Mendel Newsletter
Table of contents
n.s. 9 (February 2000)

A Word from the Managing Editor ...

It is 2000, and perhaps this odometer-like milestone is as good a time as any to reflect on the history of genetic research. Though Gregor Johann Mendel, an Austrian botanist and monk, outlined the basics of heredity in 1866, his discoveries went widely unnoticed until 1900. Here's a few other milestones noted by The Philadelphia Inquirer, to which the readers of the Mendel Newsletter could no doubt add many more:
  • 1910. Working with fruit flies, Thomas Hunt Morgan finds genes are organized along chromosomes; 30 years later, scientists propose that genes are made of DNA.
  • 1953. Biologists James Watson and Francis Crick discover the helical structure of DNA, for which they earn a Nobel Prize.
  • 1973. Stanley Cohen and Herbert Brown invent genetic engineering by transplanting a gene from one bacterium into another; others soon move genes between species, and the U.S. Supreme Court rules seven years later that such life forms can be patented.
  • 1986. The first human disease gene, for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, is found by Louis Kunkel.
  • 1989. Francis Collins discovers the second gene, for cystic fibrosis.
  • 1990. A 4-year-old girl with severe immune deficiency syndrome is the first to be treated with gene therapy. She is not cured, but her condition improves.
  • 1995. J. Craig Venter completes the first sequence of a living organism, a bacterium that causes meningitis; the human genome is expected to be largely finished in March 2000.
  • 1999. Researchers are racing to complete a "working draft" of the human genetic code by early next year-years ahead of schedule. The rest of the 3 billion letter human genome could be ready as soon as 2001.

At the dawn of the new millennium, the pace of progress in the field of genetics is nothing if not rapid, and the implications for improving the quality of human life seem too vast to comprehend. As we tick off the genetic accomplishments of the 20th century -- and this list just scratches the surface -- perhaps the past gives us some inkling of what we may expect in the future. One thing is clear as we embark on the 21st century: Historians and science fiction writers alike will struggle to keep apace of genetics research.

Martin L. Levitt
American Philosophical Society



Angela Franks
Boston College

The historical relation between the birth control and the eugenics movements in America has been a vexed scholarly question. Two historiographical positions exist: on the one side, historians concerned with eugenics have pointed out the extensive organizational connections between the two movements, as well as the consistent use of eugenic language by birth-control activists.1 On the other side, scholars who focus on the birth-control movement have downplayed the eugenic involvement of contraception activists, especially Margaret Sanger.2 It is rare to find a work of eugenic historiography in the bibliographies of books about Sanger and her fellow workers, and sometimes this lack of familiarity with the scholarly literature on eugenics has led to problematic conclusions. One author, for example, has concluded that Sanger did not support the eugenic agenda at all because she (generally) disavowed positive eugenics, yet it is quite clear from her public and private writings that she was entirely supportive of negative eugenics, a distinction not made by the author in question.3 Historians in women's and birth-control history could greatly benefit from an increased familiarity with the primary-source material on these questions.

Fortunately, in my two and a half years of archival research on the issue of the relation between eugenics and the birth control movement, I have found that historians have at their disposal abundant archival material relevant to the question. In addition to helpful collections in institutional archives such as the Rockefeller Archive Center and the American Philosophical Society Library, Sanger's papers are gathered in three large collections, most of which have been microfilmed and are available in select research libraries. Finally, there exist several relevant but smaller collections, including important oral-history interviews available at Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library. After a brief introduction on Sanger and the birth-control movement in America, I will discuss each of these types of resources.

Margaret Sanger, Birth Control, and Eugenics

Born Margaret Louisa Higgins in 1879, America's future birth-control pioneer came from a poor family in Coming, New York, the sixth of eleven children. She married artist Bill Sanger in 1902 while she was training to be a nurse, and soon became a fixture in the radical Greenwich Village scene. Mabel Dodge, in a famous story, reminisced that Sanger was "the first person I ever knew who was openly an ardent propagandist for the joys of the flesh. . . . [Sanger] told us all about the possibilities in the body for 'sex expression'; and as she sat there, serene and quiet, and unfolded the mysteries and mightiness of physical love it seemed to us that we had never known it before as a sacred and at the same time a scientific reality."4 She published a short-lived radical paper, The Woman Rebel, in 1914 but soon had to shut down the paper and flee to Europe, after she was prosecuted under the federal Comstock Laws, which forbade the mailing of obscene material. In England, she spent much time with eugenicists and Neo-Malthusians Havelock Ellis and Alice Vickery (among the founders of the English Eugenics Society). Sanger always attributed a great importance to Ellis's tutelage; it was he who convinced her to focus her considerable energy on contraception.

After Sanger returned to America in 1915 after the Comstock charges against her were dropped, she established the first birth-control clinic in America, in the poor immigrant community of Brownsville, New York. The subsequent publicity surrounding its forced closing enabled her to jump-start the organized birth-control movement in America, relying heavily on the support of wealthy Manhattan socialites to fund her projects. She established the American Birth Control League (ABCL) and published The Birth Control Review until January 1929, when she resigned her editorship due to personality conflicts with other ABCL leaders; she had resigned from the ABCL a few months earlier. She founded the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB) in 1923, Manhattan's first birth-control clinic. From 1931-1936, she ran the National Committee for Federal Legislation for Birth Control in Washington, DC, a lobbying group that attempted to change the penal code that forbade the mailing of contraceptives and birth-control information. The group disbanded when the favorable ruling from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second District handed down the humorously named decision United States v. One Package Containing 120, more or less, Rubber Pessaries to Prevent Conception, which made the lobbying unnecessary. In 1939, the Birth Control Federation of America (BCFA) was formed, reuniting the ABCL and Sanger's BCCRB, and in 1942 the BCFA was renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), the name it keeps today. Sanger also founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) in 1952. After a long life of activism in birth-control promotion and, increasingly, population control, she died in 1966.

