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John Diederich Sarnighausen and
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs -- Two Urnings [Homosexuals]

John D. Sarnighausen ca. 1875. Photo:Göttinger Jahrbuch

Deutsch Italiano

By Wolfgang Böker and Jochen Engling

In 1853 Johannes (John) Diederich Sarnighausen (1818-1901) became curate of the Albani parish in Göttingen and in this capacity was to support and replace the then 80 or 81-year-old Pastor Dr. H. A. B. Seidel. With Seidel's death in 1859 the office of his replacement also ended. The position of curate at St. Albani's was filled by another theologian; Sarnighausen went to the USA where he made a name for himself as owner, publisher, and editor-in-chief of a German-language newspaper and as a member of the Indiana senate [1871-1879].

Hans-Cord Sarnighausen impressively outlined Pastor Sarnighausen's life and his various contributions.1 However, the reason for Pastor Sarnighausen's exit from Göttingen is shrouded in mystery. No records have been found pertaining to this.2

We cannot assume that Sarnighausen's professional contributions had not satisfied the church authorities so much so that they would not give him another position. On the contrary, as a graduate of the "central institute for church leadership,"3 he was supposedly suited for a church career. In 1855 he was awarded the position as a church leader at St. Albani's, which the preacher was entitled to. Under his aegis the church was restored and expanded, and the parish flourished4 -- so, he appears to have been a successful curate. Moreover, he garnered some respect by collecting hymns and publishing several hymnbooks. Therefore, his lack of contributions can hardly have been a reason for his retirement from the services of the church.

Why, then, did he choose to end his theological career and to emigrate? Since professional reasons had hardly have been decisive, we can suppose that there were personal reasons. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, who describes himself as Sarnighausen's distant cousin, throws light on this issue.5

K. H. Ulrichs (1825, Westerfeld near Aurich -- 1895, L'Aquila, Italy) came from an East Frisian family of theologians and civil servants, studied law in Göttingen and Berlin and after he left the civil service, he worked as a secretary to Justin T. B. Baron von Linde, representative of the German Federation, later as an independent journalist, "independent scholar," and as a publisher of a Latin magazine. His special merit, for which he was honored by the city of Göttingen with a -- even if truly coy -- memorial plaque on the building of Markt 5,6 is, however, something else: so to speak as a pioneer of modern sexology he was the first person to formulate a sound theory of sexualities, one which today is, however, obsolete, and actively became involved with the legal and social equality of homosexuals with heterosexuals.

In a time of prudery and ignorance stamped by the church, state and law,7 Ulrichs set out to prove that homosexuality is natural and for that reason was not a form of sexuality to be discriminated against. As one piece of evidence among others, he gave the extent of homosexuality which at that time no one had any idea of.

And it is exactly in this connection that Ulrichs indicates Sarnighausen, his relative, and where the question why the latter emigrated to the New World is cleared up.

Ulrichs writes, "In certain families we see Uranism8 in different persons, sometimes numerous and occurring over and over again. The existence of a great number of such families can be proven. It occurs especially often that brothers are Urnings [Urning is Ulrichs' word for homosexual], two, indeed, three, even ones who were raised apart from each other. In other cases there are cousins or more distant blood relatives who hardly know each other by name...They also say that a German royal house is among these families."9 Since Ulrichs was an Urning himself, this fact also applied to him and his family. Therefore, as a concrete example, still without a clear naming of names, he gives J. D. Sarnighausen: "So, I was surprised, for example, when in 1865 I was informed that the former pastor S. of Saint Albani's in Göttingen, my distant cousin, was an Urning."10

In the writings that followed, Ulrichs is more precise about this fact and names Sarnighausen by clearly giving his name: "Moreover, another Protestant senior minister had already been charged with Uranism with a soldier sometime in 1863, a Herr Sarnighausen, minister at St. Albani's in Göttingen, my distant cousin. Upon direct intervention by King George V, the minister of public worship and education made him take his leave. He went to America."11 And again: "Moreover, another Protestant senior minister had already been charged with Uranism with a soldier sometime in 1863, a Herr Sarnighausen, minister at St. Albani's in Göttingen, my distant cousin. Upon direct intervention by King George V, the minister of public worship and education made him take his leave. He went to America." 12

Since Ulrichs was not out to scandalize anyone but rather always had in mind a strongly scientific basis for his subject -- one important reason was the absolutely delicate nature of the theme and another was the defense of his theory, by being deadly serious, against attacks filled with moral indignation -- we are justified in assuming that his facts are honest and accurate: he had discovered that Sarnighausen had become involved in a homosexual affair with a soldier and that Sarnighausen's professional career was ended by it.

