On March 12, 2024, Alison Li, an historian of science and medicine, presents the 6th MacLennan Lecture, “Harry Benjamin, hormones, and the early history of transgender healthcare.”

Li writes about hormones and the culture in which they are shaped. She is the author of Wondrous Transformations: A Maverick Physician, the Science of Hormones, and the Birth of the Transgender Revolution. It is the story of Dr. Harry Benjamin (1885-1986), best known for his pioneering work in transgender medicine.




Today’s gender-affirming care has roots that date back over a century. Harry Benjamin (1885-1986) was the author of the ground-breaking 1966 book The Transsexual Phenomenon and a pivotal figure in the early history of transgender medicine. The German-American physician was one of the first medical professionals to provide a detailed clinical discussion of transgender identity and argue for compassionate treatment. Curiously, he came to this work only late in life, after a long career in geriatrics. His enthusiasm for the therapeutic potential of hormones was the thread connecting the disparate parts of his professional life. In this presentation, Alison Li examines the early development of transgender healthcare in the context of the emergence of hormonal medicine. The science of endocrinology not only provided tools for medical gender transition but a striking vision of the body as malleable.



About the MacLennan Lecture

Established in 2017, the MacLennan Lecture funds a scholar to present a lecture in the field of Science and Technology Studies or in History and Philosophy of Science. The 2024 lecture has been organized by the History of Science and Technology Program.