Human Betterment Foundation Records
Scope and Contents
In 1928 Ezra S. Gosney and Paul Popenoe founded the Human Betterment Foundation to research and advocate for eugenic sterilization. This collection contains records of the research conducted by the Human Betterment Foundation and a small portion of Gosney's papers.
- Human Betterment Foundation (Organization)
- Gosney, E. S. (Ezra Seymour) (Eugenics) (Person)
The collection is open for research, except for all files in Section VI: Case Histories, and files containing personal and/or medical information. (Those files are labeled as Closed.) Researchers must make an appointment for access. Consult the Caltech Archives for more information.
Copyright has not been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Caltech Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
Biographical / Historical
This collection contains the papers and records of the Human Betterment Foundation and its founder and principal donor, Ezra S. Gosney. The Human Betterment Foundation was established in 1929 as a non-profit organization dedicated "to foster and aid constructive and educational forces for the protection and betterment of the human family in body, mind, character, and citizenship." In practice, the Foundation advocated the reproductive sterilization of the socially and mentally unfit in accordance with the principles of eugenics, a doctrine of human social and physical improvement through selective breeding first laid down by Francis Galton. Being a non-profit organization, the Human Betterment Foundation restricted its activities to research into the personal and social effects of sterilizations carried out under the California sterilization law of 1909.
Upon the death of Mr. Gosney in 1942, Lois Gosney Castle, E. S. Gosney's daughter, assumed stewardship of the Foundation. In keeping with the aims of her father and of the Foundation, Mrs. Castle liquidated the assets of the Human Betterment Foundation and contributed the proceeds to the California Institute of Technology. Under the terms of that gift, the Institute established a Gosney research fellowship administered by the Division of Biology. This fellowship, intended to carry on the spirit of the Foundation's work for the betterment of the human condition, has been used to support post-doctoral research "in those branches of biological science basic to our understanding of human welfare."
The Gosney--Human Betterment Foundation records were transferred from the Institute's Waverly warehouse to the Caltech Archives in 1968 as part of the transfer of assets undertaken by Lois Gosney Castle in 1942. Due to the existence of personal medical records in the files, however, the collection remained closed until 1992. Prior to the current reorganization, the records were divided into two parts. The first was contained in green standard sized boxes, and the second part was housed in large temporary storage bins. At the present time, only the first part, consisting of the nineteen boxes catalogued in this guide, has been processed and opened to scholars.
The Gosney papers are a major source for the study of the late stages of the American Eugenics Movement, as well as the history of social welfare and the legacy of the Progressive era. They also contain items relevant to the history of medicine and birth control in America, as well as documents relating to the condition and treatment of the socially and mentally disadvantaged. Contained in the papers of Lois Gosney Castle Troendle are several folders of biographical information on E. S. Gosney. Scholars interested in tracing the early history of the Human Betterment Foundation and the intellectual and social background in the eugenics movement should also consult that collection.
David Valone, February 1993
The remainder of the Gosney collection was processed in 1995. Forty boxes were added, bringing the total number to 59. This completes the processing of the Gosney collection.As with the first part of the collection, the organization of the files closely resembles that in place when the files were found. There are a number of inconsistencies of which the researcher should be aware. First, there is no comprehensive file of Foundation publications. Various pamphlets and cover letters may be found in Gosney folders 4.4, 4.9, 9.13, Historical Files E. S. Gosney box Z17, and in the Biology Divisional Records folder 4.5. The latter also contains a general inventory of the Human Betterment Foundation papers made by Lois Gosney Castle before they were put in storage. Many of the subject files in the Gosney collection contain research for and drafts of the eleven papers that eventually were published together in Popenoe's "Sterilization for Human Benefit," a draft copy of which may be found in 28.3.
Second, there is much correspondence, particularly pre-1938, that is not contained in the correspondence files. Letters which illuminate the history of the Foundation and its various projects may be found in the sterilization subject files in Section III and the printed materials files in Section IV. Correspondence that sheds light on the beginnings of the Foundation may be found in 7.2, 7.13, 8.13, and 18.2. Interest in and attempts to influence legislation by the Foundation are scattered in the correspondence files, sterilization subject files and the printed materials files. In addition to being scattered, pre-1938 correspondence does not appear to be complete. Nevertheless, there is much useful information in the collection regarding the Foundation's activities. While the guide does give some indication of the contents of the files, it is highly recommended that researchers peruse as much of the collection as possible.
