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Legg, W. Dorr (1904-1994)  
 
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William Dorr Legg was a pioneer in the American gay rights movement and in glbtq studies. A leader in the movement of the 1950s and a founder of the magazine ONE, he won an important Supreme Court decision after a Los Angeles postmaster challenged his right to send a publication with homosexual content through the United States mail.

Legg set out to be a landscape architect. He earned a master's degree in landscape design from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the city in which he was born on December 15, 1904.

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After his graduation Legg worked for several years in New York City before becoming a professor of landscape architecture at Oregon State College in 1935.

Legg went back to Michigan in the early 1940s to care for his elderly parents. While there he fell in love with Merton Bird, an accountant.

Hoping to find a social environment more accepting of their interracial relationship, Legg, who was white, and Bird, an African American, moved to Los Angeles in 1949. Shortly thereafter the couple founded an interracial social organization for gay men, the Knights of the Clocks, a name that Legg called "deliberately ambiguous." The society flourished for several years in the early 1950s.

Legg played an active part in the post-World War II gay community in Los Angeles. He joined the fledgling Mattachine Society, which Harry Hay founded in 1950 as a forum for discussion of the civil rights of gays. In 1952 Legg also became a member of ONE, Incorporated, an organization to which he would devote his efforts for the rest of his life.

Legg and Bird were among the six original members of ONE, which took its name from a line by Thomas Carlyle, "A mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one." The founders established their group as a non-profit corporation in the state of California.

Legg gave up his career as a landscape architect to become the business manager of the organization's monthly publication, also called ONE, the first issue of which appeared in 1953. It became the first widely distributed gay publication in the United States.

The magazine was a slim volume at first, typically running from twenty to thirty pages in length. The content initially consisted mainly of essays on topics of interest to the gay community but also included stories, poems, and book reviews. As time went on, the magazine grew, featuring articles on gay studies in the humanities, social and natural sciences, and medicine. By the end of the 1950s, the magazine had attained a distribution of five thousand copies.

The United States Post Office confiscated the October 1954 issue of ONE on the grounds that it was "lewd, obscene, lascivious and filthy" and could therefore not be sent through the mails.

ONE sued Los Angeles Postmaster Otto K. Olesen, who prevailed in the first round when in March 1956 U. S. District Judge Thurmond Clark agreed that the publication was obscene. He also stated that "the suggestion that homosexuals should be recognized as a segment of the populace is rejected."

ONE appealed the decision in the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the lower court's ruling in March 1957. The case next went to the United States Supreme Court.

The justices ruled in favor of ONE in January 1958. Their decision in ONE, Incorporated v. Olesen (355 U.S. 371; 78 S. Ct. 364; 2 L. Ed. 2d 352; 1958) was per curiam, meaning that they held the issue to be so obvious that no lengthy written opinion was needed.

The news media gave the Supreme Court decision scant attention. The coverage of it in the New York Times read in full, "Reversed unanimously and apparently on the same ground [as in a previously mentioned case involving nudist magazines] a Post Office order excluding from the mails a magazine dealing with homosexuality." Nevertheless, the case was a landmark, establishing the right to send gay and lesbian material through the mail. It had enormous consequence for the fledgling rights movement.

ONE was involved in another lawsuit in the mid 1960s, when Don Slater, its editor and one of the co-founders, split from the organization to publish his own magazine, which he also called ONE. Legg and ONE, Incorporated won the case, and Slater changed the name of his magazine to Tangents.

ONE remained in publication until 1969. Financing it had long been a problem. Donors had helped keep the magazine afloat, but the loss of their monetary support combined with a loss of readership to magazines of a more radical viewpoint made the enterprise no longer viable.

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A portrait of Dorr Legg by Stathis Orphanos.
  
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