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Title Galton Laboratory Records
Date1 1825-1998
StorageSite UCL Special Collections
Level Collection
Extent Approx 8 linear metres
CreatorName University College London; Galton Laboratory

The Galton Laboratory, based at University College London (UCL), was the first institution in the world to study human genetics as a science. It was originally established in 1904, and has survived more than a century of departmental restructuring, changes in leadership and research emphasis. In 2013 the Galton Laboratory was incorporated into the new Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at UCL.

The Galton Laboratory can trace its origins at UCL as far back as 1904, when Francis Galton established the Eugenics Record Office at 88 Gower Street. Galton supplemented the foundation of the Record Office by endowing a Fellowship in National Eugenics at UCL in a gift of 500 per annum over three years, with Edgar Schuster appointed the first Francis Galton Research Fellow. In 1906 Karl Pearson, who had previously led the Drapers' Company Biometric Laboratory, took over the Directorship of the Eugenics Record Office from Galton, whilst the latter (now well into his eighties) retained an informal role as consultant. The following year a scheme was submitted to the University of London Senate for the Francis Galton Laboratory for the Study of National Eugenics to continue eugenic research until 1910, with an additional grant from Galton of 1000 to cover the years 1908-1909. The scheme provided for the continuation of the Francis Galton Research Fellow, and the establishment of the Francis Galton Scholar and a Computer. The Laboratory also moved from its rented accommodation in Gower Street to the South Wing of UCL, where it remained until 1920.

The death in 1911 of the Laboratory's champion and benefactor Sir Francis Galton brought the advent of a new phase in its history. Galton's will bequeathed the entire residue of his estate to the University of London to found a Chair of Eugenics, and expressed his wish for Karl Pearson to be awarded the post whilst also retaining Directorship of the Biometric Laboratory. Galton's object for the Chair was to investigate "those causes under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or morally". Pearson's first act as Galton Professor of Eugenics was to create the Department of Applied Statistics, incorporating both the Biometric Laboratory and the Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics, and thus bringing together the study of human genetics and statistics. This Department was renamed the Department of Applied Statistics and Eugenics in a resolution of the Senate in 1913. The increased size of the department necessitated the acquisition or construction of new accommodation, and in 1912 Sir Herbert Bartlett offered to provide a building on the North-West front of UCL. Work on the building was interrupted due to the outbreak of the First World War, and the Department did not move in until October 1919, with an official opening in June 1920.

Karl Pearson retired in 1933. The Senate resolved to separate research and teaching of statistics and eugenics into two departments, with staff of the Department of Applied Statistics and Eugenics split between the two. The Galton Professor would be head of the Department of Eugenics, which would incorporate the Galton Laboratory and also conduct teaching and research in Anthropometry, with another reader or professor leading the Department of Statistics (this post went to Karl Pearson's son Egon). Pearson was succeeded in the Galton Chair by Ronald Aylmer Fisher in 1934, who set up a blood grouping department in the laboratory in 1935 with the aid of a Rockefeller Foundation grant.

The post-war period saw a number of changes in organisational structure and leadership of the Galton Laboratory and Departments of Eugenics and Biometry. In 1944, Fisher moved to Cambridge and was succeeded as Galton Professor by Lionel Sharples Penrose, and a combined Department of Eugenics, Biometry and Genetics was created under the Directorship of John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, who had been Weldon Professor of Biometry since 1929. Haldane continued in this role until his retirement in 1957, whereupon he was succeeded as Head of Department by Penrose. Upon Penrose's retirement in 1965, Harry Harris was appointed Head of the Department of Human Genetics and Biometry, and succeeded Penrose in the Chair renamed Galton Professor of Human Genetics and Director of the Galton Laboratory. Harris had already been acting as Honorary Director of the Medical Research Council Human Biochemical Genetics Unit since 1962, and brought this unit with him to the Galton Laboratory (the unit remained at UCL after Harris under the direction of David Hopkinson, until its eventual closure in 2000). In 1967 the Galton Laboratory moved for the final time, as the Department of Human Genetics and Biometry relocated to Wolfson House, built with a gift from Sir Isaac Wolfson. Harris was involved in the design of the six-storey building dedicated to the study of genetics, and the department dramatically increased in size. When Harris left UCL to become Harnwell Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1975, he was succeeded as deparment head and Director of the Galton Laboratory by Elizabeth ("Bette") Robson, who continued in the post until 1994. The Galton Professorship went unfilled for the next 15 years, until Nicholas Wood was appointed Galton Professor of Genetics in 2009.

The 'Annals of Human Genetics' (formerly known as the 'Annals of Eugenics' until 1954) was founded at the Galton Laboratory in 1925 by Karl Pearson, who was the first Editor with the assistance of Ethel M Elderton. Traditionally the incumbent of the Galton Professorship has acted as Editor or co-Editor of the journal. The Galton Laboratory was also responsible for publishing five volumes of pedigrees of human hereditary diseases and anomalies entitled the 'Treasury of Human Inheritance' between 1909 and 1956.

CustodialHistory The majority of the material in this collection was received from Wolfson House in August 2011. Parts of the collection were also donated in 2002 (accession A677 Parts 1 & 2) from the Galton Laboratory, and in September 2013 from UCL Museums and Collections. Some items were received from the Department of Statistical Science in 2013.
FindingAids Calm catalogue.
Description Records of the Galton Laboratory accumulated since its creation in 1904 to the late 20th Century. Comprises business papers, research papers, data for studies, records relating to 'Annals of Human Genetics' (formerly 'Annals of Eugenics'), 'Treasury of Human Inheritance', visual and audio-visual material, material relating to the history of the Laboratory and its staff, and printed material and ephemera.
Repository GB 0103
AccessStatus Certain restrictions apply
AccessConditions Access to some of the material in this collection is restricted or closed. See the description of each item for further information.
ReproductionConditions Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.
CatalogueStatus Catalogued

Arranged in the following six series:

Galton Laboratory Business Papers

Galton Laboratory Research Working Papers

Galton Laboratory Publications

Visual and Audio-Visual Material

Papers Accumulated by the Galton Laboratory


Language English

Other archive and museum material relating to the history of the Galton Laboratory can be found in the collections at UCL Special Collections and UCL Museums and Collections.

For related archival material in UCL Special Collections see the PEARSON Collection, Karl Pearson Papers. In particular, Section PEARSON/3 for scientific work led by Pearson at the Biometric and Eugenics Laboratories, arranged by subject; Section PEARSON/4 for papers on the history of the Department of Applied Statistics, which also includes papers relating to the history of the Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics up to 1911; and Section PEARSON/9 for Galton Laboratory wartime (First World War) research papers.

For related museum material held by UCL Museums and Collections, visit http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/galton.

Term Biological research
Human genetics
PersonKey Galton; Sir; Francis (1822-1911); biostatistician, human geneticist
Pearson; Karl (1857-1936); statistician and eugenicist
Penrose; Lionel Sharples (1898-1972); physician
CorporateKey University College London; Galton Laboratory

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