Charles Davenport

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Charles Davenport
Charles Benedict Davenport.jpg
Charles Benedict Davenport, ca. 1929.
Born (1866-06-01)June 1, 1866
Stamford, Connecticut
Died February 18, 1944(1944-02-18) (aged 77)
Cold Spring Harbor
Nationality American
Fields Eugenicist and biologist
Institutions Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Alma mater Harvard University

Charles Benedict Davenport (June 1, 1866 – February 18, 1944) was a prominent American eugenicist and biologist. He was one of the leaders of the American eugenics movement. Eugenics is the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics) [1]


Davenport was born in Stamford, Connecticut, to Amzi Benedict Davenport, an abolitionist of Puritan stock, and his wife Jane Joralemon Dimon (of English, Dutch and Italian ancestry). His mother’s strong beliefs tended to rub off onto Charles and he followed the example of his mother.[2] During the summer months, Charles and his family lived in Brooklyn due to his father’s job. Due to Davenport's father's strong belief in Protestantism, as a young boy Charles was tutored at home. This came about in order for Charles to learn the values of hard work and education. When he was not studying, Charles worked as a janitor and errand boy for his father's business.[2] He attended Harvard University, earning a Ph.D in biology in 1892 and married Gertrude Crotty, a zoology graduate, in 1894.

Later on, Davenport became a professor of zoology at Harvard. He became one of the most prominent American biologists of his time, pioneering new quantitative standards of taxonomy. Davenport had a tremendous respect for the biometric approach to evolution pioneered by Francis Galton and Karl Pearson, and was involved in Pearson's journal, Biometrika. However, after the re-discovery of Gregor Mendel's laws of heredity, he moved on to become a prominent supporter of Mendelian inheritance.

In 1904,[2] Davenport became director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory,[3] where he founded the Eugenics Record Office in 1910. During his time at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Davenport began a series of investigations into aspects of the inheritance of human personality and mental traits, and over the years he generated hundreds of papers and several books on the genetics of alcoholism, pellagra (later shown to be due to a vitamin deficiency), criminality, feeblemindedness, seafaringness, bad temper, intelligence, manic depression, and the biological effects of race crossing.[2] Before Charles Davenport came across eugenics, he studied math. He came to know these subjects through Professors Karl Pearson and gentleman amateur Francis Galton. He met them in London. Upon meeting them, he fell in love with the subject matter. In 1901, Biometrika, a journal, which Charles Davenport was a co editor of, gave him the opportunity to use the skills that he has learned. Davenport became an advocate of the biometrical approach for the rest of his life.[2] He began to study human heredity, and much of his effort was later turned to promoting eugenics.[4] His 1911 book, Heredity in Relation to Eugenics, was used as a college textbook for many years. The year after it was published Davenport was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Davenport's work with eugenics caused much controversy among many other eugenicists and scientists. Although his writings were about eugenics, their findings were very simplistic and out of touch with the findings from genetics. This caused much racial and class bias. Only his most ardent admirers regarded it as truly scientific work.[2] During Davenport's tenure at Cold Spring Harbor, several reorganizations took place there. In 1918 the Carnegie Institution of Washington took over funding of the ERO with an additional handsome endowment from Mary Harriman.[2]

Davenport founded the International Federation of Eugenics Organizations (IFEO) in 1925, with Eugen Fischer as chairman of the Commission on Bastardization and Miscegenation (1927). Davenport aspired to found a World Institute for Miscegenations, and "was working on a 'world map' of the 'mixed-race areas,[5] which he introduced for the first time at a meeting of the IFEO in Munich in 1928."[6]

