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THE SEX PROBLEM: THOMAS HUNT MORGAN, RICHARD
GOLDSCHMIDT, AND THE QUESTION OF SEX AND GENDER IN THE
CHRISTOPHER SCOTT WHISTON KOEHLER
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Christopher Scott Whiston Koehler
This dissertation is dedicated in part to my parents, Paul B. Koehler and Roberta
W. Koehler, who encouraged me and fostered a love of learning that has led to
the present work.
This dissertation is also dedicated to my partner, Burch R. Bryant, Jr., without
whose support and love I never could have completed it.
A project as lengthy and as complicated as a doctoral dissertation is never
solely an individual effort, and it is with real pleasure and no little gratitude that
I acknowledge the numerous people who helped me in one way or another.
I would like to thank my partner, Burch R. Bryant, Jr., who tolerated the
intrusion of a complicated project into our household. There were many times
that I either ignored him or my responsibilities to work on some aspect of the
project. He was also more than understanding about my absences, mental and
physical. He endured it all with love and patience.
I could neither have started nor completed my dissertation without the
help of my dissertation advisor, Professor Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis. Her
enthusiasm for my work from the very beginning was a source of inspiration and
comfort, and she always seemed to know when I was in need of moral support.
When my work began to take me in directions other than either of us expected,
Betty encouraged me where others might have tried to head me off. Her
assistance, whether in navigating the science-studies literature or the tangled
path of grant writing, was crucial. Likewise, Professor Geoffrey Giles guided me
through the twists and turns of German history and the history of sexuality with
good cheer and was an early advocate of a project that combined the history of
German biology with the history of sexuality. He also provided help with
translating sometimes peculiar German concepts into coherent English. His
advice and vast knowledge made working with German archival sources as easy
as possible, and his enthusiasm for Berlin was quite contagious. I am also
grateful for the advice, training, and (occasionally) sympathy that the other
members of my committee gave me. Professor Frederick Gregory introduced me
to the range and subtleties of German science from the Enlightenment onwards,
and, when I took his Science and Enlightenment course with the notion of
challenging the Enlightenment project, managed to convert me. He was an able
mentor and a sympathetic advisor. Professor Robert Hatch introduced me to the
history of the history of science and reminded me of why the decision between
Early Modem and Moder science was a difficult one for me to make. Professor
H. Jane Brockmann welcomed me into her zoology courses on evolution and
ethology, and welcomed the different perspectives I brought with me.
Individually and as a group, the members of my committee made my work
I would also like to thank the many people who commented on this
project in various stages, or who otherwise contributed their help. Professor
Michael Dietrich of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at the
University of California, Davis, has been no end of help, starting with
encouraging me as an undergraduate. It was he who introduced me to Richard
Goldschmidt and the problems of German genetics as a beginning graduate
student under his tutelage, and later suggested the comparative dimension
between American and German approaches to sex determination. Professor
Dietrich opened his collection of Goldschmidt's articles and reprints to me, and
secured office space and photocopying privileges for me with the HPS program
during a summer visit. He has also read various drafts and never stinted his
encouragement. So far, he has not seemed to mind sharing. Professor Sue V.
Rosser of the Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research at the University
of Florida read my dissertation at various stages and made many helpful
suggestions. Professor Jane Maienschein and Professor Garland Allen both
commented on the project during its early stages. Professor Charles Woolf of
the Department of Zoology of Arizona State University shared his personal
recollections of Goldschmidt and provided initial encouragement. Professor
Marsha Richmond, who wrote her own dissertation on Goldschmidt and sex
determination, was also encouraging.
Mark Lesney, my friend and fellow graduate student at the University of
Florida, helped me in many ways through his conversation and his comments on
my work. Our discussions about the nature of history and about the cultural
study of scientific knowledge helped to clarify my own thinking on the subjects.
If we could have gotten our debates onto paper during the time I stayed with
him while researching at the Library of Congress I suspect that we both would
have had much stronger "methods" sections in our dissertations.
Other members of the Department of History at the University of Florida
contributed, as well. Professor Carol Lansing opened my eyes to the
applicability of historiography to the history of science. It was in her class that I
first began to work with the ideas and concepts that ultimately formed the core
of this dissertation. Because of that course, I look at the history of biology in a
new light. Betty Corwine, first the graduate secretary and later secretary to the
department chair, mothered all the graduate students, and kept me especially out
This project depended on the help of numerous librarians and archivists,
and it is thus with gratitude that I acknowledge their assistance. The long-
suffering Interlibrary Loan staff of the University of Florida Libraries located
virtually all of my obscure and often incomplete requests with speed and good
humor. Beth Carroll-Horrocks and Rita Dockery of the Library of the American
Philosophical Society steered me through the vast APS collections in the history
of genetics and evolution and brought numerous sources to my attention.
Bonnie Ludt of the Archives of the California Institute of Technology steered me
through the Morgan and Sturtevant Papers, while Raymond Stokes of the
Bancroft Library helped with the Goldschmidt Papers and filled photocopy
requests from across the country. Kristel Weligen of the Bibliothek und Archiv
zur Geschichte der Max Planck Gesellschaft in Berlin was most helpful, as were
the people whose names I could never quite catch at the Staatsbibliothek zu
Berlin (Unter den Linden), the Humboldt Universitatsbibliothek, the Geheimes
Staatsarchiv Preuflischer Kulturbesitz, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, the
Bayerische Hauptstaatsarchiv, and the Ludwig-Maximilian-Universitatsarchiv.
They made working in a German-speaking country almost easy and met me
more than halfway. I would also like to thank Professor Erwin Haeberle of the
Archiv fir Sexualwissenschaft, Robert-Koch-Institut, for opening his archives
and for his conversation and encouragement.
