herstory Archives Is Founded

1975: First Gay and Lesbian Archives Is Founded

August, 1991: Leather Archives and Museum Is Founded

Categories: History