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QueensLine: Queens residents weighed in on Kinsey sex report in 1953

On Aug. 11, 1953, Queens residents were told that they could expect no relief from the odors continually emanating from Newtown Creek. Though the smells were more offensive than toxic in nature, city officials were nevertheless reluctant to remedy the problem.

The reason for such reluctance was plain: Officials believed any action against industries in question would compel them to relocate. A local newspaper scolded, “The city’s health authorities cannot continue to tell people there is no stench, for noses far less experienced than those of the health inspectors have been able to detect it, without half trying.”

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The following day, Industrial Commissioner Edward Corsi received recommendations from a special board for a new statewide, hourly minimum wage, ranging from 65 to 75 cents, for the 600,000 employees in the state’s retail industry.

Corsi had 30 days to decide on the proposal. Full-time retail workers earned 52 1/2 cents an hour and part time workers 57 1/2 cents an hour. Under the new plan, part-time workers would be paid on an equal basis as full-timers.

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Police broke up the city’s first baby carriage blockade, a 2 1/2 hour demonstration staged by mothers upset over speeding motorists on 160th Street and 17th Avenue in Clearview Gardens. Sparking the protest was the increased level of traffic on 160th Street after it was widened and, more pointedly, a speeding car striking a child near the Clearview Community Council Day Camp.

Before dispelling the protesters, police had to promise to urge the city Traffic Department to erect a stop sign at a school bus and day camp crossing, assign a motorcycle patrol in the area to deter potential speeders and increase overall patrols in the neighborhood.

Though this was enough to pacify the protesters for the time being, protest organizer Florence Roth promised a full resumption of the blockade if the department did not follow through on its word.

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On Aug. 20, 1953, the “Kinsey Report on Human Sexuality” was published with mixed reactions around the borough. One newspaper headline caustically stated, “The Kinsey Report: Bunk Plus Arrogance.”

Reaction showed “more skepticism than interest” in the report with the majority stating that “women were unable to provide honest answers.” Such an attitude was reflected by a Douglaston woman who noted, “The average woman wouldn’t answer, and those that would probably wouldn’t tell the truth. I wouldn’t trust any girl to give accurate information about her sex life.”

Similarly, a doctor from Astoria, whose patients included many women, asserted that only a fraction of Kinsey’s female interviewees — in his estimation 2 percent or 3 percent — would actually be truthful.

A druggist from Jackson Heights waxed, “A woman is a mysterious thing … most women would say one thing and mean something else.” And a proprietor of a billiard hall in Flushing put it bluntly when he told a local newspaper that the women were not capable of giving an accurate account on anything.

On the other hand, a Maspeth woman approved of the study, saying she would be happy to cooperate with it. Another woman from Astoria shared this view, asserting “sex research is a much-needed thing.”

For more information, call 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.

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