Sanger shared many of the eugenic preoccupations of most American eugenicists: she endorsed eugenic sterilization, she worried about the propagation of "feeblemindedness," and she considered organized charity a particular threat to the purity of the race; one chapter in her 1922 book, Pivot of Civilization, is entitled "The Cruelty of Charity". Despite her disagreement with positive eugenics, her fundamental approval of eugenics is expressed in an article in The Birth Control Review:

The campaign for Birth Control is not merely of eugenic value, but is practically identical in ideal with the final aims of Eugenics. . . . the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the overfertility of the mentally and physically defective. . . . Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism.5

The researcher can trace similar attitudes in her public writings, private correspondence, and prepared speeches, in addition to examining her organizational connections with the eugenics movement.

Sanger's Papers

As the premier American birth-control activist, Sanger's papers are an important resource for those pursuing the connection between the pro-contraception and the pro-eugenics camps. Her voluminous correspondence is collected in two places: the Library of Congress in Washington, DC (145 reels), and Smith College's Sophia Smith Collection in Northampton, MA (83 reels). In addition, the archivists connected with the latter collection, working out of New York University, have gathered together her scattered letters and writings from other manuscript collections around the world into a third, microfilmed collection, The Margaret Sanger Papers Microfilm Edition: Collected Documents Series (15 reels). The first two collections can be accessed at their respective libraries, of course, but microfilm copies of both the Smith College Collection (entitled The Margaret Sanger Papers Microfilm Edition: Smith College Collection Series) and the Collected Documents Series are also available for purchase, and some libraries have included them in their microfilm collections. The Library of Congress collection has a helpful finding aid, but this resource will be greatly improved when an integrated reel-guide and index of all three Sanger collections is published by University Publications of America in the near future, which will make the Library of Congress Collection much more accessible. Both Margaret Sanger Papers Project collections have exceptionally well-done finding aids, available at the project website (, that include short histories of each of Sanger's organizations, who worked for them, what their positions were, and when they held them, in addition to a thorough index. Many eugenicists are included among these workers. The website also includes a list of which libraries own copies of the microfilms.

Beyond these major collections, the Sophia Smith Collection has some additional, unfilmed material in its Sanger collection, such as clippings, third-party correspondence, and organizational records not directly associated with Sanger but related to her organizations. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America Papers are also at Smith College, although many documents have been included within the filmed Sanger papers. The Houghton Library, Harvard University, in Cambridge, MA, also has additional material connected with the American Birth Control League. All in all, these resources give researchers interested in Sanger enormous amounts of material with which to work.

Smaller Collections

Several other collections have smaller amounts of material also relevant to birth-control and eugenics research. The Dorothy Brush papers, also at Smith College, provide insight into one of Sanger's closest friends and most important co-workers, who was also actively involved in the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Since Brush's family foundation had the support of eugenics as its raison d'être, she is an interesting link between birth-control and eugenics activism. In addition, the Library at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia has several manuscript collections that include references to or correspondence with Sanger by eugenicists, including the collections of the American Eugenics Society and the papers of Charles B. Davenport, Herbert Spencer Jennings, Frederick Osborn, and Raymond Pearl; the last two were important co-workers with Sanger, and the Pearl papers provide an amusing correspondence with Edward East in which Sanger's various personality quirks are frequently remarked upon.

The Boston area provides a plethora of manuscript collections. In addition to the Houghton ABCL collection, Harvard's Lamont Library is one of the few libraries that has copies of both Margaret Sanger Papers Project microfilm collections. The Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, also in Cambridge, NM, has several small collections by important birth-control activists, including Mary Steichen Calderone, the sex-education pioneer; Edna Rankin McKinnon, sister of the first female Congresswoman and long-time worker for both Margaret Sanger and population controller Clarence Gamble; Harriet Pilpel, PPFA's chief legal counsel for decades and also involved with pro-sterilization organizations; Emily Borie Hartshorne Mudd, a population-control activist; and Sarah Merry Bradley Gamble, the wife of eugenicist Clarence Gamble. In addition, the library has an important interview series, "The Schlesinger-Rockefeller Oral History Project," that focuses on prominent workers in the birth-control, population-control and abortion-rights movements. Among those interviewed are Grant Sanger, one of Margaret's sons, and Mrs. Alan F. Guttmacher.

