Image adapted from“The second International Exhibition of Eugenics held September 22 to October 22, 1921, in connection with the Second International Congress of Eugenics in the American Museum of Natural History, New York : an account of the organization of the exhibition, the classification of the exhibits, the list of exhibitors, and a catalog and description of the exhibits” by Harry H. Laughlin.
With funding from Mary Harriman and the support of the American Museum of Natural History, Superintendent of the Eugenics Record Office Harry H. Laughlin temporarily transformed Forestry Hall into Eugenics Hall from September 22 to October 22, 1921. Eugenics Record Office staff guided an estimated 5,000 – 10,000 visitors through 131 exhibits from around the world that championed the promise of selective human breeding.
Laughlin organized the Eugenics Hall to reinforce the logic of the Second Congress, supposedly connecting scientific research to social policy. Displays on the east side of Eugenics Hall explored research on genetics and heredity opposite displays on the west side dedicated to race science, immigration, and public policy.
Next to the Eugenics Record Office information booth at the southern entrance to the hall was Robert Tait McKenzie’s bronze sculpture The Athlete, based on the measurements of the “50 strongest men of Harvard” to illustrate the promise of better breeding. At the northern end of the hall sat Jane Davenport’s plaster sculpture The Average American Male “based on the proportions of 100,000 white soldiers” drafted into World War One as tabulated by the Eugenics Record Office to suggest the dangers of race degeneracy.
Eugenics Hall engaged in divisive policy debates. At the time, many state courts and legislatures were reconsidering their sterilization laws and Congress was considering further restricting immigration. When Eugenics Hall closed at the American Museum of Natural History, Laughlin brought many of the displays down to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. as part of his efforts to convince Congress to enact supposedly eugenically beneficial legislation.
Many observers at the time recognized that many of the theories advocated at the Second Congress were unscientific and dangerous, including some attendees themselves. This site puts selected images and quotes from the Eugenics Hall exhibit catalog alongside those of contemporary critics.