1892 - 1972

“Nobody believes we can do it—reporters, opponents—except ourselves."

- Henry Gerber

He was born Henry Joseph Dittmar on June 29, 1892 in Bavaria, and changed his name to "Henry Gerber" upon immigrating to the United States, where his family settled in Chicago. In 1917, he was briefly committed to a mental institution because of his homosexuality. When the United States declared war on Germany, Gerber was given a choice: be interned as an enemy alien or enlist in the Army. He served for around three years in Germany and, while there, learned about Magnus Hirschfeld and the work he and his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee were doing to reform anti-homosexual German law. Gerber traveled to Berlin, which supported a thriving gay subculture, and absorbed Hirschfeld's ideas. Inspired by Hirschfeld’s work, Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago in 1924. The organization produced the first American publication for homosexuals, Friendship and Freedom.  In 1925, a few months after being officially chartered by the State of Illinois, members of the group – including Gerber – were arrested on “obscenity” charges, the result of a tip provided by one of the members’ wives.  Though the charges were eventually dropped, the legal fees bankrupted Gerber and the scandal cost him his job with the U.S. Postal Service.  As a result, the group was forced to disband before it could fully embark on its mission to promote tolerance and understanding of homosexuality.  Despite its brief existence and its small size, the Society for Human Rights is recognized as the first homosexual rights organization in the United States – a precursor to the modern “gay liberation movement” that would not come about until three decades later. Gerber – whose name graces LGBT Chicago’s Gerber/Hart Library and Archives – is widely regarded as a visionary who anticipated strategies others would one day use with great success.

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated Germany United States

Era/Epoch Homophile Movement (1945-1969)

Field(s) of Contribution

Advocacy & Activism




Social Justice

Social Sciences

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Gerber/Hart Library and Archives in Chicago Named After Gerber and Pearl Hart

Posthumous Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame Inductee (1992)

Henry Gerber House Named a Chicago Historic Landmark (2001)

Henry Gerber House Named a National Historic Landmark (2015)


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell