OutHistory Inspires Discoveries by Community Researchers

James Orville Bloss.jpg

James Orville Bloss

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John William Sterling, age 54-55, 1900. From: New York State's Prominent and Progressive Men.

Updated October 5, 2023

Claude M. Gruener is one of four gay men inspired to become history sleuths by an entry on OutHistory about William Sterling's and James Bloss's forty-year intimacy.

Gruener also found the first picture of James Orville Bloss.[1]

Bloss was the live-in, sleep-with, 40-year companion of John William Sterling, a corporate lawyer and major Yale donor who died in 1918. The original entry on OutHistory.org about Bloss and Sterling provided evidence that these lifelong bachelors lived together for 40-plus years. Their “unusual relation . . . was often spoken of” said Jonathan Ned Katz who conducted the original research on the pair and is a co-director of OutHistory.org.

“Bloss’s friends called him ‘Blossy,’” said Katz, “suggesting, at least, an informality that didn’t apply to Sterling, and, perhaps, a defiant hint of effeminacy.”

Bloss’s picture is published on OutHistory.org, the website on the U.S. LGBTQ past. The researchers also found Bloss’s passport applications that include his signature and describe his physical appearance. He had a “heavy mustache”, “ruddy complexion”, and his height was 5 feet, 7 1/2 inches.[2]

Gruener also found a previously unknown, character-revealing photograph of the mature Sterling reproduced here.[3]

Sterling is remembered today mainly because he bequeathed Yale University $15 million ($200 million in 2011), said at the time to be the largest donation to any institution of higher learning in the world. His gift today supports Sterling Law Fellowships and Sterling Professorships (the latter, Yale’s most prestigious and highest paid), and it built Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, Sterling Chemistry Library, Sterling Law Building, Sterling Hall of Medicine, the Hall of Graduate Studies, and the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle (the campus of Yale Divinity School). Sterling’s law firm continues today as Shearman and Sterling, a major transnational corporate legal player.

The four gay researchers met on a Google Group called Historical Pictorials, devoted to discussions of the past. Early in 2010, intrigued by the relationship between Bloss and Sterling documented on OutHistory.org, they set to find new information about its character.

After the group’s research report was complete Gruener stumbled, almost by accident, on the picture of Bloss, one of the major items for which they had earlier looked in vain. Gruener, a resident of Albany, was thumbing through a volume in that city's New York State Library and Archives when he came upon the picture.

These community historians purchased, reviewed, and transcribed young Sterling's hand-written journals, and his later, hard-to-read diaries housed in Yale’s Sterling Library. Those transcriptions, published on OutHistory.org in 18 sections, include references to Sterling’s and Bloss’s living together. The four Sherlocks devoted multiple hours to research and to debating the meaning of their finds and completed an enormous report about Bloss and Sterling, published on OutHistory.org in 10 sections.

“I’m thrilled and awed by this group’s huge contribution and I’m still assimilating their discoveries,” said Katz. He added: “This team’s work in recovering the LGBTQ past is exactly the kind of community-based research we hoped to spark when we started OutHistory.org.”

The group's research is listed under the names of Gruener and Rick Wagner, who both edited its findings. Gruener placed the reports on the website. Two other members of the team did not wish to be named.

“Fight against forgetting!” sums up the mission of OutHistory.org,” said Katz. He added: "This example of community-based history research is particularly poignant because it was the last activity one member of the research team participated in before losing his memory due to an incapacitating condition. The researcher’s guardian feels that he would not want his name revealed.


  1.  Bloss Photo: John Franklin Sprague. New York, the Metropolis. Its Noted Business and Professional Men. [New York] The New York Recorder, 1895, [c1891-92]. Pt. 1. Historical.--pt. 2. Biographical.--pt. 3. Commercial. Picture of Bloss: part 3, page 50.
  2. See Claude M. Gruener and Rick Wagner: Section One, Sterling and Bloss: The Early Years
  3. Mitchell Charles Harrison, compiler. New York State's Prominent and Progressive Men. Volume 6. [New York] New York Tribune Publication, 1900, Sterling photo p. 374 (image 688).