In addition, Harvard's Countway Library of Medicine, in another part of Boston, has the papers of Robert Latou Dickinson, Clarence J. Gamble, Norman Himes, Abraham Stone, and Alan Guttmacher, although the last two collections might still be unprocessed. All five were important medical doctors and eugenicists who worked with Sanger and Planned Parenthood at various times. Dickinson founded the National Committee for Maternal Health, a sometimes rival to Sanger's group, and he, his protegee Gamble, and Guttmacher (later president of PPFA) were heavily involved in the pro-sterilization eugenics group Birthright (later the Human Betterment Association of America). Gamble was a millionaire, heir to the Proctor and Gamble fortune, who also founded the population-control group the Pathfinder Fund. Himes wrote one of the first histories of contraception and abortion. Stone was the husband of Hannah Stone, who herself was an eugenicist and the doctor of Sanger's BCCRB far many years. Gamble's papers were memorably called a "rat's nest" by his co-worker, statistician Christopher Tietze, but there is a finding aid available for the collection, as well as for the papers of Himes and Dickinson.

Finally, the enormous archive at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in Pocantico Hills, New York, also has several collections relevant to eugenic birth-control and, even more, population-control activism. The papers of the Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller and John D. Rockefeller, 3d provide information about the Rockefeller family's involvement with Sanger and her organizations, an involvement that stretched over several decades and proved to be tremendously profitable for the birth-control movement. In addition to financial records, the collections also have several memos written by Rockefeller staff that contain very helpful and interesting summaries of meeting with various birth-control activists. These memos often provide shrewd insights into a given activist's character, philosophical approach, and position within the larger movement. The eugenic motives for Rockefeller support of Sanger and other birth-control workers is also detailed in the collections. Besides the main family collections, the RAC also houses the papers of the Population Council (Rockefeller, 3d's organization) and Joan Dunlop, who worked for Rockefeller, 3rd on population-control issues through the 1970s. The RAC's website can be accessed at


Clearly, researchers pursuing the question of eugenic involvement by birth-control activists have a wealth of archival resources from which to choose. Unfortunately, many scholars interested in this question have not always made use of the abundant secondary literature on eugenics, with the result that many birth-control historians have misinterpreted eugenic rhetoric simply because, it seems, the language is not recognized for what it is. For example, some Sanger scholars seem not to have realized that a preoccupation with the fertility of the poor and a denigration of charitable activity are attitudes commonly found among eugenicists, a fact that should lead them to inquire more, closely about Sanger's own attitudes toward the poor. An influx of scholars already familiar with eugenics historiography into the field of birth-control and women's history could only improve the quality of historical work in these areas.


1. See, for example, Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, 2nd ed. (Cambridge/London: Harvard University Press, 1995), 85-90; Diane B. Paul, Controlling Human Heredity: 1865 to the Present (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1995), 91-96.

2. Donald T. Critchlow has basically the same criticisms that I do of Sanger scholarship. He notes, "By focusing on the social history of the birth-control movement and its rich legal history in the courts, scholars have tended to obscure the importance of eugenics in the movement" (Donald T. Critchlow, "Birth Control, Population Control, and Family Planning: An Overview," in Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective, ed. Donald T. Critchlow [University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996], 5).

3. James W. Reed, "The Birth Control Movement Before Roe v. Wade," in ibid., n. 35, 50; James Reed, From Private Vice to Public Virtue: The Birth Control Movement and American Society Since 1830 (New York: Basic Books, 1978), 129-39. Ellen Chesler's more recent Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992) suffers from the same problems.

4. Quoted in Chesler, op. cit., 96.

5. Margaret Sanger, "The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda," Birth Control Review, October 1921, 5.



David Micklos
DNA Learning Center

Here, at the end of the 20th century, scientists worldwide are involved in a great project to identify the complete set of genetic directions that define the parameters of human life, health, and even behavior. Although it is easy enough to conceive of the Human Genome Project and genetic engineering as an entirely new epoch in scientific history, this is not, in truth, humankind's first large-scale involvement with human genetics. Our current rush into "gene age" of the last decades of the twentieth century has striking parallels to the eugenics movement of the early decades of this century.

The story of America's embrace of eugenic engineering has been largely hidden in historical archives and scholarly publications. The recent online release of the Digital Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement (, provides students, teachers, scholars, and the interested public an extraordinary window on this "hidden" chapter in the history of American science. The Eugenics Archive was developed by the DNA Learning Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, with funding provided by the Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues Program of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Eugenics was, quite literally, an effort to apply Mendel's laws to breed better human beings. Eugenicists encouraged reproduction of people of "good" genetic stock and discouraged reproduction of the "bad." They wrongly used simple dominant/recessive schemes to explain complex behaviors and mental illnesses which we now know to involve many genes. Eugenicists sought an exclusively genetic explanation of human development, neglecting the important contributions of the environment. Their flawed data were the basis for social legislation to keep racial and ethnic groups separate, to restrict immigration from southern and eastern Europe, and to sterilize people considered genetically unfit."

The American eugenics movement was a model for the Nazis, whose radical adaptation of eugenics culminated in the Holocaust. However, in contrast to the obvious barbarity of Nazi "racial hygiene," American eugenics presents the more subtle cautionary tale of the social perversion of a popular movement in health and "self-improvement." In the final analysis, the eugenic description of human life reflected political and social prejudices, rather than scientific fact.

The Eugenics Archive is intended to stimulate independent, critical thinking about the parallels between eugenics and modem genetics research. By providing access to the eugenicists' own words and "data," each user is challenged to assume the role of historian/researcher - searching for materials according to his/her own preferences and making evaluations based on personal synthesis. By focusing primarily on visual documents, it is hoped that the Archive will engage young people, who are accustomed to visual media, and others who would not normally access a scholarly collection.

