Herbert Spencer Jennings

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Herbert Jennings
Herbert Spencer Jennings.jpg
Herbert Spencer Jennings

(1868-04-08)April 8, 1868
DiedApril 14, 1947(1947-04-14) (aged 79)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
Scientific career
FieldsZoology, geneticism, eugenics

Herbert Spencer Jennings (April 8, 1868 – April 14, 1947) was an American zoologist, geneticist, and eugenicist. His research helped demonstrate the link between physical and chemical stimulation and automatic responses in lower orders of animals.


He was born in Tonica, Illinois, on April 8, 1868, the son of George Nelson Jennings and his wife Olive Taft Jenks.[1]

He studied at the University of Michigan graduating BS in 1893 then Harvard University where he gained a further AM degree in 1895 and a PhD in 1896. In 1906 he began a long and illustrious career at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore where he stayed until retirement in 1938.[2] He married twice: firstly in 1898 to Louisa Burridge and secondly in 1939 to Lulu Plant.

He died in Santa Monica, California, on April 14, 1947. He is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.[3]


Tracy Sonneborn would later write:

Jennings was so struck by the continued production of hereditarily diverse clones at conjugation, even after many successive inbreedings, that he undertook to examine the matter mathematically. As a result, general formulae for the results of diverse systems of mating were published in a series of papers between 1912 and 1917; these were one of the main seeds from which the whole field of mathematical genetics developed.[4]

In 1924, Jennings published an article in Scientific Monthly on "Heredity and Environment" which was prescient for anticipating the double helix, and provocatively liberal for its comments on racial differences and American immigration policy.[5]

Jennings was the recipient of the inaugural 1925 Leidy Award of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.[6]

After complaints about the documentary titled The Hereditarily Diseased, the Carnegie Institution of Washington appointed Jennings to review the work of Harry H. Laughlin at the Institution's Eugenics Record Office, then part of what has become the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Jennings found falsified data and manipulated conclusions, and Laughlin was forced out.[7] In 1930, he published The Biological Basis of Human Nature, discussing eugenics, genetic influence on human traits, and criticizing simplistic interpretations of heritability based on Mendelism, emphasizing gene-environment interaction & polygenicity; Sonneborn would describe the impact of The Biological Basis of Human Nature as widespread: "Probably no book by a geneticist has been so widely quoted by American workers in the fields of education, sociology, anthropology, and psychology. In spite of inevitable misquotation and misinterpretation, it has exercised a distinctly salutary effect on those fields and is to a large extent responsible for whatever they have assimilated in this country from modern genetics."


  • Marler, Peter (2005), "Ethology and the origins of behavioral endocrinology.", Hormones and Behavior (published April 2005), 47 (4), pp. 493–502, doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2005.01.002, PMID 15777816, S2CID 16538119
  • Schloegel, Judy Johns; Schmidgen, Henning (2002), "General physiology, experimental psychology, and evolutionism. Unicellular organisms as objects of psychophysiological research, 1877-1918.", Isis; an International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences (published December 2002), 93 (4), pp. 614–45, doi:10.1086/375954, PMID 12664793, S2CID 22191215
  • Barkan, E (1991), "Reevaluating progressive eugenics: Herbert Spencer Jennings and the 1924 immigration legislation.", Journal of the History of Biology, 24 (1), pp. 91–112, doi:10.1007/BF00130475, PMID 11612743, S2CID 41366074


  1. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0-902-198-84-X.
  2. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0-902-198-84-X.
  3. ^ https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/85434186
  4. ^ Sonneborn, T M (1974), "Herbert Spencer Jennings.", Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, 47, pp. 143–223, PMID 11615625
  5. ^ Herbert Spencer Jennings, "Heredity and Environment", The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 19, No. 3 (September, 1924), pp. 225-238
  6. ^ "The Four Awards Bestowed by The Academy of Natural Sciences and Their Recipients". Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. 156 (1): 403–404. June 2007. doi:10.1635/0097-3157(2007)156[403:TFABBT]2.0.CO;2.
  7. ^ Bill Bryson (2013), One Summer: America, 1927, New York: Doubleday, pp. 369-370, ISBN 978-0-7679-1940-1 .

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