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