How Are We Going to Control These Kids? Biology Textbooks in the 1940s

By 1940, biology’s core eugenics-based narrative had been dramatically weakened. Yet the demand for a curriculum that could control adolescent sexuality, had, if anything, only increased since the 1920s. Worries about what their sons and daughters were getting up to in the backseats of their new cars or in the sketchy motor courts popping up at the edge of town provided a fertile landscape for experimentation, even in a down market.

Read more

Where’d Hugo Go?

Darwin and De VriesDutch botanist Hugo de Vries gained global fame in the first decades of the twentieth century for being the guy who finally figured out how evolution worked. Today he is all but forgotten. Should he stay that way? Or are their good reasons to remember “dead end” scientific theories and the people who loved them?

Read more

Venus, Mars and Marston Bates

Dec 16, 2012 Most of us think of conservation and ecology as more or less the same thing, with conservation the first step toward the restoration of an ecologically balanced state of nature. But through the first half of the twentieth century, the two words signified quite different things. In the teens, 20s and 30s,…

Read more

Samuel J. Holmes’ Library

August 27, 2012 Samuel J. Holmes was a respected professor of zoology at Berkeley from 1912 until his death in 1964. He was also, and remained throughout his life, an unapologetic eugenicist. In fairness, life scientists who came of age in the zeros and teens were all steeped in eugenics, and many became fans and…

Read more

Evolution of an Icon

February 21, 2012 The “Nervous Icon” has mesmerized me for nearly three years (see Parts I, II and III). I first spotted the image in the early textbooks of George W. Hunter, including A Civic Biology (1914), famous as the central exhibit in the Scopes trial. It stood out because it gave off such a…

Read more

The Nervous Icon – Part III

January 8, 2012 “The Nervous Icon” is my name for an illustration of the human nervous system that found its way into dozens of anatomy, physiology and biology textbooks published between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s. I began tracing its history in The Nervous Icon – Part I, where I touched on the issues of…

Read more

Database Update: Eugenics in College Textbooks

November 24, 2011 Well, I just spent a fair portion of Thanksgiving morning updating the Textbook History database of Eugenics in College Biology Textbooks. In addition to correcting more than a few embarrassing misspellings and broken links, I’ve added commentary on two later editions of Biology by Claude A. Villee (1967 and 1972), the second…

Read more

The Eugenic Zombie in a Graveyard of Textbooks

August 7, 2011 During the first decades of the twentieth century, WASP elites in the U.S. got themselves into quite a tizzy about sex and race. Metaphysical threats, like the death of “virgin forests,” the “darkening tide” of immigration and the dreaded “white plague” of Tuberculosis, combined with economic threats, like the new permanent income…

Read more

Eugenics in 20th Century College Biology Textbooks

Updated 30 July 2011 I’d been trying for a couple of months to kick out an article on a curious college biology textbook, The World of Life by Wolfgang F. Pauli (who should not be confused with the more famous physicist, Wolfgang E. Pauli). Published in 1949, The World of Life had long fascinated me,…

Read more

Database: Eugenics in College Biology Textbooks

TitleDateAuthor(s)PublisherEugenics 0-5 An Introduction to General Biology1904Sedgwick, William T. (M) MIT; Wilson, Edmund B. (M) ColumbiaHenry Holt and Company, New York0 No mention Biology1912Conn, Herbert William (M) WeslyanSilver, Burdett, Boston0 No mention The Principles of Biology1913Hamaker, J. I. (M) Randolph-Macon Woman’s CollegeP. Blakiston’s Son and Company, Philadelphia 0 No mention Biology1914Calkins, Gary N. (M) ColumbiaHenry…

Read more

The Aggressive Mutation of Post-War Eugenics

June 25, 2011 A weird thing happened in the years right after World War II: new college-level biology textbooks, rather than dropping the subject of eugenics, doubled down and began to defend the ideology with more aggressive rhetoric and moments of near-pornographic spectacle. Biology: And Its Relation to Mankind by Baylor graduate and Stetson University…

Read more

What’s Buried in the Bentley Glass Archive?

