Workers at the Eugenics Record Office, c. 1925. Courtesy Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives and the Dolan DNA Learning Center.

Recreated office space of Haunted Files: The Eugenics Record Office

The Eugenics Record Office was first and foremost a “repository and clearing house” for eugenics data. Through the “systematic” study of human heredity, the Office amassed an incredible quantity of files, forms, and assorted clipping related to a wide range of human traits. The bulk of this material comprised the “Trait Files,” a massive and rigidly organized index of human traits that sought to sort and rank human beings according to thousands of different attributes, from profession (“Teachers,” “Missionaries”) to mental ability (“Idiocy,” “Feeblemindedness”) to race (“Negro-Chinaman,” “Mulattoes”) and personality (“Sense of Humor, “Leadership”). But this data didn’t just sit around in the ERO’s archives. It was actively used to provide “scientific” justifications for a wide range of policies, from immigration restriction to sterilization and anti-miscegenation, that were shaped by leaders of the Eugenics Record Office.

Below you’ll find a sample of the research that ERO academics, researchers, and field workers accumulated in their daily work.