Concept 14 Mendelian genetics cannot fully explain human health and behavior.

Charles DavenportCharles Davenport was one of the leaders of the eugenics movement. He tried to shape human evolution by applying Mendel's laws to "build" better human stocks.

Charles Benedict Davenport (1866-1944)

Charles Davenport

Charles Davenport was one of the most prominent biologists of his time. He was born in Stamford, Connecticut, and went to Harvard University for his education. For a while, he was a professor at the University of Chicago.

In 1890, Davenport became the director of the Biological Laboratory established by the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor. When the Carnegie Institute began looking for a place to set up a research center on evolution, Davenport convinced them that Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island, New York was the ideal locale. The Station for Experimental Evolution opened in 1904 with Davenport as its director. In 1910, with financial backing from the wife of E. H. Harriman, the railroad tycoon, Davenport established the Eugenics Records Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor. Davenport believed that "the general program of the eugenicist is clear - it is to improve the race by inducing young people to make a more reasonable selection of marriage mates; to fall in love intelligently. It also includes the control by the state of the propagation of the mentally incompetent."

During the next 11 years, the ERO trained men and women on the "science" of eugenics and data collection. These field workers helped accumulate a large number of records on "inherited" human traits. The ERO published its results as bulletins, and had its own newsletter. Davenport and the eugenics movement influenced state laws on sterilization, immigration and miscegenation (mixed race marriages). In 1921, the ERO merged with the Station for Experimental Evolution to become the Department of Genetics. Davenport continued to be a director until 1934.

factoid Did you know ?

Francis Galton was one of the founders of the eugenics movement. He coined the term "eugenics," which means "well born." Galton was Charles Darwin's cousin.


The eugenics movement has been discredited, but before WWII, eugenics was a popular subject among the general public. Why was the public so accepting and supportive of the eugenics movement?