January 6, 2011 Historian Audra Wolff has completed the Herculean task of creating a folder-level list of the contents of the Bentley Glass archive at the APS – all 90 linear feet of it! See her note on Facebook. Interested scholars are invited to email Wolfe for a copy. Glass apparently saved every scrap of…

Read more

Karl Sax and ‘The Population Explosion’

November 30, 2010 Another quick post ahead of longer article on pre- and post-WWII population rhetoric. This from Karl Sax, The Population Explosion, the November 1956 entry in the Foreign Policy Association’s well-regarded “Headline Series” (click pic to view). Sax is a very interesting transitional figure. Though he titled his 1945 article in The Science…

Read more

The Population Bomb v1.0

November 23, 2010 I’m planning to write a longer piece over the next few days on the transition in biology textbook from a narrative that climaxed with the creeping danger of eugenic decay to one that warned of the imminent cataclysm of a “population bomb.” Many of you are no doubt familiar with Paul Ehrlich’s…

Read more

Purity, Pornography and Eugenics in the 1930s (Part II)

September 26, 2010. Continued from PART I. EUGENICS AS EROTICA In the first science-drunk decades of the twentieth century in the United States, when open discussion of sexuality was severely circumscribed by custom and law, efforts to understand and control sexuality – all the institution-funded studies of prostitution, journals on birth control, books on eugenics,…

Read more

Purity, Pornography and Eugenics in the 1930s (Part I)

Revised 30 May 2016 As far as the U.S. Post Office was concerned in 1930, birth control and pornography were one in the same thing. An 1873 federal anti-obscenity statue known as the Comstock Act prohibited the mailing of both dirty pictures and “rubber goods.” According to scholars, this act, along with associated state regulations…

Read more

The Lost Lessons of ‘Silent Spring’

July 28, 2010 Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is considered by many the genesis event of the modern environmental movement. What is sometimes lost to our collective memory is that Silent Spring, Carson’s “little book of horrors,” as it was derisively labeled by one reviewer, (Williams 296) was a direct challenge to a long-dominant view of…

Read more

Race, Art and Evolution

June 22, 2010 These reconstructions of Java Man (Pithecanthropus), Neanderthal Man and Cro-Magnon Man were created around 1915 by Columbia University physical anthropologist J. H. McGregor for the American Museum of Natural History. They were designed not just to impress visitors with the wonders of science, but also to promote the eugenic theories of the…

Read more

If Kinsey’s Textbook Could Talk …

Updated 17 July 2010 Alfred C. Kinsey’s 1926 An Introduction to Biology was the first American high school biology textbook organized not against authoritarian concepts of progress, control and exploitation, but instead reflective themes of unity, interdependence and conservation. Anticipating concerns that would not enter the greater public consciousness for decades, Kinsey stressed the “ecologic…

Read more

Eugenics in 20th Century High School Biology Textbooks

February 10, 2010 The chart below tracks the relative priority of the topic of eugenics in the American high school biology curriculum. It is based on review of 80 textbooks published between 1907 and 1969. Though there are exceptions, as a rule, textbooks first published in the years prior to 1938 were generally more eugenic…

Read more

Database: Eugenics in High School Biology Textbooks

TitleDateAuthor(s)PublisherTypeEugenics 0-5 Elements of Biology1907Hunter, George WilliamAmerican Book Company, New YorkPhylogenetic0 Applied Biology1911Bigelow, Maurice A; Bigelow, Anna NMacmillan, New YorkUnity of Life0 Essentials of Biology1911Hunter, George WilliamAmerican Book Company, New YorkPhylogenetic1 Domestication and selective breeding introduced at end of Zoology section. Elementary Biology: Plant, Animal, Human1912Peabody, James Edward; Hunt, Arthur EllsworthMacmillan, New YorkPhylogenetic0 A Civic…

Read more

Review: ‘Galileo Goes to Jail’ by Ronald L. Numbers (ed.)

