Helen Reitman

Helen Reitman is more commonly known today as Jan Gay, the name she used for involvement in a study of the gay community called "Sex Variants", conducted by Dr. George W. Henry and sponsored by the "Committee for the Study of Sex Variants, Inc.", which Helen founded.

She was born on February 14, 1902 in Leipzig, Sachsen, Germany to Dr. Ben L. Reitman and May Schwartz. Her parents were separated when she was just two years old and eventually divorced. She and her mother went to live with her maternal grandmother, Martha Schwartz, in Adams County, Illinois where they are listed during the 1910 Census.

Helen studied at the Missouri University of Journalism and in 1922 started working for the Chicago Examiner. Although she and her father lived in the same city in those early years, they did not see each other. But in 1926, dressed in male attire, she rode the rails from Chillicothe to Chicago to see her father after 18 years of separation. The newspaper in Chillicothe noted the event with recollections of her grandfather who had been a famous hobo, having traveled over a million miles without paying a fair.

Her father was born January 1, 1879 in St. Paul, Minnesota to Shockney Reitman and Ida Levinson. He married Helen's mother in New York City on July 4, 1901 and they divorced in 1905. He married a second time to Anna Martindale in about 1917 and had one son Brutus in 1918.

In about 1927 (possibly earlier), Helen met Eleanor Byrnes and the two women became very close and moved in together at 225 W 34th Street, New York City. They traveled together to Mexico that year and on the ship manifest back to New York Eleanor gave her name as Eleanor Byrnes Reitman. By 1930 both women had changed their names to Jan and Zhenya Gay when they took another trip to London. Both women would keep the names through the rest of their lives.

Although we know Jan was living with Zhenya in New York in 1930 according to ship manifests, in the census that year she was listed with her father, step-mother Anna Martindale Reitman and young brother Brutus in Chicago. It seems that the marriage didn't last much longer, as Ben is listed in a Chicago marriage index as uniting with a woman named "Rose" in 1931. Jan's stay with her father in 1930 could have been a visit, taking place the same day that the enumerator showed up at the Reitman's door. The same year Jan and Zhenya wrote an illustrated a childrens book called "Pancho and His Burro". It would be the first of over 45 children's books that Zhenya would illustrate during her life. Jan, who was already well identified as a lesbian, may have already visited the Institute for Sex Study with Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin - probably with Zhenya in 1927 or 1930. Or she may have met Magnus during another trip that Jan and Zhenya took in 1931, sailing back from Bremen in September of that year.

During this trip they visited various nudist camps in Germany and Switzerland which prompted Jan to write her book "On Going Naked", which she published in 1932 with Holborn House (New York) with "decorations" by Zhenya. The book was so successfull that she started her own nudist colony in Highlands, New York called the Out-of-Doors Club. Her book was also quickly adapted into a "roadshow" film called "Back to Nature" which was shown in theaters across the county in the Summer of 1933 to adult only audiences. In order to promote the book, film and club, Jan invited several journalists from the Associated Press, United Press and NEA Service to observe and write about the camp. The Out-of-Door Club, the most exclusive and famous of the nudists colonies of the time, started a nudists movement in America which became extremely popular and lasts today. She continued as the Director of the camp at least through 1933 and was in charge of interviewing all of the guests before allowing them in.

It was also while she was in Germany that she learned to conduct interviews with homosexuals for gay studies. She continued on her own, conducting over 300 interviews with lesbians in Berlin, Paris, London and New York City. She wanted to publish the interviews in order to start a movement to decriminalize homosexuality in the United States. When she attempted to publish her findings she was turned down, but advised that her work would be accepted if further studies were conducted with medical professionals.

In 1935 she developed the "Committee for the Study of Sex Variants, Inc" and conducted additional interviews with Dr. George W. Henry, who published the findings as his own book "Sex Variants, A Study of Homosexual Patterns". However, Dr. Henry did note (at least in the 1950 single volume edition) that "Miss Jan Gay", had been influential in the project and had brought all of the subjects, whom she knew personally, into the study.

