Eugenics Record Office (ERO)

The Eugenics Record Office was the last of three related scientific organizations established in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. The Biological Laboratory (1890), based on the European model of seaside research laboratories, was the second American field station for the study of biology. Charles Davenport, a Harvard-trained biologist, became director of the Laboratory in 1898. He was instrumental in persuading the Carnegie Institution of Washington to establish the second organization — the Station for Experimental Evolution — in 1903 on land adjoining the Biological Laboratory. The Station became one of the first American institutions to study genetics.

In 1910, Davenport further expanded his scientific empire when he persuaded the widow of railroad baron E.H Harriman to donate $10,000 to establish the Eugenics Record Office (ERO). The Office was eventually housed in a stucco building on a property adjacent to the Biological Laboratory.

To run the ERO, Davenport recruited a zealous superintendent from Missouri, Harry H. Laughlin, who shared his interest in chicken breeding. Under Laughlin's direction, the ERO became the epicenter of the American eugenics movement, amassing hundreds of thousands of family pedigrees, case studies, and indexed records. The ERO sponsored summer courses to train aspiring eugenics caseworkers and actively lobbied for the passage of state sterilization and national immigration restriction.

In the face of mounting evidence of serious flaws in eugenics research during the 1920s-30s, Laughlin's misuse of "data" and almost religious belief in his version of eugenics became an increasing embarrassment. Knowledge of the horrors of the Nazi application of eugenics sealed the fate of the American movement, and the ERO was closed in 1939.


 

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