Invitation for First International Eugenics Congress, 1912

International Eugenics Congresses publications

International Eugenics Congresses took place three times: London (1912), New York (1921), and New York again (1932). The second Congress was planned for Germany but was relocated owing to post-war economic difficulties. They are much discussed in the literature on history of eugenics. This page provides links to primary documents produced by the various congresses. Some of this material is available widely in physical and digital repositories. Others are rare, and we’ve made them available as an aid to scholarship. The names of these congresses changed one to the next. Here, we use the name applied by the organisers.

Eugenics Education Society. 1912. Problems in Eugenics. Papers communicated to the First International Eugenics Congress Held at the University of London, July 24th to 30th, 1912, page 68 figure 7.

Eugenics Education Society. 1912. Problems in Eugenics. Papers communicated to the First International Eugenics Congress Held at the University of London, July 24th to 30th, 1912, page 68 figure 7.

First International Eugenics Congress (July 24-29, 1912)

Organised through the University of London and held at the Hotel Cecil in central London.

Notes related to the Eugenics Laboratory at University College

Eugenics Education Society. 1912. Problems in Eugenics. Papers communicated to the First International Eugenics Congress Held at the University of London, July 24th to 30th, 1912Karl Pearson did not attend and reportedly banned his staff from attending. As a result, the Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics was not represented at the 1912 congress. Pearson justified active avoidance on repetitional grounds; he loathe popularisation and populist activism. From a distance, it’s also clear he was competing with the Eugenics Education Society for primacy on the landscape as leader of English eugenics.

One person from University College served as a congress vice president, Sir William Ramsay, Professor of Chemistry. He was one of thirty seven vice presidents, and one of eighteen vice presidents with a UK affiliation. Ramsay’s role in this community has yet to be explored.  

Sponsorship by the University of London is often cited as evidence of white supremacist views amongst the university leadership. On its own, this fact of sponsorship is insufficient for that conclusion. For instance, while organisers of the eugenics congress were doing their work, others were busy organising the much larger Universal Races Congress (and here) (26-29 July 1911):

One congress does not offset another. A richer analysis is needed to understand the University of London’s wider strategy for congress promotion in the Edwardian Period, the scale and range of congresses sponsored,  and the decision-making processes for developing those congresses. The Edwardian University of London was a newly federalised organisation of London universities. Its ambitions were large. We clearly need a wider view for understanding these two, and possibly other, congresses within the federated institution.

Laughlin, Harry H. 1923. The Second International Exhibition of Eugenics Held September 22 to October 22, 1921, in Connection with the Second International Congress of Eugenics

Laughlin, Harry H. 1923. The Second International Exhibition of Eugenics Held September 22 to October 22, 1921, in Connection with the Second International Congress of Eugenics in the American Museum of Natural History, New York, plate 9. “A Century of Change in Hawaii’s Population”.

Second International Congress of Eugenics (September 25-27, 1921)

Notes related to the Eugenics Laboratory at University College

Karl Pearson did not attend and the Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics was not represented at the congress. Pearson sent no materials from the Eugenics Laboratory for exhibition. Pearson’s research was referenced occasionally in the discussion, equally praised and criticised.

Harry F. Perkins, et al. 1934. A Decade of Progress in Eugenics. Scientific Papers of the Third International Congress of Eugenics, Held at the American Museum of National History, New York, August 21st-23rd, 1932

Harry F. Perkins, et al. 1934. A Decade of Progress in Eugenics. Scientific Papers of the Third International Congress of Eugenics, Held at the American Museum of National History, New York, August 21st-23rd, 1932, plate ii.

Third International Eugenics Congress (August 22-23, 1932)

Notes related to the Eugenics Laboratory at University College

Ronald A. Fisher attended the New York congress, representing the Eugenics Society and his friend, Leonard Darwin. He served as a steward at the first congress in 1912. In 1933, Fisher will succeed Pearson as Director of the Eugenics Laboratory at University College. In the early 1920s, Fisher was a student at Cambridge and was writing on eugenic policies and promoting eugenics in student societies. Fisher’s involvement is discussed in:

  • Bennett, J. H., Ed. (1983). Natural Selection, Heredity, and Eugenics, Including Selected Correspondence of R. A. Fisher with Leonard Darwin and Others. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
  • Bennett, J. H., Ed. (1971). Collected Papers of R. A. Fisher. 5 Volumes. Adelaide, The University of Adelaide.

No Fourth International Congress

Events after the 1932 congress are discussed on Wikipedia.

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Publication of this material online is done strictly for historical and academic reasons. The work of eugenicists was pervaded by racial, ethnic, gender, and ableist prejudice. Readers must be alert to these biases in this material.

Reproduction of this work here is not an endorsement or promotion of the views expressed or eugenics in general. Quite the reverse. All articles are published in full, except where necessary to protect individual privacy. We believe there is a clear academic interest in making this historical material more widely available.