During the second phase of processing, two new sections were added to the collection. The first, Section V, is divided into four parts. Part A contains files that are closely related in content to the Sterilization subject files in Section III. Parts B and C contain Paul Popenoe's analysis of the data collected from the two surveys made by the Foundation of sterilizations in California institutions. Popenoe, hired by Gosney in 1926, made the first survey that same year. The second, more comprehensive survey was made in 1933, apparently with the help of the participating institutions. Part D is comprised of survey data sheets. These contain much of the medical information the Foundation collected on patients without disclosing personal or family information. Attempting to make a complete set in the best way possible, original and first carbon copies were combined. They are organized alphabetically by institution rather than numerically. Based on extant first carbons, numerical order would have been as follows: 1-419 Norwalk Sterilizations; 800-999 Norwalk Controls; 1000-1613 Sonoma Sterilizations; 2000-2461 Patton Sterilizations; 3000-3723 Stockton Sterilizations; 4000-4392 Napa Sterilizations; 5000-5137 Agnews Sterilizations; 5800-5999 Agnews Controls; 6000-6100 Mendocino Sterilizations.
Section VI contains the Foundation's case histories of patients who were sterilized in California public institutions. These files and others containing personal information on the patients will remain closed to researchers. Consult the Caltech University Archivist for inquiries regarding the opening of these files.
Jennifer K. Stine, October 1995
28 linear feet (59 boxes)
Language of Materials
Eugenic Science in California
The eugenics movement continues to be an active and controversial site for historical research. One need not look far for the contemporary issues that sustain this interest, which include the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the explosion in interest in genetic manipulation engendered by the revolution in biotechnology, and a seeming revival of the social and political issues that came to the fore in the first two decades of this century including economic dislocations, internal dissent, and a rising tide of xenophobia.
While the general outlines of the history of the eugenics movement in the U.S. and Britain have been well established during the past two decades by several major monographs, much work remains to be done. One recent trend, initiated by the work of Mark Adams, is studies of eugenics movements in various national or regional contexts. Comparative studies, as well as investigations of the links among various national movements, are also shedding new light on both the social and scientific underpinnings of eugenics. There are also calls for a reevaluation of aspects of the standard historical model of the development of the movement, which include both an effort to broaden the notion of "eugenics" under a more encompassing model of social control and a reconsideration of the purely hereditarian cast of efforts at eugenic reform. 1
While controversies over eugenics will continue to touch upon many significant issues regarding historical interpretation, the theory and practice of science, and standards of public and private morality, the grounding for debate on the historical development of eugenics must continue to be founded upon the historical record as it has been preserved. Even given the limitation of such records, as Lily Kay recently reminded us, new archival sources allow historians to "increase the level of thoughtfulness and sophistication" of their histories. 2 A significant body of such material has recently become available at Caltech in the form of the E.S. Gosney/Human Betterment Foundation papers.
E. S. Gosney was the founder and President of the Human Betterment Foundation (HBF), a non-profit organization chartered in 1929 with the intention "to foster and aid constructive and educational forces for the protection and betterment of the human family in body, mind, character, and citizenship." These theoretical goals were put into practice primarily through the distribution of literature on eugenic sterilization, particularly detailed case studies drawn from the sterilizations of those judged mentally defective under the California sterilization laws passed in 1909. During the period of its operation, the Foundation undertook research on the physiological, mental, and social effects of sterilization, and distributed informational pamphlets on eugenic sterilization and social hygiene.
Gosney was born on a farm in Kenton County, Kentucky, in 1855. His father died when Gosney was nine, and four years later his mother moved the family to Texas. At 17, he left home and began working his way through college, eventually graduating from Richmond College in Missouri in 1877, and taking a law degree from the St. Louis School of Law three years later. Gosney eventually settled in the territory of Arizona, an area just emerging from its "Old West" era. There he set up a successful law practice in Flagstaff, and also became involved in the financing of a number of businesses, particularly in the sheep and cattle breeding industry. He organized the Arizona Wool Growers' Association to fight for the rights of small stock farmers who faced elimination at the hand of land speculators and the railroad companies. As part of this battle, he also fought for and eventually won the transfer of management of the U.S. Forest Reserve from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture. 3
Around 1905, Gosney began spending his winters in Pasadena and soon decided to relocate to Southern California, in part to provide a more refined environment for the education of his two daughters. He quickly became a leading member of the Pasadena business community, buying up citrus fields and real estate in the still sparsely populated San Gabriel valley, east of Los Angeles. In 1906, he became the principle financier and chairman of the board of trustees of the Polytechnic Elementary School, an institution dedicated to providing high quality elementary education. Gosney also became very active in the leadership of the California branch of the Boy Scouts of America.