Included in the January release will be more than 1,200 materials, primarily remaining from the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, which was the center of American Eugenics research from 1910-1940. The images illustrate many facets of eugenics endeavor, including "fitter families" competitions at state fairs, exhibits from scientific meetings, annotated posts cards of circus acts, eugenic tests and surveys, field notes, family pedigree studies, hereditary diseases, marriage counseling, congressional testimony on immigration restriction, sterilization laws, anthropological studies, and correspondence between noted eugenicists. Whenever possible, case materials were collected "in situ," maintaining the order in which they were classified by the original owners potentially allowing Archive users to reconstruct meaning through the association of documents found in proximity to one another.

Items were drawn from four major scholarly archives: American Philosophical Society Library, Rockefeller University Archive Center, Truman State University Archives, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Research Archives. It is worth noting that at the beginning of the project, in 1998, none of these archives had policies governing the release of their materials over the Internet, and this project marks the first large-scale release of items via the Internet by a second party.

The Eugenics Archive makes no attempt to lead users to any "specified" or "correct" interpretation of the materials. However, the site builders and an expert advisory panel were challenged to assist users in understanding the historical, social, political, and ethical context in which the American eugenics movement developed, flourished, and finally collapsed. Context is built into the Archive on two levels. First, users are encouraged to enter the site through a series of 11 virtual exhibits -- which combine narrative and images that introduce the key events, persons, and social conditions that contributed to the development of eugenics. Second, all images are coded to sort into one or more of 35 topic areas. Browsing by topic or searching by keyword returns a set of related images with an extended caption. The topic captions are specifically designed to help the user understand images relationships to one another, to the larger eugenic movement, and to society as a whole. Both the virtual exhibits and topic captions were developed in collaboration with several leading historians of eugenics. At each level, users are reminded that the vast majority of what is presented as scientific "fact" by eugenicists was fundamentally flawed and has been discredited by modem research standards.

The Image Archive can serve as a model for other online projects on the history and social interpretation of modem science. Privacy protections, developed by the consensus of an advisory panel, can guide other projects dealing with the release of sensitive documents via the Internet. Six days of workshop sessions by a 15-member advisory panel over the two-year development period lead to consensus on editorial policies to ensure that the Eugenics Archive: 1) Protects the confidentiality of persons and medical information. 2) Respects the dignity of different cultural, racial, and disabled groups. 3) Balances authority, readability, and sensitivity. 4) Provides adequate historical, social, and ethical context for lay persons to evaluate the images. 5) Identifies incorrect, disproven, and pseudoscientific elements of eugenics.



Frederick B. Churchill
Indiana University

The contents and history of the Nachlass of August Weismann have been described in the German literature by the late Helmut Risler, former Professor of Zoology at the University of Mainz and a great grandchild of Weismann.1 Weismann's role in the history of evolution and heredity theory was so important in his day that it seems justified to review and expand upon what Risler has already said for an English speaking audience. An added incentive for this review is that Risler and I have edited a collection of Weismann's letters and other documents, which will soon appear in print.2 It seems natural at this time to inform the readers of The Mendel Newsletter about the nature of this publication and the extent to which it does and does not make the Freiburg Nachlass available in published form. It is my hope that this notice will make clear that there are many manuscripts in the Nachlass which have not been fully examined and to encourage scholars interested in Weismann or other members of his family to visit Freiburg and make discoveries for themselves.

By the time of his death in 1914 Weismann's personal, literary and scientific effects were distributed in at least three ways. Weismann's outstanding butterfly collection and certain other scientific artifacts remained as part of the collection of the Zoological Institute in Freiburg. Much of Weismann's library of scientific books and reprints were sold by catalogue by the antiquarian Max Weg of Leipzig, 3 and the bulk of his correspondence and other documents remained in Weismann's house where they came under the care of his son Julius.

In November of 1944 the museum building of the institute was so badly destroyed by an Allied bomb that no signs of the butterfly collection could later be found.4 At least one of the microscopical slides prepared by Weismann for his study on hydromedusae must have been saved with the 150 boxes dragged from the burning ruins, for this has been recently described.5 The fate of Weismann's library is less clear, but Will Provine of Cornell has reported that many years ago he acquired a substantial reprint collection with Weismann's signature and markings.6 The portion left in Weismann's home remained undisturbed until Julius's death in 1950. With the sale of the house the material appears to have been divided. A large chest of the letters received by Weismann became the trust of Frau von Dechend, (née Schepp, a grand-daughter of Weismann by his eldest daughter Therese), who in 1864 sold Ernst Haeckel's letters to Weismann to the university library in Freiburg. These were later published along with Weismann's side of the correspondence, which was in the archives of the Haeckel Haus in Jena.7 The fate of the other letters to Weismann remains unknown. The daughter of Julius Weismann, Marie Luise "Ursula" Küppers-Weismann, inherited the rest of the material. Sometime around 1948, when she by chance met her nephew-once-removed, Helmut Risler, it seemed appropriate to her to pass tie material on to him because he was following in Weismann's footsteps by pursuing a career in zoology.8 This provenance is worth relating, for it may help others uncover some of the missing parts. It is this material presented to Risler that forms the bulk of the Weismann Nachlass now housed in Freiburg University Library.

