In 2002, a researcher for The Harvard Crimson came across a restricted archive labeled "Secret Court Files, 1920." The mystery he uncovered involved a tragic scandal in which Harvard University secretly put a dozen students on trial for homosexuality and then systematically and persistently tried to ruin their lives.
In May of 1920,Cyril Wilcox, a freshman suspended from Harvard, was found sprawled dead on his bed, his room filled with gas--a suicide. The note he left behind revealed his secret life as part of a circle of (cut "young") homosexual students.The resulting witch hunt and the lives it cost remains one of the most shameful episodes in the history of America's premiere university. Supported by legendary Harvard President Lawrence Lowell, Harvard conducted its investigation in secrecy. Several students committed suicide;others had their lives destroyed by an ongoing effort on the part of Harvard to destroy their reputations. Harvard's Secret Court is a deeply moving indictment of the human toll of intolerance and the horrors of injustice that can result when a powerful institution loses its balance.
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William Wright graduated from Yale University in 1952. He is a New York Times bestselling author who has contributed to Vanity Fair, Town and Country, and the New York Times.
In this repetitive and somewhat melodramatic narrative, prolific biographer Wright (Born That Way, etc.) tells the astonishing story of a group of Harvard students who were expelled in 1920 for homosexual conduct. After the suicide of Cyril Wilcox, a gay student, Harvard's president authorized a "Secret Court" of deans and scholars to investigate the sexual life of a group of students who often hosted sailors, drag queens and "boys from town" in covert dorm-room dance parties. Fueled by a desire to rid Harvard of homosexuality entirely, the committee's harsh treatment led to the suicide of another student and permanently ruined the careers of a few others. Wright has gotten this story from the proceedings of the court, which—along with personal letters and other documents—survived untouched in a massive classified file in the Harvard archives until 2002, when a reporter from the Harvard Crimson discovered it. Wright's painstaking attention to each student interrogation, family history and Secret Court administrator, along with his distracting authorial commentary, may leave some readers wishing that he had confined this story to a magazine article. Nevertheless, Wright succeeds in compiling a drama that will satisfy readers thirsty for pop-historical scandals from our nation's unregenerate past. (Oct.)
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