Eugenics Record Office Director


1910-1921 EUGENICS RECORD OFFICE Director: 1910-1921 Dr. Charles B. Davenport


This is a brief overview of the ERO written by Dr. Jan Witkowski, Director of the Banbury Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

"A new development came in 1907 when Davenport became interested in human genetics. His first studies dealt with physical traits like hair, eye and skin color that were clearly related to similar studies going on in mice and other experimental animals. His interests changed rather quickly to the genetics of human traits that were not so easily quantifiable, for example, intelligence and attributes such as musical skill. This was in part are response to the similar studies going on elsewhere, notably in England, and in part because of the potential social relevance of such studies in a time where there was increasing concern about immigration from Europe into the United States.


Davenport persuaded a local resident to provide funds for the creation of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) that would put the study of human traits on a firm, quantitative basis. He developed questionnaires that were taken from door-to-door by trained workers who recorded the characteristics of individuals in the families interviewed. These were stored on index cards that by 1924 numbered 750,000. These were analyzed according to the principles of Mendelian genetics but with little or no regard for the quality of the data or whether Mendelian genetic analysis was appropriate for such traits. Nevertheless, Davenport's work as a eugenicist was very influential, and as a consequence, the ERO became the center for scientific studies of eugenics. By the early 1920's, the influence of the ERO reached beyond academia when Davenport's colleague, Harry Laughlin, began testifying before Congress on matters relating to immigration and sterilization.By the late 1920's, however, eugenics was beginning to fade under the attack of bona fide geneticists such as T. H. Morgan and H. J. Muller."


The collection is an invaluable resource for studies of eugenics in the United States in the early part of this century. As might be expected, the collection of eugenics texts is especially comprehensive, including books from Europe. It includes popular treatments of eugenics; monographs; and reports of international congresses. There is a set of the Eugenics Record Office Bulletins together with other publications of the ERO.

Availability of Material

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This collection is currently being processed under a 2011-2012 DHP award. NYS Education Department Logo Funding provided by the New York State Documentary Heritage Progam.