January 6, 2010 Ronald L. Numbers has long been at war with the war metaphor. For more than two decades, Numbers has argued that conceptualizing the relationship between religion and science as a battle between powerful opposing forces is “neither useful nor tenable.” In Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion…

Read more

Haeckel’s Embryos in High School and College

Revised 14 February 2010 It is hard to deny that Haeckel’s embryos are an “icon of evolution,” true even if “icon” now evokes Jonathan Wells’ “travesty” of a book (see Matzke). The embryos were reproduced in a majority of high school and college biology textbooks from the mid-1930s through at least the 1960s (See table).…

Read more

Haeckel’s Embryos Database

Corrected February 2, 2010 This table includes data on the inclusion (or not) of variations of Ernst Haeckel’s grid of vertebrate embryos in 91 American high school and college biology textbooks published between 1907 and 1969.

Read more

The Accidental Advocate

The Revolution Will Be Animated by Marine Lormant Sebag. Historians, bloggers and critics can “reuse” bits of culture under “fair use.” But creative artists must secure the rights to any work they “sample.” Why is that? This is a question not so easily answered. The documentary linked above features Nina Paley, writer, animator and director…

Read more

20th Century High School Biology Textbooks Reviewed and Ranked

Updated 19 December 2010 A database of 82 American high school biology textbooks, from Elements of Biology (1907) through Modern Biology (1969). Each entry includes a brief observational note and a 0-5 ranking based on a qualitative assessment of the presentation of the topic of evolution. The table also includes title, copyright date, author(s) and…

Read more

The Topic of Evolution in Secondary Schools Revisited

Updated 15 February 2010 A new analysis of high school biology textbooks shows that emphasis on the topic of evolution decreased sharply in the decade ahead of the Scopes trial (1925). However, contrary to the conventional scholarly view [1], relative priority of the topic retuned to pre-Scopes levels by 1935 and did not decrease significantly…

Read more

Happy Birthday, Origin

November 24, 2009 As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, I thought I’d take the opportunity to note that though the image of Darwin we share today, that tired but steadfast symbol of rationality and science, dates back only to the 1950s, not 1850s (see Janet…

Read more

After Scopes, Black Was The New Grey

November 18, 2009 The Scopes trial represented both a crisis and an opportunity for biology textbook authors and publishers. George W. Hunter, author of the textbook at the center of the trial, was caught flat-footed. He and his publisher, the American Book Company, were midway through a scheduled revision to Civic Biology when the Scopes…

Read more

Biology Textbooks Before Scopes (Updated)

November 8, 2009 [List updated to include Applied Biology (1911) and Practical Biology (1916)] Google has now digitized all of the most important and popular American high school biology textbooks published before 1923. Though this cut off date, dictated by current copyright law, prevents easy review of a few significant “pre-Scopes” textbooks – specifically Henry…

Read more

Kroeber and Wolff’s Excellent Adventures

November 5, 2009 Published in 1938, Adventures With Livings Things was one of the most comprehensive, most far-sighted American high school biology textbooks of the century. It was also one of the most challenging. And in terms of commercial success and influence, perhaps one of the most disappointing. Authored by accomplished New York City educators…

Read more

Yikes! I’m a Hit with IDers

November 5, 2009 Traffic to this site spiked today. A quick look at the web stats showed why … a positive mention on the popular ID blog Uncommon Descent. I’m flattered. I guess. Well, since I have the attention of so many, let me state my position clearly. Evolution happened. Happens. It doesn’t mean anything,…

Read more

Adventure! Domination! Biology!

