During the 1912-1913 school year, thirty-two universities and colleges throughout the United States were offered an honorarium to provide a lecture on the subject of eugenics. Sponsored by Lucy James Wilson, wife of former Assistant Secretary of State Huntington Wilson, the lecture series aimed at “paving the way to an effective operation of public opinion and wise legislation along eugenical lines” by putting the subject “clearly and forcefully before as many undergraduate student bodies as possible.” The lecture presented by Professor Charles A. Ellwood at the University of Missouri was selected as one of twelve in this compilation.
Ellwood presented a non-technical discourse on both the values and limitations of eugenics. His lecture emphasized “positive eugenics,” explaining the importance of marriage as a controlling factor in the quality of future generations and arguing for the importance of selecting wisely from a biological standpoint. Conversely, Ellwood explained the futility of adopting unenforceable “negative eugenics” laws to control segments of the population. He also addressed the conflicting views of heredity or environment as most important in determining character, acknowledging the vital contributions of each.
The Department of Sociology was founded at MU by Ellwood in 1900. He served as its chair and as advisor to some notable future leaders of the emerging field. Ellwood left the University of Missouri in 1930 to organize and head the Department of Sociology at Duke University.
Also on display are Professor Charles Ellwood’s recommendations for reading about eugenics, posted in the University Missourian, April 13th, 1913.