Measuring Manhood: Race and the Science of Masculinity, 1830–1934

Posted in Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2015-11-16 18:47Z by Steven

Measuring Manhood: Race and the Science of Masculinity, 1830–1934

University of Minnesota Press
September 2015
368 pages
32 b&w photos
5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Paper ISBN 978-0-8166-7303-2
Cloth ISBN 978-0-8166-7302-5

Melissa N. Stein, Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies
University of Kentucky

From the “gay gene” to the “female brain” and African American students’ insufficient “hereditary background” for higher education, arguments about a biological basis for human difference have reemerged in the twenty-first century. Measuring Manhood shows where they got their start.

Melissa N. Stein analyzes how race became the purview of science in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America and how it was constructed as a biological phenomenon with far-reaching social, cultural, and political resonances. She tells of scientific “experts” who advised the nation on its most pressing issues and exposes their use of gender and sex differences to conceptualize or buttress their claims about racial difference. Stein examines the works of scientists and scholars from medicine, biology, ethnology, and other fields to trace how their conclusions about human difference did no less than to legitimize sociopolitical hierarchy in the United States.

Covering a wide range of historical actors from Samuel Morton, the infamous collector and measurer of skulls in the 1830s, to NAACP leader and antilynching activist Walter White in the 1930s, this book reveals the role of gender, sex, and sexuality in the scientific making⎯and unmaking⎯of race.

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Embodying race: gender, sex, and the sciences of difference, 1830-1934

Posted in Dissertations, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2011-08-02 00:52Z by Steven

Embodying race: gender, sex, and the sciences of difference, 1830-1934

Rutgers University, New Brunswick
May 2008
356 pages

Melissa Norelle Stein, Postdoctoral Fellow
Center for Race and Ethnicity
Rutgers University

A Dissertation submitted to the Graduate School-New Brunswick Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Graduate Program in History

This project uses the body as a site to examine the complex relationship between science, culture, and politics in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century United States, and the ways in which gender and sex can be used to conceptualize other categories of difference, such as race and sexuality. Scientists during this period naturalized racial difference and socio-political exclusion by insisting that the bodies of racial minorities were not fully male or female at a time when power, citizenship, property, and protection were conferred according to sex. My dissertation makes other important interventions in the existing scholarship on nineteenth-century racial and scientific thought, as well as American race relations. Rather than treating ethnology as static, I reveal significant change over time in scientific discourse on race with regard to gender and sex. Scientists’ shifting uses of sex and gender to denote racial difference corresponded to larger shifts in American politics and culture, including Emancipation and the gendered questions of citizenship it raised, the rise of evolutionary theory, and turn-of-the-century fears about miscegenation, immigration, homosexuality, and “race suicide.” This discourse was not one-sided or monolithic, however. Accordingly, I also explore tensions within and challenges to white racialist science. Moreover, I demonstrate that scientific discourse was not divorced from the lives of real people; it had a tangible impact on how living human bodies were treated. Finally, while recent scholarship has identified important parallels between racial and sexual science, my work reveals that ethnology and sexology not only shared similar cultural politics in America, they were literally populated by the same prominent scientists.

While at its core an intellectual history of scientific thought on race and gender, this dissertation is not concerned only with ideas and discourse, but how such ideas were received and how they shaped race relations. Thus, my work utilizes a variety of sources—including scientific and medical texts, newspaper articles, private correspondence, political writing, and visual materials such as political cartoons and campaign posters—to interrogate scientists’ engagement with sociopolitical issues as well as the incursion of scientific thought into political culture.

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Tables
  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction
  • Section One—Gendering Scientific Racism
    • Chapter One—“Races of Men”: Ethnology in Antebellum America
    • Chapter Two—An “Equal Beard” for “Equal Voting”: Gender, Slavery, and Citizenship in American Ethnology, 1850-1877
  • Section Two—Bodily Threats, Threatening Bodies
    • Chapter Three—Inverts, Perverts, and Primitives: Racial Thought and the American School of Sexology
    • Chapter Four—Unsexing the Race: Lynching, Racial Science, and Black Mobilization, 1893-1934
  • Conclusion—The Fall and Rise of Racial Science
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography
  • Curriculum Vita

List of tables

  • Focus of Racial Science Texts by Race, 1830-1859 (Figure 1.1)
  • Thematic Focus of Antebellum Racial Science Texts (Figure 1.3)
  • Changing Focus of Racial Science Texts, 1830-1879 (Figure 2.2)

List of illustrations

  • Illustration, The Races of Men (Figure 1.2)
  • “The Candidate of Many Parties” (Figure 1.4)
  • Frontispiece, Negroes and Negro “Slavery” ( Figure 2.1)
  • Illustration, Types of Mankind (Figure 2.3)
  • “Marriage of the Free Soil and Liberty Parties” (Figure 2.4)
  • “Syphilis” (Figure 2.5)
  • “Nativity of the most capable soldier” (Figure 2.6)
  • “The Two Platforms” (Figure 2.7)
  • Illustrations, The Six Species of Men (Figure 2.8)
  • “Front View of Author at Thirty-three” (Figure 3.1)
  • “Rear View of Author at Thirty-three” (Figure 3.2)
  • “Fairie Boy” (Figure 3.3)
  • “Hermaphroditos” (Figure 3.4)
  • “Profile” (Figure 4.1)
  • “Photo from life by the author” (Figure 4.2)
  • “Walter White, 1935” (Figure 4.3)

…Sterile Hybrids and the Species of Men: Racial Mixture, Taxonomy, and Human Descent

Racial mixture also featured in the origins debate in antebellum ethnology. Numerous ethnologists of the era argued that the offspring between a black parent and white parent were largely infertile and thus incapable of producing a “permanent stock” beyond that first generation. This proved that the two races constituted separate species. Indeed, the word “mulatto” derived from the word “mule” or “a sterile hybrid.”