October 6, 2009 These images both depict ceremonially scarred women, face on, naked at least to the waist. The one on the left is from a popular college textbook from the 1940s. The one on the right is from a Men’s Adventure magazine, otherwise known as a “sweat” or “armpit” pulp, from the 1950s. In…

Read more

Reform Eugenics and the Gender Bomb

September 13, 2009 Amram Scheinfeld’s 1939 You and Heredity was a bestseller, a hit not only with the general public, but also with life scientists. It was rightly lauded as an excellent layperson’s primer on the state-of-the-art in human genetics and heredity, and a serious critique of the racist, nativist and even anti-homosexual sentiments common…

Read more

H. W. Conn’s ‘Communistic’ Challenge to Eugenics

August 21, 2009 Between 1907 and 1914, 12 states passed eugenic sterilization laws. As Paul A. Lombardo details so well in Three Generations, No Imbeciles, enactment of these statutes was driven by a realtively small number of lawmakers, self-promoting policy enthusiasts and a new class of bureaucrats, the directors of institutions for the “feebleminded.” These…

Read more

The Evolution of Textbooks: 1930s Edition

August 8, 2009 The 1930s were a time of remarkable innovation in the development of high school biology. As the subject grew in popularity to become the standard 10th grade science in the United States, textbook authors and publishers, in a wild race to define the curriculum and carve out market share, introduced new organizational…

Read more

Making Sense of Bentley Glass

July 4, 2009 In its obituary, the Washington Post described Bentley Glass (1906-2005) as a “peripatetic figure in the 1950s and 1960s,” a man who seemed to be everywhere and advising everyone. In other obituaries Glass was described as “provocative” and “outspoken.” Editors of course made note of Glass’ more controversial comments, such as his…

Read more

The Day Eugenics Died

July 3, 2009 I was not taught much of the history eugenics in school, but I somehow absorbed that it was an “old” idea, one that had been thoroughly discredited once the horrors of the Nazis were exposed. So it came as a bit of a surprise to find that many American high school and…

Read more

The Nervous Icon – Part II

June 23, 2009 (This entry continues the story begun in The Nervous Icon – Part I) The image in question is a stylized view of the human central nervous system. It appeared in what is arguably the very first modern American biology textbook, George W. Hunter’s 1907 Elements of Biology published by the American Book…

Read more

Bentley Glass’ 1949 Introduction

June 12, 2009 Bentley Glass was proving a hard character to introduce cold in a blog. Then, just the other day, I found a key. A search on Abebooks turned up a 1949 Houghton Mifflin text I’d never heard of, The World of Life by Wolfgang F. Pauli. Curious, I ordered it. What do you…

Read more

Classroom Biology: Before and After the Bomb

May 26, 2009 Biology textbook authors in the first decades of the twentieth century, exploiting cultural anxieties fanned by Madison Grant, Henry Fairfield Osborn, Paul Popenoe and other eugenic theorists, helped undercut democracy and shore up the status quo by “confirming” suspicions that the “strongest” weren’t breeding, the “weakest” weren’t dying and that workers who…

Read more

The Nervous Icon – Part I

May 20, 2009 It is classical in pose and commands its stage. A black silhouette shot through with delicate white lines on a page dressed only with a pedestal-like caption that reads, “The central cerebro-spinal nervous system.” This iconic image appeared in what may fairly be considered the first modern biology textbook, George W. Hunter’s…

Read more

Marston Bates’ Moment of Zen

May 16, 2009 Though Rachel Carson is usually credited for raising the public’s awareness of ecology, as Marion Clawson noted, it was Marston Bates’ 1960 book, The Forest and the Sea, not Silent Spring, that made “ecology a household word.” Though remembered today for his very quotable quotes,” Bates was a serious critic who helped…

Read more

The Case of the Disappearing Darwin

May 15, 2009 It’s a powerful symbol of capitulation: the straight on, serious portrait of Charles Darwin, the wizened, white bearded author of the Origin of Species and father of modern biology, was stripped from the frontispiece of a popular high school textbook, replaced by, of all things, a cartoon of the human digestive tract.…