The centerpiece of the collection consists of seven copybooks of Weismann's outgoing letters from November 1885 to April 1911. These are of the J. Watt type often used in the nineteenth century, which allowed the sender to make a negative print of his ink letter in a bound book of tissue paper by a damp blotting procedure. A positive image could then be obtained by reading the image through the tissue. Each copybook contained 1000 numbered pages and an alphabetized index; so the sender needed only to blot the letter, record the recipient and page number and send the letter on its way. Weismann's personal correspondence generally took two copybook pages, but given many deviations from this pattern and the fact that Weismann occasionally copied manuscripts, there are in all just under 4000 letters copied over the twenty-six years he used this technique for record keeping. Since the ink of the day has over time had a corrosive effect on the tissue paper and some of the pages in each volume had begun to disintegrate, the university library has now disassembled the volumes and placed each letter in a separate acid free folder.

The letters concern all aspects of Weismann's life. They were sent to his family and relatives; to colleagues both at home and abroad, e.g., August de Bary, Anton Dohm, and Edward Bagnall Poulton; to publishers -- there are over 117 letters to Gustav Fischer in Jena --; to bankers and merchants, and to the casual inquirer about his work and ideas. There are a number of letters of reference to other universities seeking a replacement for their Lehrstuhl of Zoology, and Weismann copied letters to his former students, such as Alexander Petrunkevitch, Emilie Snethlage, Chiyomatsu Ishikawa and Valentin Haecker, which are particularly valuable in providing a sense of Weismann's interaction with his students and future colleagues. There are also many letters to amateur and commercial naturalists, such as to the lepidopterists, Otto Staudinger, Emil Fischer and Marie Rühl and to the apiarist Ferdinand Dickel. Unquestionably the most extensive series is the 242 lengthy letters to his son, Julius, a renowned pianist, composer and future Professor of music. During most, of the years represented by these letters Weismann suffered from retinal sensitivity and occlusions. For this reason he generally refrained from writing more than four pages, about 300-350 words, in any single letter. For the sake of protecting his eyes he repeatedly resisted discussing the intricate details of his research in letter form, preferring instead to work up his thoughts in a definitive manner for publication. Nevertheless, the large number of the letters allows the historian to put together a rich picture of Weismann's scientific practice, goals, publications, personal interactions, institutional goals and family life.

In addition to the copybooks Weismann left behind a complete run of desk calendars (Tischkalender) from 1877 to 1914, in which he recorded his daily activities. Although the entries are irregular, they allow the historian to put together a rather complete chronology of many of the important and less important events in Weismann's life. Weismann also kept pocket notebooks (Notizbücher), in which he recorded reminders, train schedules, book titles and random remarks. He began the practice in 1853 and continued it until the end of his life. The entries are difficult to read but often provide valuable tidbits when placed in a broader context.

On occasion Weismann was asked to write short sketches of his life and three of these exist in manuscript form. In 1912 he began a full length autobiography, entitled in his hand "Vita propria". This manuscript consists of 193 pages, but despite its length its narrative ends in the year 1871. Many of the known details of Weismann's boyhood, student years in G6ttingen, practice as a physician, embryological studies at Schloss Schaumberg, his early years in Freiburg as a Privatdozent. In addition there are accounts of Weismann's early travels to Vienna, Paris and Italy, and to Sardinia and Corsica where he collected Lepidopteran samples of polymorphism. Here, too, the reader will find a lengthy account of Weismann's honeymoon travels through the Swiss Alps. The "Vita propria" was mined to some extent by Ernst Gaupp in his life of Weismann.9

In addition to these substantial manuscript series the Nachlass contains many smaller items10: 1) three family sketchbooks, loose sketches and watercolors and a large red album of sketches by Weismann, his mother, August Gruber, Therese Schepp (née Weismann) and others; 2) an unpublished but nearly completed manuscript of Weismann's research on Elymnias including colored illustrations; 3) a notebook by Weismann describing and illustrating his retinal occlusions; 4) a nineteen page manuscript primer on Mendelian genetics with "vom W. Schleip 1912" written in Weismann's hand on the first page; 5) a folder also labeled in Weismann's hand, "Biographisches über mich," which contains newspaper clippings about Weismann and his works; 6) a small number of photographs, many of which have already been reproduced. 12 7) Weismann's personal copies of his own major publications and many of his minor ones. This collection, carefully identified and labeled by Risler, may now be housed in a brand new Zoological Institute which also contains the original Otto Scholderer portrait and Joseph Kowarzik bust of Weismann.

Finally, a word about my and Risler's two volume publication of parts of this Nachlass and other documents seems appropriate. We have selected and annotated about 500 of what we identified as the most interesting scientific letters of the copybooks. Since the copybooks were not easy to go through because of their fragile state, I have no doubt that there are still important scientific letters yet to be identified. We did not include Weismann's letters to Haeckel, for these had already been published, and we made no attempt to read, let alone evaluate, the contents of most of the family letters. We have supplemented our selection, however, with Weismann's letters from three other archives: a) Christiane Groeben at the Archives of the Zoological Station in Naples kindly provided us with both sides of the correspondence between Weismann and Anton Dohm, which began in 1872 and continued into and through the period covered by the copybooks; b) twelve letters dating from 1878 and 1881 to the French naturalist, Antoine Fortuné Marion, and which are now on deposit at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, and c) additional letters to Alexander Petrunkevitch, the originals of which are housed at the Yale University Library.