Not surprisingly, both black and white women were more present in discussions of racial mixture than in general considerations of the original unity or diversity of the races. Even though “mulatto” men and women alike were thought to be weak and largely infertile, discussions of sterile hybridity were more likely to target biracial women specifically as bad breeders. For example, Drs. H.A. Ramsey and W.T. Grant, the editors of the Georgia Blister and Critic, a journal largely dedicated to scientific justifications of chattel slavery, asked its readers: “In the cross of the white and negress, do the Ovary Cells diminish with each cross, until the fourth, and then nearly disappear entirely?” Like Van Evrie characterizing miscegenation between a black man and white woman as an absurdity, the Blister’s focus on the “cross of the white and negress” hinted at the reality of interracial sex in antebellum America. More often than not, it occurred between white men and black women in a culture in which the bodies of female slaves were legally owned by their white masters, and even free black women’s rights to their own bodies were frequently ignored in law and practice.

Hoping to collect opinions and anecdotal evidence from the Blister’s readership to assist his research, Samuel Cartwright had submitted this revealing query about ovary cells, but he was less interested in women per se than in uncovering further evidence of (permanent) racial difference. For their part, the Ramsey and Grant were happy to oblige, noting that “the question is important, and we ask for it a candid and careful investigation.” They admitted they had “presumed an answer, without the necessary data to confirm it.” Their presumptive answer presented no information about black, however. Instead, it made an observation about animals, just as Jefferson had done in the previous century in his own discussion of racial mixture. The editors wrote, “We think it quite probable that the Ovary Cells in the cross of the negress and white, may diminish, until sterility would be the result. Our dissections are not ample enough to determine the point precisely, but we see a cross in the horse and mule, produce sterility and why not in the white and black biped race? We see no reason to question.” They concluded by offering their own anecdotal example: “We will here remark, we had a negro man…with a wife, who is a fourth cross, as far as we can ascertain. She does not breed, although healthy, and her husband has been heretofore the father of children.” Perhaps not surprisingly in a society in which black women, particularly slaves, so often faced sexual exploitation that made the paternity of their children either difficult to ascertain or all too tempting for whites to ignore, white men wanted to believe that “mulatto” women in particular were sterile—at least by the fourth cross.

However, investigations of hybridity usually focused less on women—white or black—than on the the question of whether the races constituted different species or variations of the same species. In a two-part lecture before the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in 1846, later published as an article in the American Journal of Science and Arts, Morton stated, “The facts connected with hybridity in the inferior classes of animals, have an important bearing on one of the most interesting questions in Ethnography.” Whereas Morton did not contend that human “mulattoes” were sterile, he maintained that their ability to reproduce did not prove the races to be one species of singular origin either. As Morton’s counter argument indicates, many scientists had made “hybridity the test of specific character,” arguing that animals of different species were unable to reproduce fertile offspring. For some, “sterile hybrids” were thus proof that the races were distinct species.

For Morton, however, the original unity or diversity of the races hinged less on the potential for reproduction between the races and more on the correct definition of “species” and “races.” “Races are properly successions of individuals propagated from any given stock,” Morton argued, “and we agree with the learned Dr. Pritchard, from whom we cite these definitions, that when races can be proved to possess certain primordial distinctions, which have been transmitted unbroken, they should be regarded as true species.” Arguments for the separate origins of the races were best supported by the distinct and unchanging character of the various races over thousands of years rather than the reproductive capacities of racial “hybrids.”

Other ethnologists were not so quick to divorce the issue of racial hybridity from the origins question or to concede that mulattoes could themselves reproduce, but their arguments were similarly geared toward proving longstanding and permanent racial difference. In introducing his 1844 Two Lectures, on the Natural History of the Caucasian and Negro Races, Nott discussed the “effect of crossing races.”65 He also thought that animals could shed light on questions of race, but he believed that the natural sciences had not adequately addressed the issue: “Naturalists have strangely overlooked the effects of mixing races, when the illustrations drawn from the crossing of animals speak so plainly—man physically is, but an animal at last, with the same physiological laws which govern others.” Elsewhere, Nott conceded that though fertile offspring could be produced from black and white parents, such offspring did not have the fecundity of its parent races and that over time it was “the higher type that in the end predominates.” However, no amount of infusion of white blood could turn the black race white or enable a mulatto to escape detection, for the skilled eyes of Nott and other racial experts could always “instantaneously trace the Negro type in complexion and feature.” And why did the “higher type” predominate but never subsume the lower race? Nott concluded, “The only physiological reason that may be assigned is this: the mulattoes, or mixed-breeds, die off before the dark stain can be washed out by amalgamation. No other rational explanation can be offered.” In a text that also offered an explicit defense of slavery—under which the sexual exploitation of slave women by their white masters was actually profitable—it was politically expedient to render racial mixture non-threatening. Thus, Nott argued that the issue of hybridity was of considerable interest to ethnologists, but he dismissed the human “hybrids” themselves as inconsequential, weak and ultimately destined to die out…

Read the entire dissertation here.

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