Read more

Alfred Kinsey: Teaching Eugenics and Evolution

May 14, 2009 Alfred Kinsey, famous for his studies of human sexuality, was also a pioneer in the teaching of biology. Kinsey’s 1926 textbook, An Introduction to Biology (reissued with minor revisions in 1933 and 1938 as A New Introduction to Biology) is considered one of the best biology textbooks of the era. Kinsey, it…

Read more

James Reid, Ella Thea Smith and G. G. Simpson

May 12, 2009 James M. Reid, an editor at Harcourt Brace from 1924 to 1960, played a crucial role in the history of biology textbooks in the United States. In his 1969 autobiography, An Adventure in Textbooks, Reid discussed how he helped Ella Thea Smith bring her homemade textbook, complete with its thorough discussion of…

Read more

“Darwin and the Textbooks” (1966) by Peter D. Miller

May 12, 2009 Judith Grabiner and Peter Miller’s seminal article on the treatment of the topic of evolution in American high school textbooks, “Effects of the Scopes Trial” (1974), was based partially on Peter Miller’s 1966 Harvard honors thesis, “Darwin and the Textbooks.” Miller’s thesis is interesting as it was among the first papers to…

Read more

Ella Thea Smith’s ‘Exploring Biology’

March 22, 2009 Ella Thea Smith was the author of the second most popular high school biology textbook in the United States in the 1950s, Exploring Biology. At the height of its popularity it commanded roughly 25% of the market. Exploring Biology was first published in 1938, and was revised in 1943, ’49, ’54, ’59…

Read more

How Are We Going to Control These Kids? Biology Textbooks in the 1940s

By 1940, biology’s core eugenics-based narrative had been dramatically weakened. Yet the demand for a curriculum that could control adolescent sexuality, had, if anything, only increased since the 1920s. Worries about what their sons and daughters were getting up to in the backseats of their new cars or in the sketchy motor courts popping up at the edge of town provided a fertile landscape for experimentation, even in a down market.

Pre-Scopes Textbooks Coming Into View

As of January 1, 2019, copyrighted works from 1923 are now in the public domain, including 3 important biology textbooks.

Henry Fairfield Osborn and the Tragic Legacy of Piltdown Man

Piltdown man’s dramatic entry into textbooks starting in the mid-1930s was a reactionary effort by Henry Fairfield Osborn to infiltrate the debate on human origins and freeze in place his favored ideas of human evolution and the necessity of eugenic management. The success of his strategy is an American tragedy.

Eugenics in High School and College Texts Graphed

The relative priority of the topic of eugenics in the American biology curriculum graphed based on direct examination of 83 high school biology textbooks and 43 college-level biology textbooks published in the United States between 1904 and 1973. (Also see associated database).

Where’d Hugo Go?

Dutch botanist Hugo de Vries gained global fame in the first decades of the twentieth century for being the guy who finally figured out how evolution worked. Today he is all but forgotten. Darwin and De VriesShould he stay that way? Or are their good reasons to remember “dead end” scientific theories and the people who loved them?

Venus, Mars and Marston Bates

Most of us think of conservation and ecology as more or less the same thing, with conservation the first step toward the restoration of an ecologically balanced state of nature. But through the first half of the twentieth century, the two words signified quite different things.

Samuel J. Holmes’ Library

Samuel J. Holmes was a respected professor of zoology at Berkeley from 1912 until his death in 1964. He was also, and remained throughout his life, an unapologetic eugenicist.

I speak to you through electrical language: traveling into the nineteenth century with the “nervous icon”

MasturbationMadnessTracing the history if a single illustration used in textbooks and popular anatomies throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries reveals surprising connections between the seemingly disparate topics of printing technology, print piracy, electricity, telegraphy, spirituality, abolition, and that most central of nineteenth century anxieties, masturbation.

