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Earnest Hooton

Earnest Hooton
Born November 20, 1887
Died May 3, 1954
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Nationality United States
Fields physical anthropologist
Alma mater University of Wisconsin–Madison
Known for racial classification
Notable awards Viking Fund Medal (1947)

Earnest Albert Hooton (November 20, 1887 – May 3, 1954) was a U.S. physical anthropologist known for his work on racial classification and his popular writings such as the book Up From The Ape. Hooton sat on the Committee on the Negro, a group that "focused on the anatomy of blacks and reflected the racism of the time."[1]


  • Biography 1
  • Race 2
    • The "Hooton Plan" 2.1
    • Hooton on African Americans (1930-1940) 2.2
    • Quotations 2.3
  • Criticism 3
  • Footnotes 4
  • Works 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Earnest Albert Hooton was born in Clemansville, Wisconsin. He was educated at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. After earning his BA there in 1907, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, which he deferred in order to continue his studies in the United States. He pursued graduate studies in Classics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he received an MA in 1908 and a Ph.D. in 1911 on "The Pre-Hellenistic Stage of the Evolution of the Literary Art at Rome" and then continued on to England. He found the classical scholarship at Oxford uninteresting, but quickly became interested in anthropology, which he studied with R.R. Marett, receiving a diploma in 1912. At the conclusion of his time in England, he was hired by Harvard University, where he taught until his death in 1954. During this time he was also Curator of Somatology at the nearby Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Hooton was known for combining a rigorous attention to scholarly detail combined with a candid and witty personal style. Henry Shapiro remembers that his lectures "were compounded of a strange, unpredictable mixture of strict attention to his duty to present the necessary facts... and of a delightful impatience with the restrictions of this role to which he seemed to react by launching into informal, speculative, and thoroughly entertaining and absorbing discussions of the subject at hand." As a result, Hooton established Harvard as a center for physical anthropology in the United States and at the time of his death most physical anthropologists in the United States were former students or instructed by one.[2]

Many of Hooton's research projects were indebted to his training in physical anthropology at a time when this field consisted most of anatomy and focused on physiological variation between individuals. One project that came to be known as 'Harvard Fanny Study', for instance, involved measuring buttock spread and buttock-knee lengths in order to design more comfortable chairs for the Pennsylvania railroad.[3] A similar study of applied physical anthropology examined the restrictive shape of ball-turrets in military aircraft.[4]

Hooton was an advanced primatologist for his time. If the great Latin playwright Terence said "Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto" ("I am a man; nothing about men is alien to me"), Hooton, following and correcting him, used to say: "Primas sum: primatum nihil a me alienum puto" ("I am a primate; nothing about primates is alien to me").[5]

Hooton was also a public figure well known for popular volumes with titles like Up From the Ape, Young Man, You are Normal, and Apes, Men, and Morons. He was also a gifted cartoonist and wit, and like his contemporaries Ogden Nash and James Thurber he published occasional poems and drawings that were eventually collected and published.

Hooton died in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Hooten used comparative anatomy to divide humanity up into Aleš Hrdlička, Earnest Hooton and eugenist Charles Davenport. In 1927, the committee endorsed a comparison of African babies with young apes. Ten years later, the group published findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology to "prove that the negro race is phylogenetically a closer approach to primitive man than the white race." Hooton played a key part in establishing the racial stereotypes about black athleticism and black criminality of his day in terms of an anthropological framework.[1] Hooton was one of the first to attempt to develop mathematically rigorous criteria for race typology.[6]

At the same time Hooton maintained that no scientific basis existed correlating mentality with racial variation. "...Each racial type runs the gamut from idiots and criminals to geniuses and statesmen. No type produces a majority of individuals from either end of the scale. While there may be specific racial abilities and disabilities, these have not yet been demonstrated. There are no racial monopolies either of human virtues or of vices."[7] While advocating eugenic sterilizations of those deemed "insane, diseased and criminalistic", he emphasized there was no justification to correlate such "degeneracy", as he termed it, with race. Anthropologist Pat Shipman presents Hooton's work as representing a transition in anthropology away from its 19th-century stereotypes about race and its fixation over cranial measurements. In that context, she writes, Hooton maintained an "oversimplistic mode of thinking about human types and variability" while at the same time he moved to eliminate unfounded racial biases and pseudoscience. His remarks in a 1936 conference dealing with immigration, for example, included a ten-point summary of the current scientific consensus about race which, in retrospect, parallel the points raised ten years later in UNESCO's landmark The Race Question.[6]

The "Hooton Plan"

During World War II, Hooton proposed to eradicate the German people by infiltrating them slowly with masses of non-European male immigrants, thereby breed "war strains" out of them.[8]

Hooton on African Americans (1930-1940)

In 1932, Hooton wrote an article titled "Is the Negro Inferior". It was published by the Crisis magazine. He brought up the discussion of racial differences and claimed that it existed in the United States. Hooton first defined race as a matter of inheritance. As we grow up we observe that a group of people with different physical appearances also have differ manner or culture than ourselves. The differences between races has made the basis or racial differences. The conflict has begun when the natives uses their behaviors as the standard of living. As Hooton said, "We are likely to infer that the people who have been producing different manners than us belongs to a inferior races than us." We first assumed the native measure of culture is the standard and all the outcasts were inferior. Then, we developed a set of thinking that a culture is an accurate measurement of the individual intelligence. That was where racial segregation or discrimination begins.