Together with his assistant Morris Steggerda, Davenport attempted to develop a comprehensive quantitative approach to human miscegenation. The results of their research was presented in the book Race Crossing in Jamaica (1929), which attempted to provide statistical evidence for biological and cultural degradation following interbreeding between white and black populations. Today it is considered a work of scientific racism, and was criticized in its time for drawing conclusions which stretched far beyond (and sometimes counter to) the data it presented.[7] The entire eugenics movement was criticized for being supposedly based on racist and classist assumptions set out to prove the unfitness of wide sections of the American population which Davenport and his followers considered "degenerate", using methods criticized even by British eugenicists as unscientific.[8] In 1907 and 1910 Charles Davenport and his wife wrote four essays that pertained to human hereditary genes. These essays included hair color, eye color, and skin pigmentation. These essays helped pave the way for eugenics to be taught in class. Many of the topics and discussions belonged to Dr. and Mrs. Charles Davenport but the information for one essay in particular came from friends of theirs involved in the same topic. Many problems occurred when they started to use other information. As Davenport and other eugenicist professors and experts began to and continued to study more in-depth eugenics, they had to start to come up with original idea so as not to conflict with past ideas.[2]

After Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany, Davenport maintained connections with various Nazi institutions and publications, both before and during World War II. He held editorial positions at two influential German journals, both of which were founded in 1935, and in 1939 he wrote a contribution to the Festschrift for Otto Reche, who became an important figure in the plan to "remove" those populations considered "inferior" in eastern Germany.[9] In a 1938 Letter to the Editor of Life magazine, he included both Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Goebbels as examples of crippled statesmen who, motivated by their physical defects, have "led revolutions and aspired to dictatorships while burdening their country with heavy taxes and reducing its finances to chaos."[10] He died of pneumonia in 1944.

Eugenics creed

As quoted in the NAS Biographical Memoir of Charles Benedict Davenport by Oscar Riddle, the Eugenics creed is as follows:

  • "I believe in striving to raise the human race to the highest plane of social organization, of cooperative work and of effective endeavor."
  • "I believe that I am the trustee of the germ plasm that I carry; that this has been passed on to me through thousands of generations before me; and that I betray the trust if (that germ plasm being good) I so act as to jeopardize it, with its excellent possibilities, or, from motives of personal convenience, to unduly limit offspring."
  • "I believe that, having made our choice in marriage carefully, we, the married pair, should seek to have 4 to 6 children in order that our carefully selected germ plasm shall be reproduced in adequate degree and that this preferred stock shall not be swamped by that less carefully selected."
  • "I believe in such a selection of immigrants as shall not tend to adulterate our national germ plasm with socially unfit traits."
  • "I believe in repressing my instincts when to follow them would injure the next generation."


  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7[dead link]
  3. "Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory". History. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  5. Kühl, Stefan, "Die Internationale der Rassisten." Aufstieg und Niedergang der internationalen Bewegung für Eugenik und rassenhygiene im 20. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt/Main 1997, p. 81.
  6. Hans-Walter Schmul, The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics, 1927-1945, Springer Science+Business Media, 2008, p.115.
  7. Aaron Gillette, Eugenics and the Nature-Nurture Debate in the Twentieth Century (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p. 123-24.
  8. Black, War Against the Weak, p. 99.
  9. Kuhl, S. "The Nazi Connection; Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism" (New York, Oxford UP, 1994).
  10. "Letters to the Editor". Life. 1938-06-13. p. 2. Retrieved December 10, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Selected works


  • Observations on Budding in Paludicella and Some Other Bryozoa (1891)
  • On Urnatella Gracilis (1896)
  • Experimental Morphology (1897–99)
  • Statistical Methods, with Special References to Biological Variation (1899; second edition, 1904)
  • Introduction to Zoölogy, with Gertrude Crotty Davenport (1900)


  • Inheritance in Poultry, Carnegie Institution Publication, No, 52 (Washington)


  • Heredity of Eye-Color in Man, Science, 26:589-592. (With Gertrude C. Davenport.)


  • Heredity of Hair-Form in Man, Amer. Nat. 42:341-349. (With Gertrude C. Davenport.) The American Breeders' Association. Science, 27:-4i3-4i7.
  • Degeneration, Albinism and Inbreeding, Science, 28 :454-455.


  • Inheritance of Characteristics in Domestic Fowl, Carnegie Institution Publication, No. 121 (Washington)
  • Heredity of Hair Color in Man, Amer. Nat., 43:193-211. (With Gertrude C. Davenport.)
  • Fit and Unfit Matings, Bull. Amer. Acad. Med., 11:657-67O. 4 figures.