Evolution of an Icon

The “Nervous Icon” has mesmerized me for nearly three years (see Parts I, II and III).

The Nervous Icon – Part III

“The Nervous Icon” is my name for an illustration of the human nervous system that found its way into dozens of anatomy, physiology and biology textbooks published between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s. I began tracing its history in The Nervous Icon – Part I, where I touched on the issues of artistry, copyright, and mechanical reproduction in science textbooks. I followed up a month later in The Nervous Icon – Part II, where I went “over my head” into the history of encyclopedias and the tension caused by the conflict between the assumption that cultural artifacts were the property of the dominating imperialist power and the imperatives of the emerging global marketplace.

Database Update: Eugenics in College Textbooks

It remains striking how unwilling Harvard professor Calude Villee was to give up on eugenics …

A Degenerate in the Classroom: Alfred E. Neuman and the Textbooks He Hid Behind

The big surprise for me was to learn that the image now universally known as Alfred E. Neuman was far from original to MAD. CoverIn fact it had appeared throughout the twentieth century, often in association with variations of the phrase “Me worry?”, on postcards, print ads, calendars, business cards, enamel signs, buttons and perhaps even the nose of a World War II-era B-26 bomber.

The Eugenic Zombie in a Graveyard of Textbooks

A short article about the surprisingly long history of the topic of eugenics in American high school and college introductory biology textbooks.

Not Eugenics Again? An Introduction to 20th Century College Biology Textbooks

A brief into to a new database of 38 college biology textbooks published in the United States between 1904 and 1964. Includes a chart tracking the relative priority of the topic of eugenics in the indexed texts.

The Aggressive Mutation of Post-War Eugenics

A weird thing happened in the years right after World War II: new college-level biology textbooks, rather than dropping the subject of eugenics, doubled down and began to defend the ideology with more aggressive rhetoric and moments of near-pornographic spectacle (WARNING: Disturbing photo).

Ellsworth Huntington’s Fantastic Stories of Racial Superiority and Relative Humidity

Ellsworth Huntington had seen first hand the debilitating effects of the tropics on the bodies and morals of his fellow WASPs abroad, and literally feared luxuries like central heating were weakening his race at home.

Biology’s Bomb: Graphing “Explosive” Population Growth in Cold War Textbooks

The “population bomb” was made as real and scary to school children in the 1960s as the H-bombs that drove them under their desks.

What Can a Google Ngram Tell Us About Eugenics, Biology and Science Textbooks In General?

I’ve been playing around with the new Google Ngram Viewer … A few fast searches turned up some interesting correlations and relationships.

Karl Sax and The Population Explosion

Another quick post ahead of longer article on pre- and post-WWII population rhetoric. This from Karl Sax, The Population Explosion, the November 1956 entry in the Foreign Policy Association’s well-regarded “Headline Series.”

The Population Bomb v1.0

Many of you are no doubt familiar with Paul Ehrlich’s bestseller, The Population Bomb, first published in 1968. Those of us of a certain age remember it sitting on the well-read suburban rebel’s bookshelf right between The Naked Ape and The Greening of America. But Ehrlich borrowed his title and thesis (with permission and acknowledgement) from these little books published by the Hugh Moore Fund.

Purity, Pornography and Eugenics in the 1930s

How pornographers exploited the topic of eugenics in the 1930s, and how in the process they undermined the puritanical authority of both America’s moral censors and its would-be managers of human reproduction. PART I | PART II

This article offers a brief discussion of sex and censorship in the United States, a short biography of birth control pioneer William J. Robinson, and a history of Joseph L. Lewis’ Eugenics Publishing Company.

The Lost Lessons of Silent Spring

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is considered by many the genesis event of the modern environmental movement. What is sometimes lost to our collective memory is that Silent Spring was a direct challenge to a long-dominant view of science as a progressive force

Howard M. Parshley’s Translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: Contrition, Sabotage or Suicide?