Also in about 1935, her father married for the fourth time, to Medina Rivets Oliver, in Chicago. With Medina he had four daughters. Ben died November 15, 1942 in Chicago, Cook, Illinois.

Helen died from cancer at the age of 58 in San Rafael, California on September 12, 1960.


Newspaper Articles

Chillicothe Constitution (Chillicothe, Missouri) - April 26, 1922


Chicago, April 26 - "Blood will tell - be it hobo or blue." Helen Reitman, Missouri University Journalism school coed, wearing male attire "rode the rods" into Chicago today on a Santa Fe freight train. A half century ago her grandfather, Ben Reitman, famous tramp and hobo, rode a freight into Chicago, completing one million miles on rail travel without paying fare. Her father, Dr. Ben Reitman, famous physician and hobo friend, has not seen his daughter in 18 years.

Ogden Standard Examiner (Ogden, Utah) - July 14, 1933

Nudists Shed Self-Consciousness With Their Clothes, Writer Finds
By Paul Harrison, NEA Service Writer

NEW YORK, July 14 - A minister sat under a tree, reading. At least, he turned out to be a minister, although he did not wear clerical garb. He wore, in fact, nothing at all but a pair of soft slippers and some spectacles. His skin was browned and he looked singularly sinewy for a middle-aged pulpiteer.

He grinned and said: "Newcomer, aren't you sir? I thought you looked a little startled. Probably I'm the first of these so-called sinful cultists you've ever seen in the ah-flesh. Well, you can lay aside your misgivings and qualms along with your clothes. Look down there along the lake.


This was the 500-acre farm of the Out-of-Door club, one of New York's nudist groups. Heavily wooded, flanked by the rolling Catskills, the estate centered about a 34-acre lake. Over the brow of a hill, in sight of a little-used road, were farm buildings which now were being converted into dormitories and private rooms for the guests. On this side of the hill, and on the like, hidden from the gaze of all but aviators, were some 50 men and women, all entirely nude except a few who were shielding their shoulders from the hot three o'clock sun.

… Look down there," resumed the clergyman, "and see if you can find anything shocking, or unmoral or immoral. Some esthetic ugliness I'll grant. Most of these bodies we live in are pretty sorry things. But here there is both the incentive and the opportunity to improve them. These people are trying in their modesty way - "

"In their what, doctor?" "In their modest way," continued the minister firmly, to attain more natural beauty. But you'd better go on down yourself, and swim. Here's Mr. Blank, a Wall street man who seems to have lost his shirt and came here for the first time yesterday. He'll take you with him."


On the way down the steep path the broker was inclined to be communicative. "You know," he said earnestly, "I don't quite like this. Not that I've seen anything wrong, but I'm so dog-goned self-conscious. I think these people ought to wear something; just maybe even a little something. I like the sun as well as anybody, and I like to swim in the raw as well as any kid, But hereafter I'll take my sun in solitude."

We reached the lodge on the lake shore. Around the corner, coming from the swimming dock and on their way to work on a new tennis court, burst a group of men and women, all nude.

Miss Jan Gay, director of the camp, halted them for introductions. Miss X, a well-known photographer, Miss Y, an artist, and Miss Z, who the day before had been graduated from a select college, nodded pleasantly and without an observable trace of embarrassment. Professor A, tall and athletic, shook hands cordially. Mr. B, a paunchy manufacturer, asked if there were any news from the economic conference. Dr. C, a white-bearded scientist, nearly 70 and nut-brown from three months in the Bahamas, bowed from an enviably slim waistline.


Several people were out on the lake in three rowboats and a sailing canoe. Some 20 persons were on the swimming dock. Three little children of about four or six splashed happily in a shallow, sunken crib. Two middle-aged men and their wives sprawled in a circle and argued the previous evening's bridge game. Two young men dozed, with head pillowed on towels. Their white torsos, contrasted with browned arms and legs, told of many hours spent this year on conventional bathing-suited beaches.