It is interesting to note that this break in Sarnighausen's career is comparable to the one that Ulrichs, himself, experienced: in 1854 Ulrichs had to voluntarily leave the civil service in order to avoid disciplinary action; he was criticized with "carrying out unnatural lewdness with other men."13 While Sarnighausen sought out his happiness in another country, Ulrichs took up the discrimination of homosexuals (and other minorities) as the theme of his life and became an involved activist and fought for the equality of homosexuals.14

"People who study the life and work of this East Frisian former civil servant, will again and again be impressed by the degree of his cultural and political modernity, which, with regard to liberalism and human rights, often leaves the nineteenth century far behind. For example, it was obvious to him that all people, whether Jew, Catholic, or Urning, are equally worthy of dignity and that they are all entitled to the same rights."15


Short Biography

Most Recent Research from the Göttingen Ulrichs Committee

Editor's Note

Hans-Cord Sarnighausen, the author of the essay mentioned in footnote 1, asked that we publish the following notice:

A comprehensive collection of church hymnbooks by Johann Diederich Sarnighausen is available in the library of St. Michael's Protestant seminary in Hildesheim.


  1 "Johannes Diederich Sarnighausen (1818-1901) -- vom Göttinger Hymnologen zum Staatssenator in Indiana, USA" (JDS: From Göttingen Hymnologist to State Senator in Indiana, USA), GöttJb. (Göttinger Annual) 47 (1999): 113-123. return
  2 Ibid., p. 121. return
  3 Ibid., p. 119. return
  4 Ibid., p. 119 f. return
  5 The exact family relationship of both persons could not be established at this time. Ulrichs' biographer (Hubert Kennedy) writes that a Sarnighausen was the maternal grandfather of Christian Friedrich Ulrichs, economist and surveyor from Westerfeld near Aurich, deceased in 1867. The latter was the legal guardian of our K. H. Ulrichs and supposedly a cousin of his father. Hubert Kennedy, Ulrichs: The Life and Works of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Pioneer of the Modern Gay Movement (Boston: Alyson Publications, Inc., 1988), pp. 13, 16, 143. return
  6 See the testimonial by Bernd Aretz in GöttJb. 45 (1997), pp. 195-197. return
  7 In the middle of the nineteenth century in most of the German states homosexual acts were considered to be "fornication against nature" and (in England) until 1861 were crimes punishable by death. return
  8 By "Uranism" Ulrichs means homosexuality and, in the following, by "Urning" homosexual -- concepts he borrowed from Greek mythology. The term "homosexual" used today was coined in 1869 by Karl Maria Kertbeny. return
  9 Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Memnon: The Sexual Nature of the Man-Loving Urning; 1868. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, The Riddle of "Man-Manly" Love: The Pioneering Work on Male Homosexuality, trans. Michael Lombardi-Nash (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1994), vol. II, p. 389. Between 1864 and 1880, Ulrichs developed his theory of homosexuality in 12 small volumes, collectively titled Research on the Riddle of "Man-Manly" Love. return
10 Ibid. return
11 Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Incubus: Uranian Love and Bloodthirstiness: A Discussion of Melancholia and Soundness of Mind: Given Rise to by the Zastrow Criminal Case in Berlin; 1869. In Ulrichs, The Riddle of "Man-Manly" Love, trans. Lombardi-Nash, p. 441. The proceedings are not documented either in the Hanover Hauptstaatsarchiv (Main State Archives) or in the Hanover Landeskirchliches Archiv (National Church Archives). Both institutions kindly provided information. return
12 Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Argonauticus: Zastrow and the Urnings of the Pietistic, Roman Catholic, and Freethinking Parties; 1869. In Ulrichs, The Riddle of "Man-Manly" Love, trans. Lombardi-Nash, p. 482. return
13 Report of the state prosecutor in Hildesheim to the Hanover minister of justice, cited in Kennedy, p. 27. return
14 Ulrichs' efforts were successful to an extent, however, only when Paragraph 175 was liberalized in 1969 and then abolished from the penal code in 1994, thus approximately 100 years after Ulrichs' death. The inflammatory discussion about the draft for the law concerning same-sex partners clearly shows that this battle is far from over. return
15 Volkmar Sigusch, "Ein urnisches Sexualsubjekt" (A Uranian Sexual Subject), ZSexualforsch. (Journal of Sex Research) 12 (1999), p. 238. return

--Trans. M. Lombardi-Nash

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