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Sigismond de Rudesheim Diettrich (February 7, 1906 - May, 1987) was an eminent scholar and chair of the University of Florida's geography department. Diettrich was head of the Dept. of Geography from 1945 to 1959.
Diettrich, a native of Hungary, received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Budapest and his Ph.D. from Clark University. He joined the University of Florida's faculty in 1931 as an Instructor of Economic Geography in the College of Commerce and Journalism. He served as a special consultant to the O.S.S. and as an assistant to the chief of the Division of Geography and Cartography of the Department of State during World War II.
Diettrich was forced to resign his faculty position in 1959 after being called before the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee (i.e., the Johns Committee). Sigismond Diettrich received the telephone call on 19 January 1959. The polite caller convinced Diettrich to meet with agents of a state investigative body that evening. The dubious inquisitors grilled the professor for nearly ninety minutes. They confronted him with allegations of homosexuality from an informant who conceded that he had never actually witnessed Diettrich in a sexual act. While Diettrich staunchly denied these unsubstantiated accounts, under duress he did acknowledge other brief encounters with consenting adult males.
The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Professor Sigmund Diettrich to one of his colleagues. It is dated March 24, 1959. Dear Ray, As of yesterday, I have resigned from my position as head of the department and professor of geography. It all began on Monday, January 19, I came home from school dead tired and fell asleep. The phone work me up at 6:00pm. It was somebody inviting me to appear before the Charley Johns Committee. Then my ordeal began. After about an hour and a half they were through with me and my life work was in shambles. Now you know it all except I was not as involved as it appears. I was guilty of breaking conventions. I was guilty of not measuring up to what I was supposed to have been. I carried my secret I thought well concealed, feeling my own private little hell whenever I yielded. Oh...but why to burden you with all this nonsense...maybe you don't even want to read the rest knowing the scarlet letter branded upon me... Diettrich wrote many letters to colleagues and friends during his ordeal. In them, he noted how he threw himself into his work. "I don't think I ever gave better lectures in my life."
Diettrich knew that his career at the Gainesville campus had ended when President J. Wayne Reitz and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences called him into an office on 16 March 1959 and dismissed him from the faculty. After leaving this meeting, Diettrich ingested 85 apririn and contemplated suicide by planning to jump from the upper floor of a classroom building. Though he never carried out his plan, Diettrich left the campus a week later, considering himself a traitor to his family, colleagues, and the university.
He died in May, 1987.
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