The Second International Congress of Eugenics

Auditorium

Choose a video to learn more about some of the key individuals involved in the Second International Congress of Eugenics, and the impacts as well as reflections of eugenic logics.

 

  • Video 1
  • Video 2
  • Video 3
  • Video 4
  • Video 5
  • Osborn's Opening Address

    Host Milton Reynolds introduces a recital of Henry Osborn’s opening address of the Second International Eugenics Congress.

  • 2nd & 3rd Congress: Part I, Panel 1

    Renowned American Museum of Natural History curator Rob DeSalle, is joined by historian and author of ‘The Guarded Gate’, Dan Okrent, and public health scientist and historian, Mike Yudell. Together they unpack what exactly took place at the Second Congress, its four core themes and aims, and its degree of success in achieving these aims.

  • 2nd & 3rd Congress: Part I, Panel 2

    “How we look: Eugenics, the Second Congress, Immigration, and changing today’s demographics”
    This panel looks at the integral role the eugenics movement more broadly, and the Second Congress in particular, played in shaping the demographics of the country – through the targeted selection and exclusion of certain communities. The first half of this panel session, led by Dan Okrent, with Alan Kraut and Mark Tseng-Putterman, looks at the context of the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act and the lobbying around that act. It considers the part played by the Congress in justifying such an act, and its implications leading up to the Second World War and the denial of entry to certain groups escaping Nazi persecution.

  • How Do You Qualify A Life?

    Christine Bruno reads excerpts from Leonard Darwin’s address to the congress “The Aims and Methods of Eugenical Societies”, followed by a response and reflection reading of “DEAR YOU” by Glenis Redmond.

    Artist note: Glenis Redmond is a BIPOC writer and I want to acknowledge that I am in no way attempting to appropriate that part of her lived experience and culture. I chose DEAR YOU because it spoke to me about the intersectionality of oppression and erasure and the unbreakable spirit that lives within us across generations. Glenis Redmond also identifies as a member of the disability community. As a disabled woman, I see that, feel that and hear that in her visceral and powerful words and am so honored to speak them in fervent opposition to Leonard Darwin’s chillingly ignorant and inhuman dissertation. The title of this sharing comes from the following quote by Glenis Redmond: “How do you qualify a life? By the people who sow into you. And I am an orchard because so many have sown into me.” Thank you for your orchard, Glenis Redmond.

  • Subhadra Das and the many thoughts of Francis Galton

    Subhadra is a historian of science and museum curator. In this video she talks about the most important Victorian scientist you’ve never heard of, and why that fact should concern you.

Image adapted from Lenskjold, Kay C., “Auditorium decorated for the Andrew H. Green Centennial, 1920” AMNH Research Library | Digital Special Collections

Overview

On September 22nd 1921, approximately 600 attendees gathered in the American Museum of Natural History’s Auditorium for the formal opening of the Second International Congress of Eugenics. Henry Fairchild Osborn, President of the American Museum of Natural History who hosted the Second Congress gave the opening address, followed by Major Leonard Darwin, President of the British Eugenics Education Society, and Charles B. Davenport, Director of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, who led American eugenic research efforts.

Henry Fairfield Osborn

Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn was the President of the American Museum of Natural History and Professor of Zoology at Columbia University. Osborn’s research into paleontology human evolution convinced him that human races had fixed distinctive characters and that “pure races” could contribute most to the success of human society as a whole. A very wealthy philanthropist with extensive political connections, Osborn helped organize the Second Congress and curated the new Hall of the Age Man exhibit to champion these views.

Major Leonard Darwin

Dr. Leonard Darwin, the son of the famous naturalist Charles Darwin, was President of the British Eugenics Society and organized the First International Congress. A global eugenics leader, Darwin called on attendees to convince the public that heredity shapes the fate of nations, that everyone should strive to give the next generation the best genes possible, and that governmental regulation should aid in this goal. Otherwise, Darwin warned, the supposedly civilized nations of the world would be undermined by degeneracy from within.

Charles Benedict Davenport

Dr. Charles Benedict Davenport was the founding Director of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor laboratories whose research focused on racial mixing. He also helped form the Race Betterment Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan with Iriving Fisher and John H. Kellogg. Davenport believed that many mental and behavioral traits were hereditary and therefore that “race” determined behavior. Davenport supported the exclusion of what he considered to be inferior peoples from the nation’s “germ plasm” through immigration restriction and sterilization. In pursuit of these goals he amassed as much data about human traits and their expression through family histories as he could to analyze at the Eugenics Record Office.