Henry Gerber was born in Bavaria, Germany on June 29, 1892 and immigrated to the United States with family members in October of 1913. After enrolling in the U.S. Army in 1920, Gerber was stationed in Germany and learned about the extensive German homosexual emancipation movement. After returning from duty in 1923, Gerber moved back to Chicago and was hired by the U.S. Post Office.
Gerber soon felt the need to establish an organization to protect the rights of all homosexuals in the U.S. On December 10, 1924, the first U.S. gay rights organization was incorporated in Illinois under the name of The Society for Human Rights (SHR). Through the newsletter, Friendship and Freedom, Gerber planned to reach a large portion of the gay community who might support the organization. Unfortunately, only two editions were published.
In July 1925, the Society for Human Rights came to a quick and unexpected end. A wife of an officer of SHR reported her husband’s homosexual activities to a social worker. When the police raided their flat, they found a copy of Friendship and Freedom and forced her husband to disclose the organization’s true nature. Due to Gerber’s involvement, the police searched his apartment and took all materials pertaining to the SHR. After three costly trials and a great deal of harassment, a judge dismissed Gerber’s case due to being arrested without a warrant. After being fired for “conduct unbecoming a postal worker,” Gerber left Chicago for New York where he re-enlisted in the Army and served 17 more years.
After World War II, Gerber retired to the Soldier’s Home in Washington, D.C. where he continued to lend low-key support to new homophile organizations such as the Mattachine Society and ONE. On December 31, 1972, Henry Gerber died at the age of 80.
PEARL M. HART
Pearl M. Hart practiced law in Chicago for 61 years as an advocate for the oppresed, most notably children, women, immigrants, and homosexuals. Hart grew up in the bustling Russian Jewish neighborhoods on Chicago’s Near West Side. In 1914, she graduated from John Marshall Law School, and became one of the first female attorneys in Chicago to specialize in criminal law.
Hart was recognized as an expert on the juvenile justice system. She drafted legislation, served on reform committees, and spoke before civic groups, all in an effort to protect Chicago’s most vulnerable citizens. In the 1950s, Hart focused on defending immigrants in deportation proceedings. In U.S. v. Witkovich, which she took to the United States Supreme Court, the high court agreed with her contention that the Attorney General’s power to question aliens subject to deportation was limited by constitutional safeguards.
Called the “Guardian Angel of Chicago’s Gay Community” for her diligent fight against police harassment, Hart was inducted posthumously into Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1992. The Pearl Hart papers can be found at the Chicago History Museum.