Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 467–507 | Cite as

Inbreeding, eugenics, and Helen Dean King (1869–1955)

  • Marilyn Bailey OgilvieEmail author


Helen Dean King’s scientific work focused on inbreeding using experimental data collected from standardized laboratory rats to elucidate problems in human heredity. The meticulous care with which she carried on her inbreeding experiments assured that her results were dependable and her theoretical explanations credible. By using her nearly homozygous rats as desired commodities, she also was granted access to venues and people otherwise unavailable to her as a woman. King’s scientific career was made possible through her life experiences. She earned a doctorate from Bryn Mawr College under Thomas Hunt Morgan and spent a productive career at the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology in Philadelphia where she had access to the experimental subjects which made her career possible. In this paper I examine King’s work on inbreeding, her participation in the debates over eugenics, her position at the Wistar Institute, her status as a woman working with mostly male scientists, and her involvement with popular science.


Eugenics Helen Dean King Inbreeding Wistar Institute 


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I want to thank the many people and institutions who made this paper possible, including the University of Oklahoma Research Council and the College of Arts and Sciences for their financial support. Vital resources were provided by the American Philosophical Society, the Wistar Institute, the University of Pennsylvania Archives, the Bryn Mawr College Archives, Temple University Urban Archives, and the Philadelphia Free Library. Although I am indebted to many individuals for their help, I want to especially acknowledge Nina Long of␣the␣Wistar Institute, Bonnie Tocher Clause, Joy Harvey, Kerry Magruder and Clifford Choquette for their help.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.History of Science CollectionsUniversity of Oklahoma LibrariesNormanUSA

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