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Human Betterment Foundation Records

Identifier: HBF

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.


  • Creation: 1880-1945


Conditions Governing Access

This collection has not been digitized, and is available only in the reading room of the Caltech Archives. Access is available to anyone conducting research for which it is necessary; please contact the Caltech Archives to make an appointment.

Access to some files containing personally identifiable information, including the entire series of California Sterilization and Parole Records, is available only under more specific circumstances. For more information on accessing those files, see the detailed access policy below.

Sterilization Records Access Policies

All Records

  1. For those with a protocol for human subjects research approved by an Institutional Review Board, the Archives shall provide access in person or through scanning on request according to the approved protocol.
  2. For those researching a specific living individual with their written permission, the Archives shall provide access to records regarding that individual in person or through scanning on request.
  3. For those researching a deceased relative whose name they have already identified, the Caltech Archives and Special Collections shall provide access to records regarding that individual in person or through scanning on request.
  4. For those researching a specific deceased individual whose name they have already identified but to whom they are not related, the Archives shall provide access to records regarding that individual in person. In this case, the Archives shall require researchers to agree not to photograph or scan sterilization records and not to include in their notes: names of relatives of individuals sterilized, months and days of birth (but year of birth and age may be recorded), addresses (but city and state may be recorded), and patient identification or record numbers. Alternately, archivists may share information from records concerning the deceased individual with a researcher while omitting the specific information listed above.
  5. Researchers may apply to the University Archivist for greater access than this policy otherwise provides, including permission to photograph, scan, or record personally identifiable information. The University Archivist shall only grant such an exception if the researcher has adopted a protocol sufficient to protect the private information of living individuals, even if they are only researching deceased individuals. In the absence of approval by an Institutional Review Board, the University Archivist may consult human subjects research and privacy experts in making their determination.

Records Less Than 100 Years Old

  1. Except for cases 1–5 in the All Records section above, the Archives shall not provide access to Human Betterment Foundation sterilization records less than 100 years old.

Records Over 100 Years Old

  1. The Archives shall provide all historical researchers with access in person. Except for cases 1–3 and 5 in the All Records section above, the Archives shall require researchers to agree not to photograph or scan sterilization records, not to identify individuals sterilized, and not to include in their notes: names of individuals sterilized or their relatives, months and days of birth (but year of birth and age may be recorded), addresses (but city and state may be recorded), patient identification or record numbers
  2. Except for cases 1–3 and 5 in the All Records section above, if the Caltech Archives digitizes sterilization records, it shall provide online access only in one of two ways: First, the Archives may provide access in a “virtual reading room” environment which includes technical barriers to downloading records and requires that researchers register and agree to the same terms listed above, and additionally agree not to download or screen capture records. Alternately, it may provide less restrictive access to records which have been deidentified by redacting the identifying information listed above.

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


28 linear feet (59 boxes)

Language of Materials



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

Related Materials

For additional material relating to the Human Betterment Foundation and Ezra S. Gosney, see the papers of Lois Gosney Castle Troendle, the Historical Files boxes A3.1 and Z17, and the Biology Division Records boxes 4.5 and 33-34.

Guide to the Human Betterment Foundation Records
David A. Valone, Jennifer Stine, Michael C. Conkin, Peter Sachs Collopy, Penelope Neder-Muro
1998, 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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 and Peter Collopy.

Repository Details

Part of the California Institute of Technology Archives and Special Collections Repository

1200 East California Blvd.
MC B215-74
Pasadena California 91125 United States of America
(626) 395-2704