For most of the last 25 years, Howard M. Parshley, translator of the first English edition of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1953), has been cast as a saboteur of second-wave feminism.

Race, Art and Evolution

The sculpted busts of “early man” by J. H. McGregor, and the paintings of Neanderthal flint workers and Cro-Magnon artists by Charles R. Knight, alchemized imaginary beasts of centuries past into icons of progress that carried the imprimatur of science. But the narrative they presented was conflicted from the start.

If Kinsey’s Textbook Could Talk …

In this essay, I build on a dissertation by Donna J. Drucker on Alfred C. Kinsey, the famous sexologist, to see what a deep reading of the scientist’s high school textbook, An Introduction to Biology, might offer us in understanding both Kinsey the enthusiastic if overreaching entomologist, and Kinsey the groundbreaking if complexly motivated behavioral scientist.

Eugenics in 20th Century High School Biology Textbooks

An analysis of the relative priority of the topic of eugenics in the American high school biology curriculum based on review of 80 textbooks published between 1907 and 1969. Includes graph, database and notes.

Review: Galileo Goes to Jail by Ronald L. Numbers (ed.)

Ronald L. Numbers has dedicated himself to this Sisyphean task of making sure we don’t commit the sin of relying on myths when doing history or promoting our worldview. A review of his latest book.

Haeckel’s Embryos in High School and College

Ernst Haeckel’s embryos were a common fixture in a majority of high school and college biology textbooks from at least the mid-1930s on. Generations of students took away the incorrect but easy to accept and generally cool idea that we pass through a fish-like stage, complete with gill slits, on our way to becoming human. Article | Database

20th Century High School Biology Textbooks Reviewed and Ranked

A database of 82 American high school biology textbooks. Includes observational notes and rankings relative to the topic of evolution.

The Weight of the Moon or How a Single Textbook Skewed Our View of History

In the 1950s and 1960s, Moon, Mann and Otto’s Modern Biology was the most popular biology textbook in the country, commanding upwards of 50% of the market. It was also among the most retrograde and out of date.

The Topic of Evolution in Secondary Schools Revisited

An analysis of the relative priority of the topic of evolution in high school textbooks between 1907 and 1969.

Happy Birthday, Origin

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, I thought I’d take the opportunity to note that the image of Darwin we share today, that tired looking but steadfast rock solid symbol of science, dates back only about 50, not 150 years.

After Scopes, Black Was The New Grey

After the Scopes, how many compromises were required to twist biology into something a conservative Tennessee or Texas textbook committee would approve?

Biology Textbooks Before Scopes (Updated)

Index and analysis of American high school biology textbooks published before 1923 now available via Google Books.

Kroeber and Wolff’s Excellent Adventures

Published in 1938, Adventures With Livings Things was one of the most comprehensive, most far-sighted American high school biology textbooks of the century. It was also one of the most challenging. And in terms of commercial success and influence, perhaps one of the most disappointing.

Adventure! Domination! Biology!

The image on the left is from a popular college textbook from the 1940s. The one on the right is from a Men’s Adventure magazine, otherwise known as a “sweat” or “armpit” pulp, from the 1950s.

In this article I suggest, despite their quite different contexts, these images served a common purpose.

Reform Eugenics and the Gender Bomb

Amram Scheinfeld’s 1939 You and Heredity was a bestseller, a hit not only with the general public, but also with life scientists.

Review: Three Generations, No Imbeciles by Paul A. Lombardo

Paul A. Lombardo’s history of Buck v. Bell, Three Generations, No Imbeciles, is a terrific telling of case of Carrie Buck, a young woman sterilized by Virginia in 1927.

H. W. Conn’s ‘Communistic’ Challenge to Eugenics

After authoring Biology (1912), an innovative college level textbook, microbiologist and Wesleyan professor Herbert William Conn turned his attention to the grander task of subsuming eugenics within a broader and more social evolutionary ideology.

