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.