Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 33–72 | Cite as

Scientific Discrimination and the Activist Scientist: L.C. Dunn and the Professionalization of Genetics and Human Genetics in the United States

  • Melinda GormleyEmail author


During the 1920s and 1930s geneticist L.C. Dunn of Columbia University cautioned Americans against endorsing eugenic policies and called attention to eugenicists’ less than rigorous practices. Then, from the mid-1940s to early 1950s he attacked scientific racism and Nazi Rassenhygiene by co-authoring Heredity, Race and Society with Theodosius Dobzhansky and collaborating with members of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) on their international campaign against racism. Even though shaking the foundations of scientific discrimination was Dunn’s primary concern during the interwar and post-World War II years, his campaigns had ancillary consequences for the discipline. He contributed to the professionalization of genetics during the 1920s and 1930s and sought respectability for human genetics in the 1940s and 1950s. My article aims to elucidate the activist scientist’s role in undermining scientific discrimination by exploring aspects of Dunn’s scientific work and political activism from the 1920s to 1950s. Definitions are provided for scientific discrimination and activist scientist.


activist scientist anthropology Columbia University eugenics Franz Boas Genetics Society of America Heredity Race and Society human genetics L.C. Dunn race racism scientific discrimination Statement on Race Theodosius Dobzhansky UNESCO 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



I thank Paul Lawrence Farber, Mary Jo Nye, Robert A. Nye and the anonymous reviewers for their feedback. Funding from the National Science Foundation and American Philosophical Society made the archival research possible.


