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Prescott Townsend, (June 24, 1894 - May 23, 1973), of Roxbury, Massachusetts was considered a Boston Bohemianism blue blood; the son of Kate Wendell Sherman and Edward Britton Townsend; his mother was a descendant of both Myles Standish and the great-granddaughter of the American founding father Roger Sherman.
Prescott was arrested on January 29, 1943 for participating in an “unnatural and lascivious act,” and was sentenced to an eighteen (18) months jail term in the Massachusetts House of Corrections on Deer Island, although no one in his family applied any pressure to shorten his jail time. The Mid-Town Journal headline of January 29, 1943 reported, "Beacon Hill 'Twilight' Man Member of Queer Love Cult Seduced Young Man" and one month later he was officially stricken from both the New York and Boston Social Registers.
Townsend is believed to have been the first individual to organize a public conversation about homosexuality in the United States, and the first acknowledged homosexual to officially address the Massachusetts State legislature, where he urged the lawmakers "to legalize love."
He later began the founder of the Boston chapter of the Mattachine Society; a non-profit organization for educating the public in all aspects of homosexuality, for assisting the individual gay in coping with problems related to his homosexuality, for effecting changes in social attitudes towards gays and for securing the repeal of laws discriminating against gays in housing, employment and assembly
Townsend had for years been suffering from failing health brought on by Parkinson's Disease, and on 23 May 1973 his body was found in the Beacon Hill apartment of John Murray. Murray had been taking care of him during the final years of his life, and the police reported that "when we came in to take charge of the body, Mr. Townsend was found in a kneeling prayer position at his bedside." Of his entire family, only one sister, a nephew and a great nephew bothered to attend his memorial service at the Arlington Street Church.
Source:Randy Wicker, Early Boston gay advocate Prescott Townsend dies at 78, The Advocate, May 24, 1973, Issue 114, page 11.
- Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context
- The Mattachine Society, Inc.