Born at Saint Clair, Michigan. Jenks graduated from the University of Michigan in 1878. He then studied law while teaching at Mount Morris College in Illinois, and was admitted to the Michigan bar in 1881. He later studied in Germany, earning his doctorate from the University of Halle under Johannes Conrad in 1885.
Jenks held professorships at both Cornell University (1891–1912) as member of the President White School of History and Political Science and New York University (1912 onward). Jenks was a member of the U.S. Commission on International Exchange. He was appointed in 1907 a member of the United States Immigration Commission.
Jenks advised the governments of Mexico, Nicaragua, Germany and China on matters of financial policy, visiting Peking in 1904. He was also an active member of the National Civic Federation where in 1908 he helped to draft a bill to amend the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Although that bill was ultimately unsuccessful, Jenks also sat on the four-man committee headed by John Bates Clark which drafted a preliminary version of the 1914 Clayton Antitrust Act.
Jenks was especially interested in the political aspects of economic problems and he served frequently on various government commissions and made many reports on currency, labor, and immigration issues.
Dictionary of Races
Jenks and his key staff assistant, anthropologist Daniel Folkmar collaborated on an extensive Dictionary of Races that became an important feature of the Commission’s report to Congress.
In their Dictionary of Races, Jenks and Folkmar stated that their principal task was to discover "whether there may not be certain races that are inferior to other races... to show whether some may be better fitted for American citizenship than others." The Dictionary, along with other commission reports, was cited frequently in subsequent immigration debates.
Scout Oath and Scout Law
A commission under Jenks with other prominent educators drew up the Scout Oath and Scout Law for the Boy Scouts of America. The principal differences from the originals suggested by Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, were the addition to the Scout Oath of the sentence "to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight" and of three additional points to the Scout Law- "A Scout is brave", "A Scout is clean", and "A Scout is reverent".
In 1912 Baden-Powell adopted "A Scout is clean in thought, word and deed" as a tenth law to his own original nine.
His books include:
- Dictionary of Races
- The Trust Problem (1900).
- The Immigration Problem (with W. J. Lauck, 1911).
- Principles of Politics (1909).
- Governmental Action for Social Welfare (1910).
- Tichenor, Daniel J. (2002). Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America. Princeton University Press. pp. 114–149.
- A Dictionary of Races of People: Reports of the Immigration Commission. 5. New York: Arno Press and the New York Times. 1970. p. 4.
- Wilson, John S. (1959). Scouting Round the World. Blandford Press. p. 170.
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