The “eugenics tree” is one of the most reprinted images associated with the history of the subject. The source is Laughlin (1923: 15, figure 3). It was used at the Second International Congress of Eugenics (September 25-27, 1921), held at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City. The image was created for a certificate awarded “for meritorious exhibits” in the exhibition associated with the Congress.
The figure caption reads:
“Like a tree eugenics draws its materials from many sources and organises them into an harmonious entity.”
A high resolution every of the eugenics tree also is available:
Original Source for “Eugenics Tree” Illustration
The tree was first published as part of the proceedings of the congress:
- Laughlin, Harry H. 1923. The Second International Exhibition of Eugenics Held September 22 to October 22, 1921, in Connection with the Second International Congress of Eugenics in the American Museum of Natural History, New York (Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins Company), 64p. + 47 illustrations.
Why a Tree?
The metaphor of a tree with many roots and branches was intended to identify eugenics as a subject with multidisciplinary sources and to encourage participation from many types of experts.
Analysists of eugenics tend to focus on genetics (such as Fisher at UCL) and statistics (such as Pearson at UCL), but need to keep a wider perspective. Farrall (2019 ), for example, describes eugenics as an activity for “middle class radicals,” reaching across a wide range of professional groups as well as beyond paid professionals.
Tree Received a Reboot in 1932
Other international congresses of eugenics were 1912 and 1932. This eugenics tree was given a reboot in 1932 for the Third International Eugenics Congress held August 22-23, 1932 also at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It appeared as Plate I in the proceedings of the congress:
- Harry F. Perkins, et al. 1934. A Decade of Progress in Eugenics. Scientific Papers of the Third International Congress of Eugenics, Held at the American Museum of National History, New York, August 21st-23rd, 1932(Baltimore: The Williams and Wilkins Company), 510pp. + 28 plates.
The tree imagery is not much changed from 1923, and neither was the congress.