A woman of perhaps 50, with graying hair but a trim figure, was resolutely practicing a back dive from the low dock. On one corner five young men and three women clustered about Miss Ethel Jacobs, the swimming instructor. Most of them were employees of the club and were receiving advanced lessons in life-saving. Men took turns being "rescued" by other men, and the women practiced by themselves. An amateur photographer appeared and snapped a few close pictures, for which all posed without protest.


Miss Gay, incidentally, has forestalled neighborhood antagonisms and prowling sightseeing by occassionally inviting the people of nearby farms to come over for a swim. Few of them now evince any hesitancy to appear in the nude.

Half way up the hill the tennis court makers were busily carrying stone to build a retaining wall along the lower side. Most of them wore gloves and shoes; nothing else. The porch of the lodge along the lake shore was lined with easy-chair nudists, several of them reading, some smoking and chatting, one women knitting a sweater. Miss Gay, who had been busier than a mosquito at a nudist convention, here paused to tell about the health experiments being conducted at the Out-of-Door club.

Dr. Frederick L. Hoffman, health statistician, is taking periodic physical measurements of 20 women who expect to be guests at the camp throughout the summer. Dr. John Levy, of the Columbia University Medical Center staff, will make psychological studies and of nudists mental attitudes. Most important, Miss Gay believes, will be comparative studies of two groups of children, one group wearing so-called sun-suits, the other being completely naked. Dr. Josephine Kenyon, a child specialist of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, will be in charge of this work.


A dinner call from the hilltop brought about 50 nudists from the lake, the veranda and the lawns to the dressing rooms, where they donned light clothing. Some organizations dine together in the nude and are served by nude waiters. But this group preferred a shred or two more of conventionality.

The meal, as always in clement weather, was served outside the old farm house. It began with onion soup, included ample meat and salad courses, and ended with strawberries and cream. Nobody talked much about nudism. After dinner, though, some camp snapshots were passed around, and a German chemist became the center of an attentive group as he told of the struggle of Nacktkultur, which has been banned in Hitler-land.

As darkness came the guests strolled down to the lake. Some went rowing; most of them sat around an open fire in the lodge. There was a good deal of talk, and many a yarn. By ten o'clock everyone had retired but two or three employees, for the club rose at six every morning for a strenuous half hour of nude exercises (the men and women in separate groups) and a swim before breakfast.


Most of the guests retired to individual rooms. However, the men's and women's dormitories were not yet finished, so two couples and three single men occupied the long sleeping porch of the lodge, where seven single beds were made up.

As lights went out and goodnights were said, a resonant snore came from someone already asleep. It was the Wall street broker. "Exhibitionist!" snickered one of the women. "Exhibitionist is right," responded the other woman drowsily. "Why, my dear, he even wears pajamas!"

Ogden Standard Examiner (Ogden, Utah) - July 30, 1933

Nudism Spreads With Drop In Interference
By Paul Harrison, NEA Service Writer

NEW YORK - In ever-increasing numbers, sun-worshippers are converging on secluded sylvan spots this summer, and on the shores of protected lakes, to doff their clothes and luxuriate in nakedness. Thousands of them in the vicinity of New York along are becoming converts to nudism. And all kinds of people they are, too - parents and their children, bachelors, spinsters, college students, clergymen, clerks, professors, stenographers. Some are fanatics, some faddists; but collectively they are part of a new and sensational social phenomenon.

The organized nudist movement in America is about three years old. But stealth and caution cloaked its earliest life. Secrecy surrounded the identities of its followers and the locations of their meeting places. Nudists were the targets of written and cartooned ridicule - and of enthusiastic raids by police.

This year, though, interference has lessened. Reformers are vigilant and inactive. Many reputable people no longer hesitate to express sympathy with nudist ideas. A nudist movie is being released in some states. A nudist magazine is being sold in nearly a hundred cities. And in it are openly listed the larger nudist organizations now existing in nine states.