Hooton also brought out the controversy of the intelligence test. Although the general results of such tests have been indicating that Whites have better mental status than Blacks, Hooton believed we should be aware of the bias existed in those tests. Different race have different cultural background, He thought that maybe its the Whites who cannot devise intelligent tests that are fairly applicable.


  • "The fitness of any man to live in any community depends on his ability to fall in with its ways. If he is very unadaptable, he is a criminal. He is not blond or dark. He is not tall or short. He is not German or Irish. He is a man who has been woven into American social fabric, who thinks as his fellow citizens do about accepted institutions and who conduct himself as they do. By his deeds is he to be judged: not by his looks or his geographic origin." —(New York Times, 1936).[9]
  • "There is no anthropological ground whatever for selecting any so-called racial groups, or any ethnic or national group, or any linguistic or religious group, for preferment of condemnation. Our real purpose should be to segregate and eliminate the unfit, worthless, degenerate and anti-social portion of each racial and ethnic strain in our population, so that we may utilize the substantialmerits of the sound majority, and the special and diversified gifts of its superior members." —(New York Times, 1936).[10]
  • "It is not until genetics is so far advanced that we can aplly it findings to the human race that such measurements as those made by me acquire real scientific Value. There is no superior or pure races in the world." —(New York Times, 1934).[11]


E.B. Reuter, a sociologist and contemporary of Hooton, criticized Hooton for using circular logic when he ascribed the physical traits of criminals to cause criminality.[12]


  1. ^ a b American Anthropological Association. "Eugenics and Physical Anthropology." 2007. August 7, 2007.[3]
  2. ^ Shapiro, Harry L. (18 June 1954). "Earnest A. Hooton: 1887—1954". Science 119 (3103): 861–2.  
  3. ^ Krogman, Wilton M. (October 1976). "Fifty Years of Physical Anthropology: The Men, the Material, the Concepts, the Methods". Annual Review of Anthropology 5 (1–15): 10.  
  4. ^ Reuter, Claus (2000). Development of Aircraft Turrets in the AAF: 1917–1944. Sr Research & Pub. pp. 132–4.  
  5. ^ Hooton, Earnest Albert: "The Importance of Primate Studies in Anthropology" in GAVAN, James A. (ed.): The Non-Human Primates and Human Evolution. In Memory of Earnest Albert Hooton (1887-1954),Wayne University Press, 1955, pp.1-10
  6. ^ a b Shipman, Pat (2002). The Evolution of Racism: Human Differences and the Use and Abuse of Science. Harvard University Press. pp. 176–7.  
  7. ^ Hooton, Earnest A (29 May 1936). "Plain Statements About Race". Science 83 (2161): 513.  
  8. ^ E.A. Hooton: Breed war strain out of Germans. New York daily newspaper Picture Magazine, 4. Januar 1943
  9. ^ "What is an American?" New York Times, May 03 1936; pg. 1.
  10. ^ "Race Preferment Declared Fallacy," New York Times, May 1, 1936; pg. 16.
  11. ^ "The Evolving American," New York Times, Jan 22 1934; pg. 14.
  12. ^ Wright, Richard A. Routledge Taylor and Francis Group. "Encyclopedia of Criminality." 2004. August 4, 2007. [4]


  • Africana. I-5 co-editor (1917) 'recording the habits of foul or barbarous savages' pub. Peabody Museum. From Internet Archive.

Further reading

  • Birdsell, Joseph 1987. Some reflections on fifty years in biological anthropology in Annual Reviews of Anthropology 16(1):1-12.
  • Krogman, Wilton 1976. Fifty years of physical anthropology: the men, the materials, the concepts, and the methods in Annual Reviews of Anthropology 5:1-14.
  • Earnest Albert Hooton, 1887-1954Shapiro, H. 1954. (obituary) in American Anthropologist 56(6): 1081-1084
  • Garn, Stanley and Giles, Eugene. 1995. Earnest Albert Hooton, November 20, 1887 - May 3, 1954. Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America v. 68 167-180.
  • Melear, K.B. The Criminological Theory of Earnest A. Hooton. 'Summer 1998'. Florida State University: Criminology

External links

  • American Association of Physical Anthropologists: The Earnest Albert Hooton Prize. The page includes a selected list of Hooton's publications.
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
  • "Papers of Earnest A. Hooton, 1926-1954 (inclusive): A Finding Aid," Harvard University Library: Peabody Museum Archives, 1995 and 2007. Call No: 995-1. —28 document boxes.
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