  1. Allen, Garland. 1983. ‹The Misuse of Biological Hierarchies: The American Eugenics Movement, 1900–1940.’ History and Philosophy of Life Sciences 5: 105–128.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, Garland. 1986. ‹The Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, 1910–1940: An Essay in Institutional History.’ Osiris 2: 225–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Appel, Tobey. 1988. ‹Organizing Biology: The American Society of Naturalists and its ‹Affiliated Societies’, 1883–1923.’ Ronald Rainger, Keith R Benson, Jane Maienschein (eds.), The American Development of Biology. Philadelphia:University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 87–120.Google Scholar
  4. Barkan, Elazar. 1992. The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars. New York:Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Benedict, Ruth. 1945. Race: Science and Politics, rev. edn. 1940. New York: The Viking Press.Google Scholar
  6. Benedict, Ruth, Weltfish, Gene. 1943. The Races of Mankind. USA:Public Affairs Committee, Inc.Google Scholar
  7. Blakeslee, Albert F. 1933. ‹Principles of Genetics; A Text-Book, with Problems; Recent Advances in Plant Genetics.’ Science 77: 284–285.Google Scholar
  8. Boyd, William C. 1950. Genetics and the Races of Man: An Introduction to Modern Physical Anthropology. Boston:Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  9. Brattain, Michelle. 2007. ‹Race, Racism, and Antiracism: UNESCO and the Politics of Presenting Science to the Postwar Public.’ American Historical Review 112: 1386–1413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Caffrey, Margaret M. 1989. Ruth Benedict: Stranger in this Land. Austin:University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  11. Castle, William. 1925. ‹Some New Books on Genetics.’ Science 62: 567–569.Google Scholar
  12. Cattell, J McKeen, Cattell, Jaques (eds.). 1933. American Men of Science, 5th ed. New York:The Science Press.Google Scholar
  13. Clark, Hugh, Elias, Julius, Bergmann, Peter. 2000. ‹The Antecedents of Nazism: Weimar, The Political Papers of Walter Landauer.’ Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 56: 181–372.Google Scholar
  14. Cole, GDH. 1943. Fabian Socialism. London:George Allen and Unwin Ltd.Google Scholar
  15. Cook, Robert, Lush, Jay L. 1947. ‹Genetics for the Million, an Unfinished Story.’ Journal of Heredity 38: 299–305.Google Scholar
  16. Cooke, Kathy. 1998. ‹Twisting the Ladder of Science: Pure and Practical Goals in Twentieth-Century Studies of Inheritance.’ Endeavour 22: 12–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Davenport, Charles B. 1923. “Research in Eugenics.” Eugenics, Genetics and the Family: Scientific Papers of the Second International Congress of Eugenics, vol. 1. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins Company.Google Scholar
  18. Davenport, Charles B. 1934. “Presidential Address: The Development of Eugenics.” A Decade of in Eugenics: Scientific Papers of the Third International Congress of Eugenics. Baltimore: The Williams & Wilkins Company.Google Scholar
  19. Dobzhansky, Theodosius. 1978. “Leslie Clarence Dunn, November 2, 1893–March 19, 1974.” Biographical Memoirs, vol. 49. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences.Google Scholar
  20. Dunn, L.C. 1923a. “Some Results of Race Mixture in Hawaii.” Scientific Papers of the Second International Congress of Eugenics, vol. 2, Eugenics in Race and State. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, Co., pp. 109–124.Google Scholar
  21. Dunn, LC. 1923b. ‹Standpoint of Genetics.’ Scientific Agriculture 4: 4–6.Google Scholar
  22. Dunn, LC. 1925. ‹A Biological View of Race Mixture.’ The Trend of Our Civilization: Publications of the America Sociological Society 19: 47–58.Google Scholar
  23. Dunn, LC. 1928. ‹An Anthropometric Study of Hawaiians of Pure and Mixed Blood.’ Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archeology and Ethnology 11: 91–211.Google Scholar
  24. Dunn, LC. 1932. Heredity and Variation: Continuity and Change in the Living World. New York:The University Society, Inc.Google Scholar
  25. Dunn, LC. 1951. Race and Biology. Paris:UNESCO.Google Scholar
  26. Dunn, L.C. 1952. Introduction to “Statement on the Nature of Race and Race Differences.” UNESCO Department of Mass Communications, What is Race?: Evidence from Scientists based on L.C. Dunn’s Race and Biology. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  27. Dunn, LC. 1962. ‹Cross Currents in the History of Human Genetics.’ American Journal of Human Genetics 14: 1–13.Google Scholar
  28. Dunn, LC. 1965a. A Short History of Genetics, the Development of Some of the Main Lines of Thought: 1864–1939. New York:McGraw-Hill Book Company.Google Scholar
  29. Dunn, L.C. 1965b. “William E. Castle: October 25, 1867–June 3, 1962.” Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 38. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Dunn, L.C. 1975. “The Reminiscences of Leslie Clarence Dunn,” Oral History Collection of Columbia University, Interviews by Saul Benison, 1958–1960, Microfilm, ts., 1086 pp.Google Scholar
  31. Dunn, LC, Dobzhansky, Theodosius. 1946. Heredity, Race and Society. New York:Mentor Books.Google Scholar
  32. Dunn, L.C. and Theodosius Dobzhansky. 1952. Heredity, Race and Society, rev. edn. New York: Mentor Books.Google Scholar
  33. Edwards, Violet. 1945. “Note on The Races of MankindRace: Science and Politics, rev. edn. 1940. New York: The Viking Press, pp. 167–168.Google Scholar
  34. Erickson, Paul A, Murphy, Liam D. 2003. A History of Anthropological Theory, 2nd ed. Ontario:Broadview Press.Google Scholar
