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Health Science Center Libraries Archives: Eugenics Archives

A guide to using the archives.

General Eugenics Archives

Eugenics was a widespread social movement beginning in England the late 19th century and becoming a global movement by the 1920s and 1930s, although the form of eugenics varied from country to country.  In general, eugenics arose from a growing social anxiety- fueled by immigration, urbanization and industrialization, and even such phenomena as the declining birth rates (accompanying declines in death rates) among certain classes in many countries.  This anxiety found expression in the terms first uttered in the nascent science of heredity using terms introduced by Charles Darwin to describe processes of evolution, particularly the concept that those best suited for survival in a specific and particular environment would survive to pass on their traits to their offspring.  Their ability to survive and reproduce represented their "fitness."    From this understanding grew the term, "Survival of the Fittest, used primarily in the context of what came to known as Social Darwinism.  Around the time when ideas of fitness and concern were being shaped into the diverse body of practice known as "Eugenics,"  Gregor Mendel's work with heredity in pea plants came to the fore, and the basic model, that traits are determined by a single locus with two alleles- one dominant and one recessive was thought to apply to all traits- including alcoholism, criminality, pauperism, laziness, and other complex behaviors whose heritability is now known to be complex, if indeed they have a pattern of genetic inheritance at all. In any case eugenicists built a movement that they felt was scientific based on their understanding of the language of Social Darwinism and Mendelian genetics.

So eugenics used the language of Darwin or Social Darwinism, coupled with Mendel's discoveries to apply to societies they felt were in trouble- and they used metaphors of a society diseased and over run with what they called "the unfit."  They felt that Social Darwinism wasn't working and eugenicists moved to develop programs to promote the fit and eliminate the unfit.  How they did that and the programs developed differed from country to country based on religion, science, social structure, social ideology... and the programs reflected existing fears and ideas about social worth, and beauty- and fears- of those primarily in leadership positions.

Studying eugenics provides valuable insight into the way in which science- generally considered to be objective- can be used to justify societies fears.

Virtual Eugenics Collections

American Philosophical Society- search the APS digital collections using the term "Eugenics"
American Eugenics Society Records- housed in the American Philosophical Society 
Canadian Eugenics Archives- describing sterilization programs in countries around the world. 
Canadian eugenics archives, describing and discussing programs globally

Interactive site on Canadian and other eugenics programs
Chronicling America- early eugenics (newspapers)
Digital Public Library of America- contains eugenics material.
Main Eugenics Digital Image Archives- includes collections from different institutions 
Eugenics Archives  - contains the image archives 

Topics List - lists topics covered in the collection with explanatory material
National Library of Medicine- contains materials in the digital collections.
North Carolina State Legislation- contains information on laws related to forced sterilization and legislation providing financial restitution for people sterlized under the original law.
North Carolina State Library- Digitized collection includes Biennial Reports of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina  resources on compulsory sterilization in 50 states
University of Minnesota- some digital content- including newspapers
University of Vermont- database with material on Compulsory Sterilization Laws in multiple states

Books and Novels with eugenic content

Note: Some authors and poets supported eugenics ideas, some critiqued them, others included eugenics ideas in a way that shows how prevalent such thinking was at the time by showing how it might be a staple of conversation.  And in some cases eugenics ideas permeated a writer's entire body of work, so the works listed may only serve as examples.
Willa Cather- O Pioneers, (1913)
Willa Cather- My Antonia, (1918)
GK Chesterton- Eugenics and other Evils (1922)

Agatha Christie- The Secret of Chimneys (1925)

Agatha Christie- Curtain (1940)

T.S. Eliot- The Wasteland, (1922)

F. Scott Fitzgerald- The Great Gatsby, 1914 song “Love for Eugenics”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman- The Crux (1911)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman- Moving the Mountain, (1911)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman- Herland, (1915)
Anita Loos- The Force of Heredity and Nella, (1915)
Mary McCarthy- The Group, (1966 set in 1933-1940)
Kathleen Norris- Mother, (1911)
Ezra Pound-This major America poet supported eugenics and Naziism during World War II. Eugenics ideas can be found in a number of his poems.
Dorothy L. Sayers- Gaudy Night (1935)
George Bernard Shaw- Man and Superman
HG Wells- Island of Dr. Moreau
HG Wells- Time Machine
Edith Wharton- Ethan Frome, (1911)
Edith Wharton- The Custom of the Country, (1913)
Edith Wharton- Summer, (1913)
P.G. Wodehouse- The Coming of Bill, (1919)
P.G. Wodehouse- Their Mutual Child, (1919)
P.G. Wodehouse- The Code of the Woosters, (1938)
Virginia Woolf- Between the Acts, (1941)
Virginia Woolf- "On Being Ill," (1926)
W.B. Yeats- On the Boiler, (1939)


Eugenics Collections- descriptions/guides for physical collections

California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA: E.S Gosney Papers and Records of the Human Betterment Foundation. Links to the Online Archives of California, although the collections are housed in the CIT Archives and there are several listings in that Archives

Eugenics Records Office in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. Many records from the ERO are digitized and in the Archives. Some physical collections remain on site. 