For all that, considerable reticence and timidity remain. The American League for Physical Culture, largest and oldest of the groups, has only a postoffice box for a New York address and has asked this reporter not to divulge the location of its summer camp. So, in fact, have the American Gymnosophical assocation (which does have an office in Manhattan), the Olympian league, and the Spartan society. These organizations maintain outdoor resorts with the knowledge and, indeed, the protection of police. But they fear publicity might result in formal complaints which would force authorities to act against them.

Joining a nudist league is a relatively simple matter for the average sun-seeker, but takes weeks to consummate. Take the Gymnosophical association, for example. A letter to the secretary, Miss Ruth Winkler, bring information regarding the group's activities and its rates.

After that comes an appointment for a personal interview, and a membership application form. The latter calls for considerable personal and family data, must be accompanied by a the applicant's photograph, and by written consent of the applicant's wife, husband, fiance or fiancee provided he or she does not wish to join.


Miss Winkler does most of the interviewing for the association, and rejects about 60 per cent of the aspirants. A few pertinent questions, she says, usually serve to unmask the abnormal person, the peeping Tom, and the thrill and curiosity seeker.

The Gymnosophical association has leased an eleven-acre camp in the foothills of the Catskills, and recently had acquired another farm, of 60 acres, nearer the city. Quarters at these places consist either of a folding bed in a dormitory (with separate buildings for men and women) or a private tent sheltering two folding beds. Tents rent for $6 a week per person, dormitory accommodations for $3 a week. Meals furnished for $12 a week include meat three times a day, for this group, unlike some others, is not vegetarian.

The American league is buying a farm in New Jersey. It has been visited and approved by the chief of police, one of whose troopers belongs to another nudist group. A permanent resident of the camp has been deputized by the county sheriff so that he can arrest trespassing sightseers. Friends are suggesting that the deputy have a star tattooed on his chest.

In all, there are nine nudist organizations either practicing or being formed in the New York area. Also there is a so-called international nudist conference, with offices in Manhattan, which claims to represent nudist leagues and groups and the movement generally in North America. It offers its services in the forming of new clubs, but has done little thus far toward coordinating those now operating. In fact, at this writing, it does not even know how many there are of the latter, although one of its advertisements declares that membership in the conference "secures entrance to a number of nudists throughout the country."


The conference was founded by Dr. Henry Strong Huntington, a former Presbyterian minister, and Dr. Ilsley Boone, a former Baptist minister. They also are editor-in-chief and managing editor, respectively, of the magazine called "The Nudist," and are assocaited in the operation of Burgoyne Trial Associates, Inc., a nudist organization near Otis, Mass.

Of all the nudist camps there is the least secrecy, whispering and hocus-pocus connected with the Out-of-Door club. Its director is a young woman author, Miss Jan Gay, who wrote the book called "On Going Naked" The farm is about seven miles northwest of Highland, N.Y., and Miss Gay personally interviews prospective guests before they are admitted there.

There is no secret of the identities of other members of the camp's personnel. Karl W. Peters, for instance, physical instructor for the men, is on the faculties of several of New York's largest dance studios, has appeared on the stage and in movies for the past seven years, and is a consultant for most of the nudists organizations in and around New York

Elisabeth Rittmeyer, women's physical instructor, is a graduate of two orthopedic gymnastic schools of Stuttgart, Germany; has been a dancer, a dancer teacher, and leader of a nudist organization in St. Gall, Switzerland. Ethel W. Jacobs, swimming instructor, is an examiner of the American Red Cross life saving corps, and the director of physical education at Welcome settlement house, New York.

Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Indiana) - August 18, 1933


By H. Allen Smith (United Press Staff Correspondent)

Highland, N.Y., Aug 17 - (UP) - This nudist camp is operated by a Miss Jan Gay, who apparently cute her own hair, and it is a little dandy. Your correspondent was not within its confines 10 minutes before he had stripped. It all seemed perfectly natural - walking back and forth in front of the dining hall without so much as shorts.

