The General Picture

About Mitchell Santine Gould

Breaking Enigmas


Mitchell Santine Gould, during a 2021 visit to Corvallis. The otter signifies Friskiness.


Gould now makes his home on the Oregon Coast with camerado Rusty Keller. He recently realized his longstanding dream to animate Walt Whitman in one of his own poems. The Lincoln City News Guard covered his international online premiere of a short animation during the 2022 Annual “Song of Myself” Reading Marathon. Currently, he is working on a book.

Since 2003, Gould has published a long string of innovative historical discoveries at LeavesOfGrass.Org. The website has last been updated in August, 2022.


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Mitchell Santine Gould: biography

Mitchell Santine Gould is the leading authority on Walt Whitman’s mysterious connection to Quakerism, and coined a term to describe this difficult problem — which occupied the heart of Whitman scholarship for a century: “Walt Whitman’s Quaker Paradox.” Working outside both the Whitman and Quaker Studies communities for 15 years, largely without their support or encouragement, he committed himself to reconciling the 19th century’s most eloquent voice for the right to sexual self-determination with a society that had famously retreated from the immoral influence of “the world’s people” behind a “fence” of prohibitions against music, art, dancing, and theater. “Walt Whitman’s Quaker Paradox" cracked the enigma by revealing that Whitman’s chief hero, Elias Hicks, preached that sexual impulses were the gift of the Creator, not the temptations of the Devil. Hicks went on to define evil as the excessive indulgence of any “propensity,” and to admonish believers from sitting in judgment of another’s decisions. Hicks's followers, whom he called “The Tolerants,” believed that the sincere seeker could turn to the Inner Light when faced with an ethical crisis, secure that God's voice could overrule Biblical and ecclesiastical standards. The kind of firestorm surrounding Whitman and his highly-sexualized poems was a perfect echo of the firey Orthodox Quaker condemnation of Hicks between 1825 and 1831. After that, all mention of the issue was suppressed in the Quaker press.

The ultimate test for the Inner Light was whether God would bless the kind of erotic love between men condemned by Bible and clergy. Whitman’s poetry, together with his essay on Elias Hicks, cautiously hinted that He would. In the simplest possible terms, while the whole world condemned love between men as leading away from God, Whitman stood precariously alone, the only voice in the wilderness to insist that love between men leads them closer to God.

After revolutionizing our understanding of Elias Hicks, Mitch went on to trace the reception of Inner Light morality by secular American culture. This secularization began during Hicks’s final years, when Whitman’s other great hero, Frances Wright, restated Hicks’s position and explicitly identified sexual liberalism as a product of the Inner Light. With the rise of the Free Love movement, Wright’s appeal to “God within” became a plank in their sociopolitical platform.

Next, Gould’s exploration of the digital archives prompted him to turn to a vital 1938 discovery by the eminent Quaker historian Frederick Barnes Tolles. Tolles had concluded that Emerson’s key doctrine, Self-Reliance, constituted the secularization of Hicks’s Inner Light. Emerson had his own experiences with passionate love between men, and penned a spectacular anthem to coming out of the closet in his great essay, “Self Reliance.” But the glaring absence of Hicks's name from Emerson’s enthusiastic writings about Quakers demonstrates the limits of possible discourse.

It was while obtaining masters degrees in physics and anatomy from Georgia Tech and Emory in the 1970s and 1980s, that Gould found himself being drawn much more to 19th century history. Working as a science journalist, he published in such venues as Physics Today, Popular Science, Men’s Fitness, and Runner’s World. He wrote technical reports for the Georgia Tech Research Institute, and designed documentation for Windows and Unix applications at Brock Control Systems, Lotus Development Corporation, NCR’s Distributed Multimedia Technology lab, Iterated Systems, and A.D.A.M. Software. His first book, Mastering Animator (Sybex, 1990), became one of the most popular guides to Autodesk Animator. His second book, co-authored with Van Thurston, Windows 95 Multimedia Programming (Henry Holt, 1995), eventually gave way to involvement with the web’s Document Object Model, and earned him a stint with SAP Labs in Silicon Valley.

In 1997, he moved to Forest Grove, Oregon. There he met camerado Roger Moss. During their seven years there, they produced three short films about the town, including Tuality Giants, an historical documentary about the introduction of the giant sequoia to Oregon. In 2003, Gould established LeavesOfGrass.Org to coordinate activities for the 150th anniversary of Leaves of Grass, and began to publishing a continuous open-source stream of historical findings made possible by the digitalization of historic books and journals. His findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Quaker History in 2007, Quaker Theology in 2016, and Quaker History again in 2019. He has also published in Walt Whitman: an Encyclopedia; the Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide; The Friend (in England); and Gay Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Events, edited by Lillian Faderman and Yolanda Retter.

In 2004, when the tech boom burst, and the nation’s mood became thirsty for war, Roger and Mitch retreated to the greater sanity of Portland. There he was able to attend Friends Meeting again, and he became involved in many of its social testimonies beyond Equality. He developed an hour-long one-man play based upon “Song of Myself,” I Call to Mankind, which drew standing-room only crowds. He served on the steering committee of the Community of Welcoming Congregations, and was an organizer of a meeting of Friends for LGBTQ Concerns dedicated to prominent gay figures in Quaker history.

From the earliest days of his engagement with Whitman’s Quaker Paradox, it was apparent to Gould that Quaker acceptance of Whitman’s manly love was related to their acceptance of Susan B. Anthony’s passion for women, as well as their tolerance of the notoriously bad behavior of their commercial partners, the common sailors. Over the years, other scholars have independently reported similar anomalies which suggest a unique historical link between Quaker culture and same-sex love. In 2011, Gould established the Quaker History Project at the LGBT Religious Archives Network to collate and interpret this history. His funding enabled the Network to document the creation of the epochal 1963 testimony, Towards a Quaker View of Sex.