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Pedigree Chart of the Fisher Family.
Robert M. Yerkes Papers. Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University.

Matthew Baum 09, Intellectuals and Eugenics

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Charles Davenport, a Yale professor and secretary of the Eugenics Records Office at Cold Springs Harbor, NY, initiated one of the first eugenics projects. The project aimed to gather a hereditary census of the American people in order to construct pedigree charts. This pedigree chart diagrams the family of Irving Fisher, a Yale mathematician who chaired the American Eugenics Society upon its founding in New Haven in 1922. Traits tracked in the study ranged from mathematical and writing ability (black dots and triangles, respectively) to feeblemindedness, mental instability, poverty, criminality, and tuberculosis.

Yale Psychologist Robert Yerkes, who helped to design the census, explained in a speech to the Eugenics Council shortly afterwards that “one of the most encouraging features of this modern movement for racial improvement is the insistence by its leaders upon the need for a thorough investigation of the facts of human heredity and the relations of means to ends.” Later in the same speech, he added that “the safe development of eugenics is indeed assured by this insistence that we should not let application outstrip knowledge.”