Then came Miss Groplin. She came around the corner, veyr blonde, and wearing not so much as a pair of shoes. Your correspondent, a bird-lover, became interested in a thrush which was doing a power dive over nearby Bear mountain. But Miss Gronlin came right up and said: "Are you Mr. Smith? I am Miss Gronlin. Please come and go swimming. The lake is wonderful."

"Miss Gronlin," your correspondent said firmly, "I am not used to this business." "Oh, that's all right! The water isn't too deep in places." The camp is far off any traveled highway and the lake it overlooks is splendid. There were about 25 nudists around today, but tomorrow, what with the week-end rush, there'll be about 80. The nudists don't like publicity, but when a newspaperman convince them he is on a liver and carrot diet, then it's all right.

At first I found it very embarrassing to have a young lady walk up stark naked and announce nudism was going to sweep the nation. But she and the rest were serious about it and appeared to feel nudism would do wonders for the world. At the lake, ten other men and women were engaged in aquatic sports, of course without the remotest sign of covering. A Miss Emery, who has charge of the dinning room, came down to the pier and ripped off what little clothing she wore. She stretched her arms, yawned, and went into a classical dance. It was remarkable. After completing it, she did an Immelman roll into the water. Alarmed, your correspondent swam rapidly to her. She seemed, however, perfectly capable of swimming in deep water.

Once of the quaint characters hereabout is Button-Button. He is a short fellow who gives the impression in profile of a bushel basket of hickory nuts. He is bald and on top of his head is a wen the size of a ping pong ball. Hence, Button-Button. He, of course, dashes about in complete undress, and when he approaches the other nudists sing "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain."

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) - September 21, 1933

NEW YORK, Sept 21 - Jan Gay, a German girl who was reared int he middlewest, went abroad in 1931 and made some "casual observations" of the nudists' movement in Germany, France and Scandinavia. The next year her book, "On Going Naked" was published.

So many people wrote to her, asking where they might find a nudists' camp in this country, that Miss Gay established her own. It is near Highlands, New York - not a very long drive beyond the shadows of our skyscrapers. It is situated in a countryside such as we see in pleasant dreams, on a fair lake named Auchmoody. This is a private lake, which was controlled by an old Dutch family for a century and a half.

Such a secluded retreat it is, with its lovely hills and trees, that no one may see, from any public highway or adjoining property, what goes on in the colony. This particular camp has had no trouble with the law, and is not a parade ground for sensational "cultists." As Miss Gay explains it, it is a place where one may enjoy the out-of-doors to the fullest extent. She simply calls it the Out-of-Door Club. There are no fandangles, and it is not at all obligatory that every visitor to the camp go about sans clothes.

CAMP LIFE - The thing that impresses one about the camp is the quality of the hundred persons assembled. The riff-raff has small chance to intrude. Applicants for accommodations are passed upon at Miss Gay's office here in the city. Quite a few persons prominent in the arts and business have been among this Summer's patrons - more business people than artists. Two officers high in the army were present when I arrived.

Usually celebrities register under assumed names, according to Miss Gay, because - well, you know how it is. The wide world is not exactly converted to nudism, so far.

JUST A SUMMER COLONY - The behavior of persons at this camp is no different from the behavior of persons at any other Summer colony of corresponding price range and accommodations - with the pronounced exception that here some of the guests take off their clothes when they so please; to swim, play games, bathe in the sun, and what-not.

About the most exciting thing that happened during my stay at the camp was the productino of Tom Cushing's play, "Barely Proper," in the barn theater on the grounds. This is a rather long one-act comedy of and for nudists, and when Cushing wrote it several years ago he described it as "A play that will never be staged."

Ogden Standard Examiner (Ogden, Utah) - October 27, 1933

Daring Film To Show How Nudists Live

Advanced as perhaps the most daring picture ever to play Ogden, "Back to Nature," the story of "This Nude World" by Jan Gay, is scheduled for showings at the Paramount theatre, starting Wednesday.