The Evolution of Textbooks: 1930s Edition

The 1930s were a time of remarkable innovation in the development of high school biology.

Making Sense of Bentley Glass

In its obituary, the Washington Post described Bentley Glass (1906-2005) as a “peripatetic figure in the 1950s and 1960s,” a man who seemed to be everywhere and advising everyone. In other obituaries Glass was described as “provocative” and “outspoken.” Editors of course made note of Glass’ more controversial comments, such as his 1971 statement that, “No parents will in that future time have the right to burden society with a malformed or mentally incompetent child,” a remark that the New York Times wrote, “is still regularly deplored by opponents of abortion.” Other notices, such as the one that appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, labeled Glass more forgivingly as a “rabble-rouser,” and noted, “Of all his pronouncements, none permeated the cultural lexicon more than his 1962 prediction that cockroaches would be the sole survivors of nuclear war.”

The Day Eugenics Died

It came as a bit of a surprise to find that many American high school and college biology textbooks continued to discuss eugenics as if it were a non-controversial idea well into the rock-and-roll era.

The Nervous Icon – Part II

The image in question is a stylized view of the human central nervous system. It appeared in what is arguably the very first modern American biology textbook, George W. Hunter’s 1907 Elements of Biology published by the American Book Company. This same image was copied, revised and republished repeatedly in textbooks into the 1960s.

Bentley Glass’ 1949 Introduction

A search on Abebooks turned up a 1949 Houghton Mifflin text I’d never heard of, The World of Life by Wolfgang F. Pauli. Curious, I ordered it.

Classroom Biology: Before and After the Bomb

Biology textbook authors in the first decades of the twentieth century helped undercut democracy and shore up the status quo by “confirming” suspicions that the “strongest” weren’t breeding, the “weakest” weren’t dying and that workers who did not know their genetically-determined place were a threat to the social order.

The Nervous Icon – Part I

It is classical in pose and commands its stage. A black silhouette shot through with delicate white lines on a page dressed only with a pedestal-like caption that reads, “The central cerebro-spinal nervous system.”

Marston Bates’ Moment of Zen

Though Rachel Carson is usually credited for raising the public’s awareness of ecology, it was Marston Bates’ 1960 book, The Forest and the Sea, not Silent Spring, that made ecology a household word.

The Case of the Disappearing Darwin

It’s a powerful symbol of capitulation: the straight on, serious portrait of Charles Darwin, the wizened, white bearded author of the Origin of Species and father of modern biology, was stripped from the frontispiece of a popular high school textbook, replaced by, of all things, a cartoon of the human digestive tract.

Alfred Kinsey: Teaching Eugenics and Evolution

This excerpt from Kinsey’s text, Methods in Biology, provides an interesting glimpse into how a scientist in the 1930s counseled prospective teachers on how to navigate potential issues when handling the “related” topics of eugenics and evolution.

James Reid, Ella Thea Smith and G. G. Simpson

In his 1969 autobiography, An Adventure in Textbooks, Reid discussed how he helped Ella Thea Smith bring her homemade textbook, complete with its thorough discussion of the theory of evolution, to market in 1938.

“Darwin and the Textbooks (1966) by Peter D. Miller

Miller’s thesis is interesting as it was among the first papers to suggest that biology textbook authors and publishers progressively downplayed the theory of evolution in response to pressure from religious fundamentalists.

Discovered! Ella Thea Smith’s First Textbook

Downloadable PDF of Ella Thea Smith’s 1932 mimeographed and hand bound textbook.

Ella Thea Smith’s Exploring Biology

Ella Thea Smith was the author of the second most popular high school biology textbook in the United States in the 1950s, Exploring Biology. At the height of its popularity it commanded roughly 25% of the market. Exploring Biology was first published in 1938, and was revised in 1943, ’49, ’54, ’59 and ’66. It featured many firsts.