  • Eugenics—The Science of Human Improvement by Better Breeding, Henry Holt & Co., N. Y. 35 pp.
  • Heredity of Skin Pigment in Man, Amer. Nat., 44:641-731. (With Gertrude C. Davenport.)


  • Euthenics and Eugenics, Pop. Sci. Mo., 78:16-20.
  • Heredity of Skin Pigment in Man, Amer. Nat., 44:641-731. (With Gertrude C. Davenport.)


  • The Origin and Control of Mental Defectiveness, Pop. Sci. Mo., 80:87-90.
  • The Nams. The Feeble-Minded As Country Dwellers, The Survey, 27:1844-1845.
  • The Inheritance of Physical and Mental Traits of Man and Their Application to Eugenics, Chapter VIII in "Heredity and Eugenics." The University of Chicago Press, 269-288.
  • The Geography of Man in Relation to Eugenics, Chapter IX in "Heredity and Eugenics." The University of Chicago Press, 289-310.
  • The Hill Folk. Report on a Rural Community of Hereditary Defectives, Eugenics Record Office Mem. No. I, 56 pp. 4 text figures, 3 charts. (With Florence H. Danielson.)
  • The Nam Family. A Study in Cacogenics, Eugenics Record Office Mem. No. 2, 85 pp. 4 text figures, 4 charts. (With Arthur H. Estabrook.)
  • How Did Feeble-Mindedness Originate in the First Instance?, The Training School, 9:87-90.
  • Eugenics in Its Relation to Social Problems, The N. Y. Assoc. for Improving the Condition of the Poor. Pub. No. 70, 7 pp.


  • Heredity, Culpability, Praiseworthiness, Punishment and Reward, Pop. Sci. Mo., 82:33-39.
  • State Laws Limiting Marriage Selection Examined in the Light of Eugenics, Eugenics Record Office Bull. No. 9, 66 pp. 2 charts, 3 tables.


  • Skin Color of Mulattoes, Jour. Hered., 5:556-558.


  • Inheritance of Temperament, Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med., 12:182.
  • The Feebly Inhibited. I. Violent Temper and Its Inheritance, Jour. Nerv. Mental Dis. 42:593-628. Also, Eugenics Record Office Bull. No. 12.
  • The Feebly Inhibited: (A). Nomadism or the Wandering Impulse With Special Reference to Heredity. (B). Inheritance of Temperament, Carnegie Inst. Wash. Pub. 236, 158 pp. 89 figures.
  • Field Work an Indispensable Aid to State Care of the Socially Inadequate, Read at 42nd Annual Session of the Nat. Conf. of Charities and Corrections, May 15, 16-19.
  • The Racial Element in National Vitality. Pop. Sci. Mo., 86:331-333.
  • A Dent in the Forehead, Jour. Hered. 6:163-164.
  • The Heredity of Stature, Science, 42 :495.
  • Hereditary Fragility of Bone (Fragilitas Osseus, Osteopsathyrosis), Eugenics Record Office Bull. No. 14, 31 pp. (With H. S. Conard.)
  • How to Make a Eugenical Family Study. Eugenics Record Office Bull, No. 13, 35 pp. 4 charts and 2 tables. (With H. H. Laughlin.)


  • Heredity of Albinism. Jour. Hered., 7:221-223.Introduction in "The Jukes in 1915" by Arthur H. Estabrook. Carnegie Inst. Wash. Pub. 240.
  • Heredity of Stature. (Abstract), Proc. XIX Internat. Congress of Americanists.


  • The Effect of Race Intermingling, Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc, 56 :364-368.


  • A Comparison of White and Colored Troops in Respect to Incidence of Disease, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 5:58-67. (With A. G. Love.)


  • Heredity of Constitutional Mental Disorders, Psychol. Bull., 17 :300-310. Reprinted as Eugenics Record Office Bull. No. 20. 11 pp.


  • Comparative Social Traits of Various Races, School and Society, 14:344-348.


  • Multiple Sclerosis from the standpoint of geographic distribution and race. Arch Neur Psych. 1922;8(1):51-58


  • Comparative Social Traits of Various Races, Second Study. Jour. Applied Psychol., 7:127-134. (With Laura T. Craytor.)
  • The Deviation of Idiot Boys From Normal Boys in Bodily Proportions, Proc. 47th Ann. Session Amer. Assoc. for Study of Feeble-minded: 8 pp. (With Bertha E. Martin.)
  • Hereditary Influence of the Immigrant, Jour. Nat. Inst. Soc. Sci., 8 :48-49.