Its showing at the Paramount theatre is a special roadshow engagement and was arranged for after the sensational runs this picture made in all the larger cities of the nation.

Filmed behind the locked doors of nudist colonies around the world, the attraction dares tos how them just as the camera found them. Its run will be for mixed audience, but for adults only. Ogden's run on "Back to Nature" will be virtually day-and-date with the Salt Lake City showings, where it opens a few days before.

Press Telegram (Long Beach, California) - September 12, 1960

Author Jan Gay Dies

SAN RAFAEL (AP) - Jan Gay, 58, publicist and author, died of cancer Sunday night. She began her career as a reporter on the old Chicago Examiner in 1922.

New York Times (New York, NY) - September 13, 1960

Author and Publicist Wrote Six Books for Children

SAN RAFAEL, Calif., Sept. 12 (AP) - Jan Gay, publicist and author, died of cancer last night. She was 58 years old. Miss Gay, who was born in Leipzig, Germany, of American parents, began her career as a reporter on the old Chicago Examiner in 1922.

She wrote six books for children, including "Shire Colt", "Pancho and His Burro", and "The Mutt Book". She also wrote "Town Cats" and "On Going Naked" for adults. The latter, which concerned nudism in Europe, created a sitr in the early Nineteen Thirties.

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) - September 13, 1960

Jan Gay - San Rafael, Cal., Sept. 12 (AP) - Jan Gay, 58, publicist and author, died Sunday night. Miss Gay began her career as a reporter on the old Chicago Examiner in 1922. She wrote six books for children, including "Shire Colt", "Pancho and His Burro," and "The Mutt Book." She also wrote "Town Cats" and "On Going Naked" for adults.

Census Records

Golden Village, Adams, Illinois - April, 1910

Surname 1st Name Relation Age Status Children Born Father born Mother born Occupation
Schwartz Martha J. Head 62 widow 13, 8 living Illinois Illinois Illinois own income
Schwartz Gay son 32 single . Illinois Illinois Illinois stenographer
Schwartz Loyd son 20 single . Illinois Illinois Illinois civil engineer
Reitman May S. daughter 30 divorced 1 Illinois Illinois Illinois music teacher
Reitman Helen M. grand daughter 8 single . Germany Minnesota Illinois student

424 Aldme? Ave, 46th Ward, Chicago, Cook, Illinois - April 14, 1930

Surname 1st Name Age Age 1st Marriage Born Father born Mother born Occupation
Reitman Ben L 51 22 Minnesota Russia Russia Physician
Reitman Anna 44 31 England England England .
Reitman Brutus 12 . Illinois Minnesota England student
Reitman Helen 26 . Illinois Minnesota Illinois Adv Mgr., Candy Co

Ship Manifests

SS Mexico from Tampico, Mexico to New York - May 21-31, 1927

Reitman, Helen - 24, single, born February 14, 1902, father US Citizen, 225 W 34 Street, New York
Byrnes Reitman, Eleanor - 25, single, born September 16, 1901 in Norwood, Mass., 225 W 34 Street, New York

SS American Farmer from London to New York - Oct 17-27, 1930

Gay, Jan - 28, single, nat thru American parents, 147 East 34th St, NYC
Gay, Zhenya - 26, single, born Norwood, Mass Sept 16, 1904, 147 East 34th St., NYC

SS Bremen from Bremen to New York - Sept 15-21, 1931

Gay, Jan - 29, single, passport 128037, 52 Gramercy Park, North New York
Gay, Zhenya - 26, single, born September 16, 1901 in Norwood, Mass., 52 Gramercy Park, North New York

SS Santa Lucia from Mollendo, Peru to New York - March 9-23, 1937

Gay, Jan - 35, single, born Feb 14, 1902 in Leipzig, Germany (of American parents), 446 East 66th St., NY

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