Eugenics Money at UCL from Francis Galton

Karl Pearson and Francis Galton, 1910
Karl Pearson and Francis Galton circa 1910 (credit: Pearson, LLLFG3a Wellcome Collection. CC BY)

Francis Galton was an independently wealthy Victorian polymath. As he planned a legacy for himself, he made decisions on how to dispose of his estate and assets. In those decisions, he installed eugenics research at University of London using a financial donation. This created a legacy of eugenics for University College London.

Galton’s Route to a Eugenics Donation

Galton revised his will in the 1900s. At that point, his wife, Louisa Jane née Butler (1822-1897) was dead. They had no children. Francis had an extended family and a small coterie of close friends and colleagues. Francis turned his legacy-thinking towards them. He also turned his legacy-thinking to supporting research and promotion of eugenics.

Galton’s will is unsurprising in many respects. He left family momentos to his late sister’s granddaughter. He laid plans to distribute family goods, such as furniture, jewellery, and such. He distributed cash legacies to members of his extended family ranging from £100 to £2000, plus cash legacies to several scientific colleagues, plus considerable legacies to his nephew, Edward Galton Wheler (£15,000), and his niece, Millicent Galton Lethbridge (£19,500). He also left £200 to his servant, Albert Gifi. (Gigi is honour in mathematics via a nom de plume.)

The value of Galton’s estate at probate was £104,487 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). After disbursements, Galton left the residual of his estate to University of London “for establishment and endowment of a Professorship” related to eugenics. Below is the relevant text (clause 10) from Galton’s will. Galton dated his will on 20 October 1908. In the next year, Galton revised clause 10, adding further text. This addition is dated 25 May 1909. Galton died 17 January 1911. The university received these funds in 1911.

Galton’s Will and Eugenics

Dated 20 October 1908, the original clause 10 in Galton’s will is transcribed below:

“I DEVISE AND BEQUEATH all the residue of my estate and effects both real and personal unto the University of London for the establishment and endowment of a Professorship at the said University to be known as “The Galton Professorship of Eugenics” with a laboratory or office and library attached thereto AND I DECLARE that the duty of the Professor who for the time being shall hold the said Professorship shall be to pursue the study and further the knowledge of National Eugenics that is of the agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial faculties of future generations physically and mentally AND for this purpose I DESIRE that the University shall out of the income of the above endowment provide the salaries of the Professor and of such assistants as the Senate may think necessary and that the Professor shall do the following acts and things namely:-

(1) Collect materials bearing on Eugenics
(2) Discuss such materials and draw conclusions
(3) Form a Central Office to provide information under appropriate restrictions to private individuals and to public authorities concerning the laws of inheritance in man and to urge the conclusions as to social conduct which follow from such laws.
(4) Extend the knowledge of Eugenics by all or any of the following means namely:-
(a) Professional instruction
(b) Occasional publications
(c) Occasional public lectures
(d) Experimental or observational work which may throw light on Eugenic problems.

He shall also submit from time to time reports of the work done to the Authorities of the said University.

AND I DECLARE that the receipt of the Principal for the time being of the said University shall be a sufficient discharge for any moneys payable to the said University under this my Will and shall effectually exonerate my Executors from seeing to the application thereof AND I ALSO DECLARE that the said University shall be at liberty to apply either the capital or income of the said moneys for any of the purposes aforesaid but it is my hope that the University will see fit to preserve the capital thereof wholly or almost wholly intact not encroaching materially upon it for cost of building fittings or library. Also that the University will supply the Laboratory or Office at such place as its Senate shall from time to time determine but preferably in the first instance in proximity to the Biometric Laboratory I state these hopes on the chance of their having a moral effect upon the future decisions of the Senate of the University but they are not intended to have any legally binding effect whatever upon the freedom of their action. …”

(LLLFG 3a: 437-438)

In the following year, Galton made changes to his will, adding another paragraph to clause 10. (Formally, this required revocation of the existing clause 10 and replacement with new text. The replacement included all of the above, plus new material below.) This was dated 25 May 1909. The addition is transcribed here:

“AND I HEREBY DECLARE that it shall be lawful for the Senate of the said University if they shall think fit so to do to postpone the election of the first or any subsequent Professor of Eugenics for a period of not exceeding four years from the date of my death or from the date of the occurrence of any vacancy in the office as the case may be AND I DESIRE that in the meantime and until the appointment of the first Professor the Senate shall out of and by means of the income of my residuary estate make such arrangements as may be necessary to ensure the continuance without interruption and the extension of the work in connection with Eugenics initiated by me and now carried on on my behalf at University College and that during any subsequent vacancy in the Professorship the Senate shall out of and by means of the said income make such arrangements as may be necessary to ensure the continuance without interruption of the work being carried on for the time being at the Eugenics Laboratory of the said University AND I HEREBY DECLARE it to be my wish but I do not impose it as an obligation that on the appointment of the first Professor the post shall be offered to Professor Karl Pearson and on such conditions as will give him liberty to continue his Biometry Laboratory now established at University College AND in all other respects I confirm my said WILL …”

(LLLFG 3a: 437-438)

Is This A “Hidden” History of Eugenics?

Don’t believe claims insisting this is “hidden” history. Clause 10 has been in the public domain since 1930, published in Karl Pearson’s (1930) Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton, volume 3a, pp. 437-438 (available free online via or UCL Special Collections has published clause 10 repeatedly in digital formats as part of its online catalogue for the Francis Galton Papers. This will currently is part of the digitised collections available from the Wellcome Library under the catalogue number GALTON/2/4/12/1 “Papers Relating to the Eugenics Record Office and Galton Research Fellowship” (embedded below).

Discussion of Galton’s benefaction is noted in standard works on British eugenics, such as Kevles’ (1985) In the Name of Eugenics and Farrall’s (2019 [1969]) Origins and Growth of the English Eugenics Movement. It also is discussed in biographies of Galton, such as Bulmer’s (2003) Francis Galton: Pioneer of Heredity and Biometry, Gillham’s (2001) A Life of Sir Francis Galton, and Cowan’s (1985) Sir Francis Galton and the Study of Heredity in the Nineteenth Century.

What’s the relationship between University of London and University College London? It changes over time. Over the decade of 1900-1910, University of London became the federal umbrella for many universities in London, including University College. In practice, this meant that matters of executive governance were managed at the federal level. Galton’s proposal was considered by University of London government, including the Principal (1901-08), Arthur William Rucker (1848-1915).

Galton’s Will and Its Consideration by University of London

Here are documents from Wellcome Collection archives about the consideration of Galton’s donation to University of London.