While in Pasadena, Gosney became a close associate of Paul Popenoe, who was then serving as the director of the Institute of Family Relations in Los Angeles. Together, Popenoe and Gosney began an extended study of the medical, legal, and social aspects of the sterilizations being carried out under the terms of the California Sterilization Laws at the Sonoma State Hospital and other state institutions. The results of this work, entitled "Sterilization for Human Betterment," were published in 1929. In that same year, Gosney set up the HBF and gathered a membership of twenty-five leading scientists, philanthropists, and community leaders including Popenoe and Lewis Terman, David Starr Jordan, William B. Munro and Otis Castle.
During the next thirteen years, the HBF continued to carry out research on the effects of sterilization and undertook widespread distribution of "Sterilization for Human Betterment" to individuals, public libraries, and schools. During this period, ties between the HBF and its Pasadena neighbor, Caltech, also began to grow. Robert Millikan, who shared aspects of Gosney's vision for human progress and also had an eye for potential donors to Caltech, joined the board of the HBF in 1937. Shortly before Gosney's death in 1942, he also courted Thomas Hunt Morgan's support for his Foundation. 4
Lois Gosney Castle assumed the leadership of the Foundation upon her father's death. Together with the HBF's Board of Trustees, she decided to liquidate the assets of the Foundation and turn the proceeds over to Caltech. In 1943, an agreement was drawn up between the HBF and Caltech, wherein Caltech agreed to use the Foundation's assets to set up the Gosney research fund, which would be administered by the Division of Biology. This fellowship, intended to carry on the spirit of the Foundation's work for the betterment of the human condition, has been used to support post-doctoral research "in those branches of biological science basic to our understanding of human welfare." 5
The Gosney/Human Betterment Foundation records were transferred to the Caltech Archives from the Institute's Waverly warehouse in 1968, where they had been stored after the dissolution of the Foundation. The collection, however, remained closed to researchers due to legal issues relating to personal medical records in the collection. At the present time researchers may not have access to these files. The rest of the collection was opened to researchers in 1993 after the legal concerns were resolved. At that time I began a rough sorting of the collection, although most of the files remain as they were left by Lois Gosney Castle in 1942.
The manuscript portions of the collection will provide researchers with important new insights into what has been widely accepted as a period of decline for eugenics in America, at least in terms of its scientific respectability. In particular, many details of Gosney's and Paul Popenoe's research into the effects of human sterilization deserve more extensive investigation. The records in the Gosney collection, in addition, amply document the enduring popular appeal of eugenics, and also provide more insights into the international dimensions of eugenic thought.
Interesting manuscripts and letters from both Gosney and Popenoe are present in significant number in the collection, including this condemnation of German eugenic theory by Gosney dated 9 September 1940: "We have little in this country to consider in racial integrity. Germany is pushing that. We should steer clear of it lest we should be misunderstood." 6 The timing of this statement, however, a year after the beginning of hostilities in Europe, must be considered in judging Gosney's view of the German eugenic movement, which he had been following closely with Popenoe since the mid-1930s. On the other hand, there can be little question about Gosney's vehement anti-Catholicism aimed at the group that represented one of the HBF's most vocal critics. These aspects of the HBF's agenda are just two of the many interesting issues waiting to be further explored in this collection.
Written by David A. Valone
1 Mark B. Adams, ed., The Wellborn Science: Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil and Russia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). Philip J. Pauly, "Essay Review: The Eugenics Industry--Growth or Restructuring?" Journal of the History of Biology 26 (Spring 1993): 131-145. Lily Kay, The Molecular Vision of Life: Caltech, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rise of the New Biology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). 2 Lily Kay, "Constructing Histories of Twentieth-Century Experimental Life Science: The Promise and Peril of Archives," The Mendel Newsletter, New Series, No. 2 (November 1992): 4. 3 Information on Gosney's life can be found in the Gosney collection as well as in the papers of Lois Gosney Castle Troendle, and in the Caltech Historical Files under "Gosney, Ezra Seymour (1855-1942)," both in the Caltech Archives. 4 E.S. Gosney/Human Betterment Foundation Papers, Box 1.4. 5 George Wells Beadle, "The Gosney Research Fund," Engineering and Science 10 (May 1947): 27. 6 E.S. Gosney/Human Betterment Foundation Papers, Box 1.2
- Human Betterment Foundation Records
- Processed by David A. Valone and Jennifer Stine; finding aid created by Michael C. Conkin
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Edition statement
- The collection was previously known as the Register of the E. S. Gosney Papers And Records of the Human Betterment Foundation. In 2020, University Archivist Peter Collopy and the Caltech Archives changed the collection title to the Human Betterment Foundation Records to better reflect the materials described. The collection only contains a small portion of Ezra S. Gosney's papers. Finding aid edited by Penelope Neder-Muro.
Part of the California Institute of Technology Archives and Special Collections Repository
1200 East California Blvd.
Pasadena California 91125 United States of America