NC State Archives includes collection of Governor's papers that include material on Eugenics.

State University of New York, University at Albany, M.E. Grenander Special Collection and Archives: Arthur H. Estabrook Papers, 1908-1962 Estabrook- (1885-1973) American researcher and Eugenicist who worked for the Carnegie foundation and Eugenics Record Office starting in 1910, was a special investigator for the Indiana State Commission on Mental Defectives, testified for the first trial representing the sterilization of Carrie Buck and again for the Buck vs Bell supreme court trial, and worked at Carnegie in the ERO until 1929.

University of Minnesota Social Welfare History Archives, Minneapolis, MN: Association for Voluntary Sterilization (AVS) Papers, including minutes, correspondence, memoranda, financial records, newspaper clippings and other materials examining sterilizations in state institutions

University of Virginia (Charlottesville) Archives: Aubrey Strode (1873-1946)was a lawyer practicing in Lynchburg, VA who argued for Jim Crow laws, wrote the  Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924, and argued the Buck vs Bell Case before the Supreme Court.

Wellcome Library, London, UK:  Eugenics Society contains materials from the British Eugenics society, which was founded in 1908, and includes Annual Reports as well as correspondence, educational materials, and a range of other materials documenting eugenics in the United Kingdom.

Polygenism archives

19th century, primarily American social theory.  Races had different origins- used to develop hierarchy of human races, argument for continuation of slavery.  19th century natural historians such as Samuel George Morton, Louis Agassiz, George Gliddon, Josiah Nott.

–American Philosophical Society- Samuel Morton Papers blog
–American Philosophical Society Samuel Morton Papers Digital collection
–Academy of Natural Sciences, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA: Samuel George Morton Papers.

Eugenics Image Collections

Note: the main Eugenics Digital collection contains numerous images

Limited relevant images may be found in the Images from the History of Medicine Collection of the National Library of Medicine


–Access to some of the digitized journals may depend on being on the UF VPN
–Eugenics: A Journal of Race Betterment - limited access to digitized volumes, copies may be available through Interlibrary Loan. This Journal was published by the American Eugenics Society, 1928-1931.
–Annals of Human Genetics- started as Annals of Eugenics (a search for "eugenics" in the online archives)- started by Karl Pearson- 
–The Eugenics Reviewa journal published between 1909 and 1968, and was reconstituted in 1969 as the Journal of Biosocial Science.  It was the official publication the English Eugenics Society and represented the form and development of eugenics in Britain during this period.  Volumes have been digitized and a site maintained by the National Library of Medicine is available. 
–Journal of Heredity- Published from 1905- present. Earlier volumes have articles with eugenics content.
–American Eugenics Society - material at this site contains information on the society and its history
–Nature Study Review- Volumes from 1905-1922- History of the Nature Study Society available here.  The Society focused on teaching nature study in elementary schools.
–American Naturalist- published from 1867- present, it was originally envisioned as a "popular magazine for amateur naturalists," it changed over the years of its publication it came to focus on genetics and evolution.  During the Eugenics era, it published articles supportive of and critical of eugenics.
Journal of the Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis  (1918-1968)
Eugenical News 
Bulletin- Eugenics Record Office, Cold Spring Harbor, NY

Other published materials

Camalt, William H. (1909) Heredity and Crime, a Study in Eugenics. William H. Carmalt ... Read at the 117th Annual Convention of the
Connecticut State Medical Society, Hartford, May 26, 27, 1909

Dawson, George E. (1912) The Right of the Child to be Well BornNew York, London, Funk & Wagnalls company

Ford, James. (1923) Social problems and social policy : principles underlying treatment and prevention of poverty, defectiveness, and
 Boston, Ginn & Co.  

Guyer, Michael F.  (1916) Being Well Born: An Introduction to Eugenics. Available through Project Gutenberg.


Modern Eugenics

North Carolina program to compensate individuals who were forcibly sterilized- NC Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation.

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