We have included two of the short autobiographical sketches written by Weismann in 1886 and 1896 and the incomplete "Vita Propria" of 1913. Because of Weismann's success in training doctoral students in zoology, we have also copied and annotated all of Weismann's "Gutachten" written to the Philosophical Faculty describing and evaluating dissertations and Habilitationsschriften done at the institute. These provide a fascinating picture of the zoology program in Freiburg and supplement the letters to various students found in the copybooks. 12 In addition we have copied and annotated fifty-eight documents preserved in the university's files on Weismann and his institute colleague and brother-in-law, August Gruber. These convey, better than any retrospective account, the efforts Weismann made to transfer his position and the zoological collection from the medical to the philosophical faculty, and the difficulties he labored under to pursue a university career while suffering from his debilitating eye ailments. Finally, we have reproduced two hitherto unpublished manuscripts found in the copybooks: 1) Weismann's address as Decan to the student body at the laying of the foundation stone for a Bismarck column on the Schlossberg above Freiburg, and 2) Weismann's summary sketch of zoology at the turn of the century.

We have made no effort to translate the documents but most of them were transcribed from Weismann's gothic script. All annotations, introductory essays with one exception and a final essay by the author are written in English.


1. See particularly Helmut Risler, "August Weismanns Leben und Wirken nach Dokumenten aus seinem Nachlass," in August Weismann (1834-1914) und die theoretische Biologie des 19. Jahrhunderts. Urkunden, Berichte und Analysen. [Sonderdruck aus Freiburger Universitätsblätter], 1985, 87/88, pp. 23-42.

2. Frederick B. Churchill and Helmut Risler (Eds.), August Weismann. Ausgewählte Briefe und Dokumente (Universitätsbibliothek Freiburg i. Br., 1999), 2 Vols. [in press].

3. See Antiquariats-Katalog Nr. 149 von Max Weg, Entwicklung, Vererbung und Literatur zur Geschichte, Begründung und Bekämpfung des Weismannismus (Keimplasmatheorie. Germinalselection). These materials, which are described as coming for the most part from Weismann's library, may have been assembled prior to Weismann's death.

4. Otto Koehler, "Die Zoologie an der Universität Freiburg i. Br.," in Eduard Zentgraf, Aus der Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften an der Universität Freiburg i. Br. (Freiburg im Breisgau, Eberhard Albert, 1957), pp. 139-140.

5. Klaus Sander, "August Weismann (I 8341914). Naturforscher und Theoretiker der allgemeinen Biologie," Biologie in unserer Zeit, 1984,14:189-193.

6. Personal communication.

7. George Uschmann and Bernard Hassenstein, "Der Briefwechsel zwischen Ernst Haeckel und August Weismann," in Manfred Gersch, ed., Kleine Festgabe aus Anlass der hundertjährigen Wiederkehr der Grundung des Zoologischen Institutes der Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena im Jahre 1865 durch Ernst Haeckel (Jena: Friedrich-Schiller Universität, 1965). pp. 7-68.

8. Helmut Risler, "August Weismann. 18341914," Ber. Naturf Ges. Freiburg in Br., 1968, 58:pp.77-93.

9. Ernst Gaupp, August Weismann. Sein Leben und Sein Werk (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1917).

10. Many of these have been described and illustrated in Helmut Risler (1985), see above.

11. Klaus Sander, August Weismann (1834-1914) und die theoretische Biologie des 19. Jahrhunderts. Urkunden, Berichte und Analysen, Freiburger Universitätsblätter, 1985, Heft 87/88, pp. 20-203.

12. See Frederick B. Churchill, "Life before model systems: general zoology at August Weismann's institute," American Zoologist, 1997, 37:260-268 for an examination of these Gutachten.



Breeding Better Vermonters The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State

Nancy L. Gallagher
University Press of New England, 1998 (xii + 235 pp.)

by Elof Axel Carlson
SUNY- Stony Brook

"Vain hopes I gave to man."
Aeschylus - Prometheus
Most academic scientists do not win Nobel Prizes, get elected to the National Academy of Sciences, or enjoy seeing their work widely cited and extolled by their colleagues. They do some research, publish a little, serve on committees, and teach a lot. Some may aspire to chairing a department or entering the administration as a dean or even a college president. Henry F. Perkins [1877-1956] craved recognition and sought outlets for that need which exceeded his talents. Nancy Gallagher's very scholarly and sensitive treatment of Perkin's personality and career is an excellent contribution to the history of eugenics and a book worth reading about what motivates people of good will and how they can contribute to hurting the people they want to help. Perkins was not a founder of the eugenics movement. He did not have a geneticist's background and received his Ph.D. at John Hopkins from William Keith Brooks (T.H. Morgan's and E. B. Wilson's teacher). Unlike these great scientists who immediately committed themselves to the grand tour of German universities (the late nineteenth century equivalent of a postdoctoral education), Perkins returned to his alma mater where he followed in his distinguished father's footsteps as a professor of zoology at the University of Vermont. His work on coelenterates was unimaginative and yielded little to science. Perkins sought other outlets and driven by the Protestant ethic of his family, found an opportunity in the newly emerging eugenics movement.