  • What Proportion of Feeblemindedness Is Hereditary? Investigation and Reports, Assoc. Res. Nerv. Mental Dis., 3 :295-299.
  • Notes on Physical Anthropology of Australian Aborigines and Black-White Hybrids, Amer. Jour. Phys. Anthrop., 73-94.


  • Human Metamorphosis, Amer. Jour. Phys. Anthrop.. 9 :2O5-232.
  • Notes Sur l'Anthropologie des Aborigines Australiens et des Metis Blancs et Noirs (Traduction de Mile. M. Renaud.), Bull. de la Societe d'Etude des formes humaines. Annee 4 :3-22.
  • The Skin Colors of the Races of Mankind, Nat. Hist. 26 :44-49.
  • A Remarkable Family of Albinos, Eugenical News, 11 :5o-52. (With Grace Allen.)


  • Heredity of Human Eye Color, Bibliographica Genetica, 3:443-463.


  • Control of Universal Mongrelism. How a Eugenist Looks at the Matter of Marriage, Good Health, 10-11 (June).
  • Crime, Heredity and Environment, Jour. Hered., 19 :307-313.
  • Nasal Breadth in Negro x White Crossing, Eugenical News, 13:36-37. (With Morris Steggerda.)
  • Race Crossing in Jamaica, Sci. Mo., 27 :225-238.
  • Are There Genetically Based Mental Differences Between the Races? Science, 68 :628.


  • Do Races Differ in Mental Capacity? Human Biol., 1.
  • Laws Against Cousin Marriages; Would Eugenicists Alter Them? Eugenics, 2 122-23.
  • Race Crossing in Jamaica, Carnegie Inst. Wash. Pub. 395. IX -f- 516 pp. 29 plates. (With Morris Steggerda.)


  • The Mingling of Races, Chap. XXIII in "Human Biology and Racial Welfare," ed. by E. V. Cowdry, 553-565.
  • Intermarriage Between Races; A Eugenic or Dysgenic Force? Eugenics, 3:58-61. (Discussion by C. B. D., Hrdlicka, Newman and Herskowitz.)
  • Interracial Tests of Mental Capacity, In Proc. and Papers of 9th International Congress of Psychology.
  • Some Criticisms of "Race Crossing in Jamaica", Science, 72:501-502.


  • The Value of Genealogical Investigation to the Promotion of the Welfare of Our Families and Our Nation, American Pioneer Records, 2:143-144.
  • Better Human Strains, 25th Annual Report Board of Visitors, Letchworth Village, 49-51.
  • How Early in Ontogeny Do Human Racial Characters Show Themselves? Eugen Fischer-Festband, Zeitschr. f. Morph. u. Anthrop., 34 :76-78.


  • Influence of Economic Conditions on the Mixture of Races, Zeitschrift fir Rassenkunde, 1 :17-19.


  • An Improved Technique for Measuring Head Features, Growth, 1 :3~5.


  • Genetics of Human Inter-Racial Hybrids, Current Science. Special Number on "Genetics" (March) 34-36.


  • The Genetical Basis of Resemblance in the Form of the Nose, in Kultur and Rasse, Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag Otto Reaches, pp. 60–64. J. F. Lehmann's Verlag München/Berlin.


  • Developmental Curve of Head Height/Head Length Ratio and Its Inheritance, Amer. Jour. Phys. Anthrop., 26:187-190.


  • Dr. Storr's Facial Type of the Feeble-Minded, Amer. Jour. Men. Def., 48:339-344.

Further reading

  • Spiro, Jonathan P. (2009). Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant. Univ. of Vermont Press. ISBN 978-1-58465-715-6. Lay summary (29 September 2010).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Edwin Black, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, (New York / London: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003)
  • Elof Axel Carlson, "Times of triumph, Times of Doubt, science and the battle for the public trust", (Cold Spring Harbor; Cold Spring Harbor Press, 2006) ISBN 0-87969-805-5

External links

See also