THE History of Eugenics at Puget Sound and Beyond

During the opening decades of the twentieth century, colleges across the United States taught courses on eugenics. At the University of Puget Sound (then known as the College of Puget Sound, or CPS), Biology professor James R. Slater taught a course on eugenics from 1920 to 1951. Driven by a range of anxieties and the belief that science was an important tool for social reform, eugenics inevitably entailed people making value judgements about individuals and groups. The eugenics movement in the United States was used to justify anti-immigration, involuntary sterilization, and anti-miscegenation laws.

Given Puget Sound’s natural history museum is named after James Slater, the following questions are being asked: Should we continue to commemorate someone who taught a subject now known to have been pervaded with classist, ableist and racist ideas that are in conflict with Puget Sound’s values? What is the threshold for renaming buildings and institutions as values and assumptions about the relationship between science and society change? How we can understand, assess and learn from the university’s past? 

The Archive Exhibit and Talks on this site examine the following questions:

  • What were the social, political, and cultural contexts within which eugenics became so pervasive?

  • How did eugenics influence biology curricula and courses? What did Slater teach in the eugenics course and how do we know?

  • What are the legacies of the eugenics movement in the Pacific Northwest (including disability rights, criminal justice, attitudes toward marginalized individuals and groups, etc.)?

  • How, as an institution and as individuals, can we best wrestle with and learn from this history?

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Puget Sound's Science Magazine ELEMENTS devoted their Spring 2020 Issue to the History of Eugenics. Take a look HERE!


This Website was created after a symposium on “The History of Eugenics at Puget Sound and Beyond” scheduled for March 28, 2020 had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The following contributed funds and support to the symposium, and then this website. Thank you!