|Laughlin attended the schools in Kirksville and was graduated from the First
District Normal School in 1900 and served the Kirksville High School first as a
teacher and later as principal. In 1903 he went to Centerville, Iowa, as the
high school principal. Laughlin returned to Kirksville in 1905 to assume the
superintendency of the Kirksville schools. He taught agriculture at the First
District Normal School from 1907 until 1910.
In February 1907, Laughlin's interest in breeding experiments led him to
write Charles Benedict Davenport, the director of the Station for Experimental
Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor, New York. Dr. Davenport was one of the first
scientists to introduce the concepts of Mendelian genetics into the United
States. After establishing the Eugenics Record Office, underwritten by Mary
(Mrs. E. H.) Harriman, Davenport asked Laughlin to be the superintendent. In
October 1910, Laughlin and his wife Pansy moved to Cold Spring Harbor, New York
where they stayed for the next 29 years.
Dr. Laughlin received a D.Sc. from Princeton in 1917 for a thesis on cytology
and an honorary degree from the University of Heidelberg in Germany in 1936.
He was superintendent in charge of the Eugenics Record Office of the
Department of Genetics of the Carnegie Institute of Washington, D. C., from its
origin in 1910 until 1921 and director from 1921
until 1940. Dr Laughlin served as the eugenics expert for the
Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, U. S. House of Representatives from
1921 to 1931; the Eugenics Associate to the
Municipal Court at Chicago, 1921 to 1930; the U. S.
immigration agent to Europe for the Department of Labor from 1923
to 1924; and was a member of the permanent Immigration Commission
of the International Labor Office of the League of Nations in 1925.
He also was a member of the Galton Society, the Eugenics Research
Association, the American Society of International Law, the American Statistical
Associate, president of the American Eugenics Society 1927-28,
associate editor of the Eugenical News from 1916 to 1939,
secretary of the Third International Congress of Eugenics in 1932, and president
of the Pioneer Fund, Incorporated, from its origin until 1941.
Dr. Laughlin was a prolific writer, publishing numerous articles and books on
eugenics, eugenical sterilization, immigration, genetics, and various phases of
inheritance including racing capacity in thoroughbred horses. It is his work on
eugenical sterilization and immigration restriction for which he is best known.
Laughlin's Eugenical Sterilization in the United States established him
as an expert on the topic. His model sterilization laws were used by many of the
more than 30 states that passed sterilization laws. Germany's 1933 sterilization
laws were also modeled after Laughlin's. Laughlin's immigration studies, which
seemed to support the idea that recent immigrants from Southern and Eastern
Europe had a higher percentage of "socially inadequate" persons than other
immigrants, led to the highly restrictive immigration quota system of 1924 which
favored immigrants from Northern Europe. As is evident in the Laughlin
Collection, Dr. Laughlin also devoted considerable time and effort developing
his ideas for a common world government.
Dr. Laughlin was married to Pansy Bowen of Kirksville on Sept. 13, 1902; they
had no children. After his retirement from the Eugenics Record Office they
returned to Kirksville in December 1939. Dr. Laughlin died January 26, 1943, and
was buried near his father and mother in Highland Park Cemetery in Kirksville.
"Rites for Dr. Harry Laughlin here Today," Kirksville Daily Express,
January 27, 1943, p. 1.
Reilly, Philip R. "Laughlin, Harry Hamilton." American National
Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 13:252.