Description of Collection
"Eugenic Science in California"
Title: E. S. Gosney Papers And Records Of The Human Betterment Foundation,
Date (inclusive): 1880-1945
Gosney, E. S. (Ezra Seymour), 1855-1942.
Extent: Linear feet: 28
California Institute of Technology. Archives.
Pasadena, California 91125
Collection is open for research, except: files in Section VI and others containing
personal information on patients. Application for access to restricted portions of the collection should be addressed to the
Caltech Archivist with a research justification.
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 Head of the 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.
[Identification of item, Box and file number], E. S. Gosney Papers And Records Of The
Human Betterment Foundation, Archives, California Institute of Technology.
Description of Collection
This collection contains the papers and records of the Human Betterment Foundation and
its founder and principal donor, E. 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
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
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
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
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 until at least the year 2010.
Jennifer K. Stine
"Eugenic Science in California"
Eugenic Science in California:
The Papers of E. S. Gosney and the
Human Betterment Foundation
by David A. Valone
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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 collection is broadly divided into six
- I. Human Betterment Foundation--Records, Research
and Personal Correspondence
- II. Correspondence Files--by Country and
- III. Sterilization-Papers, Data, Correspondence
Printed Material--Journals, Articles, Laws, Clippings
- V. Sterilization
- VI. Case Histories [all files closed]
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
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.
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,"
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
For additional material relating to the Human Betterment Foundation and E. S. Gosney, see
the papers of Lois Gosney Castle Troendle, the Historical Files boxes A 3.1 and Z 17, and
the Biology Divisional Records boxes 4.5 and 33-34.