Vermont was humiliated to find itself among the bottom of all states in the number of rejects of its citizens by the WWI draft. Perkins read widely in eugenics and felt it was his duty to study the defectives of Vermont and find ways to improve Vermont's degenerate stock. His readings and conversations lead him initially into hard core negative eugenics. He hired field workers trained at the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor in New York and studied the "cacogenic" families of French Canadians, lakeside "pirates," gypsy-like tribes, and mountain people who were social outcasts. His pedigrees were carefully drawn as cartwheels of economic generations of metastasizing degenerates that were lowering the quality of Vermont life. He became a staunch advocate of compulsory sterilization laws in the mid-1920s and campaigned for them only to fail and find himself looked upon as a Scrooge. He conceived a grand survey of Vermont's families and hoped that he could put together a coalition of reformers, sociologists, psychologists, charity workers, and eugenicists. This he did and his organizational skills brought the funding for a state-wide study.

Perkins learned from his mistakes and backed away from his earlier hard-line views and he supported able staff members like Elin Anderson, who revealed a very different picture of Vermont's genetic worth and its social failures. The survey revealed that Vermont's school children did as well nationally as most states and showed no pattern of massive degeneracy. The study showed that far from being riddled with cacogenic families, these pockets of failure turned out to be complex, many of them doing well when offered education, jobs, and opportunities to live among their fellow citizens not as outcasts but as citizens. Providing children with head-start programs, remedial education, and supporting social services rescued them from their cycles of poverty and alleged degeneracy. Most of all, Perkins swallowed his pride and recognized, even praised, the findings of his staff that his own Old Vermont Protestant families were a source of the prejudice and indifference that created the social class isolation of the problem families of Vermont. Because he was hungry for praise, Perkins tended to ignore, deny or blame others rather than admit his failures. He rewrote history to reflect the change in society's attitudes toward the underclasses of America and he wanted to avoid being tarred with the Nazi brush that now came home to roost at Cold Spring Harbor's Eugenic Record Office.

Perkins nevertheless did damage to several hundred Vermont citizens who were sterilized under its voluntary (not involuntary) sterilization law that finally was enacted and put into practice in the early 1930s. Many families were also stigmatized by his early efforts to identify the alleged defective germplasm of Vermont and they were talked into believing in their own inferiority and the benefits of sterilization. One of the brilliant passages in this book is her discussion of Perkin's own Founder's Day address towards the end of his academic career when he compared fellow Vermonters Benedict Arnold (patriot general and treacherous betrayer of the new Republic) and Ira Allen (founder of the University of Vermont). Both represented able stock but by now Perkins realized that talent was not enough. Values, and the circumstances of our lives, are equally important in shaping how our careers emerge. As Gallagher reveals, his comparison of these two Vermonters was consciously or unconsciously a reflection on his own ambivalent career.



R.S. Cox
American Philosophical Society

From Amazonia to post-nuclear Hiroshima, Jim Neel saw a wide swath of humanity and the world during almost sixty years as a medical geneticist. Spent largely in the employ of the University of Michigan, Neel provides a living thread connecting the genetic incunabula of T. H. Morgan with contemporary molecular genetics, his own work characterized by the use of extensive field research with an eye toward exploring not only the medical implications of genetics, but the intricacies of evolutionary processes and genetic theory. What is most striking about Neel's work, however, is his uncanny ability to position himself where luck might strike, and to capitalize upon it when it did.

Today, Neel is most widely known for a trio of pioneering projects in human population genetics: his work during the 1940s and early 1950s exploring the genetic basis of the haemoglobin diseases thalassemia and sickle cell anemia, his participation in follow up studies on the genetic impact of the atomic bombings in Japan (1946-present), and his population genetic studies of tribal populations in the Amazon (1960s-present). By 1945, his work had already earned sufficient notice to merit an invitation to join the newly established program in human genetics associated with the University of Michigan hospital, acting as chair of the Department of Human Genetics from 1956 to 1982. He remained in Ann Arbor until his death in February, 2000.

As a boy in Depression-era Ohio, Neel developed an avid interest in natural history, carrying him first to his hometown College of Wooster, and then, in 1935, to graduate school at the University of Rochester. At Rochester, he became the first graduate student of Curt Stem, the prominent Drosophila geneticist from the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute who had recently fled the swelling tide of fascism in Germany. Stem inoculated Neel with an affection for the fly, however the inoculation never took deep root. Even while pursuing his dissertation -a study of mutation patterns in fly bristles and the effect of temperature on character expression - Neel suspected that the most fruitful years of fruitfly genetics were past. Even as he accepted a position at Dartmouth following completion of his doctorate in 1939, he began to imagine new futures for himself.

Neel's restlessness soon came to a head. In 1941, while studying at Columbia as a NRC fellow under Theodosius Dobzhansky and L.C. Dunn, Neel began to reevaluate his research priorities. Although concerned by the disrepute cast by eugenics and the reservations of his mentors about the difficulties of working on human populations, he became convinced that the potential benefits of research in human genetics outweighed the risks and decided to commit himself to the endeavor. After briefly taking Milislav Demerec up on an offer to work in the archives of the Eugenics Record Office (which served only to demonstrate the insufficiency of those records for rigorous genetic research), Neel opted to enter medical school to bolster his understanding of the organism to which he would devote the remainder of his professional life.

