Navy Discharge Letter, 1914

By Jason Baumann
September 20, 2011

 Given today's historic repeal of DADT, it important to remember just how long exclusion from military service has been affecting LGBT people in the U.S. It is often thought that exclusion of gays and lesbians from military service focussed in WWII. However, there is evidence that there were soldiers discharged for homosexuality as early as the American revolutionary war. Last year, the Library received a unique letter documenting a member of the U.S. navy who was discharged for homosexuality in 1914. The donor, David Jarrett kindly transcribed the letter with the donation. The letter is being cataloged and digitized for the Library's Digital Gallery.  Below is the transcription....

Letter addressed to Cal Chord, El ic (R), USS Glacier, Pacific Station, via San Francisco, Cal.

                                                                                                 Washington, D.C.                            June 19, ‘14.

Dear friend, Cal :- 

            I am writing this under peculiar circumstances. 

            It may surprise you, but the fact is I have received an undesirable discharge, under the most indefinite motives or charges. The fact is I don’t know with the exception of “Undesirability” just what the real cause is, although I have a suspicion.  I have gone to Secretary Daniels concerning it, and he promises to look into the matter thoroughly upon the Dolphin’s arrival which will be in about 10 days.  Until that time I am nearly crazy with shame at having been so preemptorily ousted without even a trial.

             The reason I am writing you is that you are thoroughly conversant with recruiting laws, and I ask to find out if there is any possible chance to get back in the Service after having been “kicked out”  It makes my blood boil to think that this has happened.

             Following are details connected with the case, and after you have read them, let me know your opinion as to legality of trying to get in again.

             On June 3, I was called to the Sick Bay and examined thoroughly.  I dont (sic) know what Dr. Traynor found, but immediately upon completion of the exam, he asked me a question which if it had been an enlisted man I would have floored him.  He says “Has any man stayed with you ?”  You can imagine that I was mad as --- and I told him “No and that I considered it an insult to ask me such a question.  He says “You’re a Liar”  At that I lost control of my temper & told him he was a gentleman & we were both mistaken.  He says “I’ll give you one more chance, I’ll give you a minute to tell the truth”  I immediately told him that I didn’t need his minute & that I had been telling him the truth.  He says “All right, I’ll prove that you’re a liar”  I then & there dared him to & said furthermore that at no time could such an accusation be brought against me & proved, and that all the examinations would reveal nothing as nothing had happened, to which he refused.  “That’s all right” he said & “You’ll have plenty of time to think it over,” “You can go, now.”

             Fifteen minutes later, the C.M.aa. came & took me down to the brig.  I was not under confinement but placed thus: -- “Held under close observation as to immoral conduct, pending an investigation.”  This fact was entered in the log.  On June 6 (Sunday) I was told to pack my bags & hammock as I was to be transferred to the Chester which was coming up to Boston for engine & general repairing for discharge for Undesirability in accordance with C in C’s letter # So and So dated June -- 1914

             This is absolutely all that took place.  I tried twice to see Captain Earl but don’t know whether my message got to him or not, as I didn’t see him.  I was simply held below decks like a dog & watched & classed with.  Gee, Cal, I can’t bring myself to think of the degradation this suspicion has produced on me, I’m nearly crazy, and am writing this to you to relieve my mind, knowing that you are a friend in whom I can confide.  I have relatives but they cannot understand a Navy man like you.

             Let me hear from you as to what I ask.

             To continue: -- All the way up on the Chester we were held under confinement & upon being discharged at Norfolk, our tape & badges were ripped off on the Quarter deck.  All this I have had to endure & no chance for a trial to prove my innocence of the dastardly suspicion.

             Now comes the part where the suspicion was connected with me.

             On May 28, Our bugler went ashore at Tampico & had connections with a Mexican girl.  He came back & told the crew about it but it didn’t reach aft.  The next day the Bugler & another lad went ashore & they went to the same shack but came back reporting that they couldn’t do anything.

             It had been the habit of the lads on going ashore to take strolls from the ball field  to surrounding districts for exercise.  Of course, I took  these strolls with the rest of them, and on May the 31st I went around with the Bugler.  About June the 2nd the Bugler goes down to the Sick Bay with a dose of the clap, and upon being questioned as to where he got it, he said he didn’t know.  The H. Std. said that he better find out, & then he told him about his connection with the Mex. girl.  He said he didn’t want to tell this as he was afraid he would get a S.C.M. handed him.  He was then asked who all he was out with & he told them he was out with me.  Hence the examination.  I can take an oath on a stack of bibles that the Doctor found nothing in the examination to implicate me, or he would have had both of us up for 10 to 20 yrs.  As it was, no trial was held & the Bugler was allowed to roam the decks free while I was held under observation.

             All that I can see that I am discharged for is “Suspicion” & by  god I will make them prove it.

             I have seen the Secy of the Navy, whom I know personally and he has promised to investigate.  The Bugler is discharged also for Undesirability. 

            This is absolutely true & all that happened.  Can you paralell a case of this kind?  Even a poor beggar on the street is allowed a trial, & for me to be kicked out without a chance to prove my innocence is maddening.

             If the worst comes, I will lay my case before the Iowa Senators & Bishop Cranston & if necessary employ civilian lawyers.

             After reading this, tell me Cal your candid opinion as to possible chance of getting back in.  I know that the Service isn’t rotten all the way then & I’m not afraid to face them.

             Does an “Undesirable” bar one from reenlisting, or can it be submitted to the Department for action?  Let me know, will you. 

                                                Yours in deep pain,

                                                 M.C. Cowles

 Ans. as soon as possible.

                                                 Hotel Luvoris

                                                Cor N. J Avenue. & C Sts, N.W.

                                                Washington, D.C.