  35. Eriksen, Thomas Hylland, Nielsen, Finn Sivert. 2001. A History of Anthropology. London:Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  36. Garn, Stanley M. and Giles, Eugene. 1995. “Earnest Albert Hooton, November 20, 1887–May 3, 1954.” Biographical Memoirs, vol. 68. New York: National Academy of Sciences.Google Scholar
  37. Haller, Mark H. [1963] 1984. Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes on American Thought. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Harwood, Jonathan. 1993. Styles of Scientific Thought: The German Genetics Community, 1900–1933. Chicago:The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  39. Huxley, Julian, Haddon, AC. 1936. We Europeans: A Survey of ‹Racial’ Problems. New York:Harper.Google Scholar
  40. Hyatt, Marshall. 1990. Franz Boas, Social Activist: The Dynamics of Ethnicity. Connecticut:Greenwood Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  41. Jackson, John P Jr., Weidman, Nadine M. 2006. Race, Racism, and Science: Social Impact and Interaction. New Brunswick:Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Jones, Greta. 1980. Social Darwinism and English Thought: The Interaction between Biological and Social Theory. Sussex:The Harvester Press Limited.Google Scholar
  43. Kevles, Daniel. 1995. In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. 1985. Massachusetts:Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Kohler, Robert. 1996. ‹Review of The Private Science of Louis Pasteur, by Gerald L. Geison.’ Isis 87: 331–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kuznick, Peter J. 1987. Beyond the Laboratory: Scientists as Political Activists in 1930s America. Chicago:University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  46. Largent, Mark A. 2008. Breeding Contempt: The History of Coerced Sterilization in the United States. New Brunswick:Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Lasker, Gabriel W. 1965. ‹The ‹New’ Physical Anthropology Seen in Retrospect and Prospect.’ Centennial Review 9: 348–366.Google Scholar
  48. Laughlin, Harry H. 1934. “Historical Background of the Third International Congress of Eugenics.” A Decade of Progress in Eugenics: Scientific Papers of the Third International Congress of Eugenics. Baltimore: The Williams & Wilkins Company.Google Scholar
  49. Ludmerer, Kenneth M. 1972. Genetics and American Society: A Historical Appraisal. Baltimore:Johns Hopkins Press.Google Scholar
  50. Montagu, Ashley. 1972. Statement on Race: An Annotated Elaboration and Exposition of the Four Statements on Race Issued by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 3rd ed. London:Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Myrdal, Gunnar. [1944] 1962. An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  52. Paul, Diane. 1995. Controlling Human Heredity, 1865 to the Present. New Jersey:Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  53. Paul, Diane. 1998. The Politics of Heredity: Essays on Eugenics, Biomedicine, and the Nature-Nurture Debate. New York:State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  54. Pugh, Patricia. 1984. Educate, Agitate, Organize: 100 Years of Fabian Socialism. London:Methuen and Company.Google Scholar
  55. Rader, Karen A. 2004. Making Mice: Standardizing Animals for American Biomedical Research, 1900–1955. New Jersey:Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Reilly, Phillip. 1991. The Surgical Solution: A History of Involuntary Sterilization in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Rosenberg, Charles. 1997. No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought, rev. edn. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.Google Scholar
  58. Rutkoff, Peter M, Scott, William B. 1986. New School: A History of the New School for Social Research. New York:The Free Press.Google Scholar
  59. Sapp, Jan. 1987. Beyond the Gene: Cytoplasmic Inheritance and the Struggle for Authority in Genetics. New York:Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Silverman, Rachel. 2000. ‹The Blood Group ‹Fad’ in Post-War Racial Anthropology.’ Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers 84: 11–27.Google Scholar
  61. Silverman, Sydel. 2005. ‹The United States.’ Fredrik Barth, Andre Gingrich, Robert Parkin, Sydel Silverman (eds.), One Discipline, Four Ways: British, German, French, and American Anthropology. Chicago:University of Chicago Press, pp. 257–347.Google Scholar
  62. Sinnott, Edmund W, Dunn, LC. 1925. Principles of Genetics. New York:McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.Google Scholar
  63. Smedley, Audrey. 1999. Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview, 2nd ed. Boulder:Westview Press.Google Scholar
  64. Smythe, Hugh H. 1977. ‹Race, Science, and Society.’ Contemporary Sociology 6: 77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stepan, Nancy. 1982. The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1800–1960. Connecticut:Archon Books.Google Scholar
  66. Stocking, George W Jr.. 1968. Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology. New York:The Free Press.Google Scholar
  67. UNESCO Department of Mass Communications. 1951. What is Race?: Evidence from Scientists based on L.C. Dunn’s Race and Biology. Paris:UNESCO.Google Scholar
  68. Warren, Stephen T. 2007. ‹Our Society and the Scientist-Citizen.’ American Journal of Human Genetics 82: 642–645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Washburn, SL. 1951. ‹The New Physical Anthropology.’ Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, Series II 13(7): 298–304.Google Scholar
  70. Weiner, Charles. 1969. ‹A New Site for the Seminar: The Refugees and American Physics in the Thirties.’ Donald Fleming, Bernard Bailyn (eds.), The Intellectual Migration: Europe and America, 1930–1960. Cambridge:Harvard University Press, pp. 190–234.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

Personalised recommendations