Thus in the summer of 1942, Neel once again found himself in Rochester, once again in school. With the exigencies of the war, he also found himself in the army, assigned to complete his medical training and await whatever assignment would open. Rather than impeding his plans, however, military service actually created opportunities for the budding medical geneticist. After finishing his degree in 1944, Neel was in the midst of eighteen months of additional training in internal medicine when he met with a double stroke of research fortune -- based on profound misfortune. During the war, as part of the Manhattan Engineering District, Rochester had been one of the centers for research on the somatic and genetic effects of radiation (Neel's old advisor, Stem, was deeply involved, as was his undergraduate mentor, Warren Spencer). After this news came to light during the summer of 1946, Neel mentioned in a casual conversation with a friend that he would like to take part in a follow-up study to determine the genetic effects of the atomic bombings in Japan. His friend, adjutant to Stafford Warren, commanding officer of the Rochester Manhattan District, obviously listened. By November, after entering active service in the Army, Neel was sent to Japan where Dobzhansky remarked, "no doubt a fellow as bright as Jim Neel will find a lot of research to be done."

Based in Hiroshima, Neel was assigned as one member of a five person team to assess the feasibility of long range epidemiologic studies to measure the medical impact on the survivors of the atomic bombings, with Neel given specific responsibility for developing a program for genetics. Since at least the 1920s, geneticists had been aware of the mutagenic potential of ionizing radiation, however the impact on human populations remained uncertain, and the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission and its successor, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation have employed a variety of methodologies and generated enormous quantities of data to address this question. On the somatic end, the ABCC and RERF studies demonstrated significant increases in solid cancers and leukemia among survivors and other implications for those exposed in utero, however demonstration of heritable genetic mutation has been more elusive. As early as the mid1950s, Neel argued that given the best available estimates of radiation exposure during the bombing and the data gathered from the survivors, estimates of the doubling dose for mutation in human populations had been dramatically overstated. In his most complete statement on this matter, The Children of the Atomic Bomb Survivors: A Genetic Study (1991), he and his colleague, William J. Schull, concluded that no statistically significant genetic impact from the atomic bombings had yet been demonstrated. In later years Neel has become a frequent consultant (and, on occasion, expert witness) for governmental and other organizations regarding risk assessment in radiation exposure.

As Neel's ABCC involvement was percolating in 1945-46, so was his involvement with blood. As a third year medical student, he had encountered a patient suffering from Cooley's anemia (thalassemia), a severe and usually fatal disease that was known mainly to afflict persons of Mediterranean ancestry and that was noted to occur as well in a more benign form. Neel's search of the literature and his genetic intuition led him to propose that the two forms of the anemia represented the homozygous and heterozygous conditions of a single genetic malady, and he set out to test his hypothesis. Over the course of the next decade and a half, the story developed to explain the origins of both thalassemia and sickle cell anemia, producing theoretical insights into heterozyote advantage and the spread of genetic mutations in large populations, and indirectly helped to spark the proliferation of biochemical and molecular genetics. Neel's classic population genetic work, combined with the work of Linus Pauling, Harvey Itano, Anthony Allison, and others, had a profound impact on both medical practice and evolutionary theory. In 1960, Neel was recognized for his contributions with receipt of the Lasker Award, for "laying the foundation for the rapid development of research in human genetics."

But by the late 1950s, disinclined to pursue the burgeoning biochemical approach to genetic diseases, Neel imagined a return to the field. What he had in mind was a comprehensive population genetic study of a discrete human population to document breeding structure, genetic diseases, microdifferentiation, rates of spontaneous mutation, and other factors, all with the intent of providing a robust framework for the study of evolutionary change in human populations. Hoping to examine humans under their "natural" conditions, Neel proposed to document a population of "unacculturated" peoples, the further removed from western medicine and culture, the better. To this end in 1962, he began a pilot study of the Xavante Indians in Brazil, though two years later, fortune once again intervened to alter his course. Delayed en route to Brazil by political turmoil, Neel and his team learned of the presence of a larger and apparently less acculturated tribe, the Yanomamo, which became the focal point of his research beginning in 1966.

During the spring of 1999, the American Philosophical Society added the professional papers of James V. Neel to its extensive collections for the history of genetics. The papers include over 150 linear feet of correspondence, manuscripts, research notes, and data, documenting nearly every aspect of Neel's career after 1943 (and spotty documentation prior). Neel was a prolific writer and at times, a prolific correspondent. The collection includes revealing correspondence with Dobzhansky, Stem, Itano, Pauling, Luca Cavalli-Sforza, and, perhaps most of all, Neel's long-term collaborator on the Japanese studies, Jack Schull. Neel's substantial correspondence with anthropologists Napoleon Chagnon and David Maybeffy-Lewis (among others) forms a valuable adjunct to the rich APS collections relating to the indigenous populations of America. With the generous assistance of archivist, Margaret Irwin, the Houston Academy of Medicine has provided the APS with eight reels of microfilm containing their collection of Neel's work with the ABCC.

At the APS, Neel's papers join those of his graduate advisor, Stem, his postdoctoral preceptors Dobzhansky and Dunn, the papers of Milislav Demerec and the Eugenics Record Office, and many colleagues to create a remarkably integrated archive for study of the development of human medical genetics. The Neel Papers are currently in the early stages of processing, and by mid-January, 2000, will be made available for consultation by researchers.