I would also like to thank various other people for their encouragement.
My parents, Paul and Roberta Koehler, always listened when I had difficulties
and encouraged me when I grew discouraged. My in-laws, Burch and Marie
Bryant, always welcomed me and provided a needed respite on many occasions.
Noel Rosales and Vic Spain were always interested in my progress and even
cared about my topic. Katherine Bell and Tracy Miller commiserated when the
going got rough and were pleased when it got easy. Andrew Frank and Lisa
Tendrich Frank were always game for dinners out and, as members of my
graduate school cohort, kept me grounded in what was important: friends and
As in the beginning, so in the end: thanks to Burch R. Bryant, Jr., the sine
qua non of this dissertation.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ..................................................................................... iv
A B S T R A C T ......... ......... ................................................................................. ............... iii
INTRODUCTION: READING THE SEX PROBLEM......................... .............
Bourgeois Biologists at the Fin de Si6cle ..........................................................4
Thom as H unt M organ ............................................................ ....................7....
Richard Goldschm idt ...................................... .......... ....................9
So urces .............................................. ................ .. ....... .. ...................10
M methodology ........................................ ... ....................... .............. ......12
Conceptual Distance and the Histories of Biology and Sex .............................12
H historical Theory .............................................................. .................... 17
O organization ....................................... ............................................ ..... .......... 22
N otes ....................... .. ........ .............. .............. ..... 26
CHAPTER 1. 'ALL THAT IS SOLID MELTS INTO AIR': MODERNITY,
BOURGEOIS ANXIETY, AND THE SEX PROBLEM..........................................29
The Fin de Sicle............................. ........................29
M odernity ................................................ ............................ ................... .. 3 1
D iscontinuity ......................................... ................................................32
U rbanization....................................................... .................................. 34
Amerikanisierung: The United States, Germany, and Modernity...................35
A C onsum ing D esire........................................................... .......................38
Public and Private Modernity ........................................... .................... 40
Modern Sexual Personae........................... ..... ... ........................42
The Crisis of M asculinity..................... ............ ...................... ..........................44
ANew Reflexivity .....................................................45
The Sex Problem ............................................................. .................... 47
Science and M odernity.................. ............................ ............ ..........................49
The Sex Problem and the Biology of Cultural Anxiety .......................................53
A Single Sexual System ............................ ... ... ..................... 57
The Biologization of Culture ................................ ...........................62
Sum m ary ............................................. ........................................... 67
N otes ........................................69
CHAPTER 2. THE BIOLOGY OF SEX DETERMINATION.......................................79
Introduction to the Biological Aspects of the Sex Problem.................................79
Cytology: The Accessory Chromosomes and Sex Determination......................82
August Weismann and
the Separation of German Cells from Somatic Cells......................................82
The Cytologists ................ ................... ........................84
M endelism in a Pea-Shell ..................................... .......................86
Mendelism and the Chromosome Theory of Heredity.........................................89
Opposition to Mendelian Interpretations of a Chromosome Theory of
H eredity and Sex.......................................................... 01
Preformation and Epigenesis .................. ....................... .....................102
Speculation Run W ild ...................... ........... .......... ........... 103
Other Problems with the Chromosome Theory of Sex .................................104
Cytoplasm ic Inheritance .......................................... .........................................105
Balance Theories of Sex Determination: "The Enemy Within" and the
Cultural Implications of a Scientific Theory........................ .... ................ 109
Sum m ary .................. .......................................................117
N otes ..................... ...........................................118
CHAPTER 3. THOMAS HUNT MORGAN, SEX DETERMINATION, AND
TH E N EW W O M AN .... ........................................................... ...................... 124
New Sexual Personae and the Sex Problem ................................................124
The Lord of Misrule:
The New Woman and the Subversion of Bourgeois Femininity .......................126
The Education of W omen............................... ......... .................131
Biology in the United States:
Thomas Hunt Morgan, the Education of Women,
and the Sex Problem ........................................... ....................138
Thomas Hunt Morgan and the Determination of Sex ........................ .........142
Sex Determination at the Fin de Siecle.......................................................... 144
Morgan's Theories of Sex Determination and Sexual Aberration................157
M organ and Parthenogenesis........................................ ............ .................. 163
Sex Determination and Middle-Class Anxiety About Sex and Gender...............169
N o te s ...................................................................................... ........................ 17 3
CHAPTER 4. RICHARD GOLDSCHMIDT, INTERSEXUALITY, AND
HOMOSEUALITY IN GERMANY ........................................ ..................183
Sexual Inversion and M ale Anxiety.... ................................ .................. 183
The B irth of the Invert ......................................................... ... .......... ........184
A Note on Lesbians.................................. ..... ...................186
Germany: The Crisis of Fertility and a Place in the Sun ..................................187
Under Siege: Sexual Inversion and Germany ......................... ....................... 189
A Note on the 'Tolerance' of Weimar-Era Berlin .......................................192
Sexualwissenschaft: Germany and the Science of Sex..................................... 195
Richard Goldschmidt and the Determination of Sex ......................................... 199
Before the Intersexes: Goldschmidt's Early Views of Sex Determination .........202
Die Weibchenmdnnchen: The First Intersexes................... .....................212
Sexological Influences on Goldschmidt and
the Extra-Scientific Origins of the Intersex Concept ........................................226
Summary ............. ....... .................................229
N otes ....................................................................................... ......... .... 23 1
CHAPTER 5. FROM SEX DETERMINATION TO GENETICS: THE
'DELICATE PARTICLE LOGIC' OF SEX AND THE MECHANICAL
TECHNOLOGIES OF SEX DETERMINATION .............................................. 240
Introduction............................ ............ ................. ................... 240
Genetics From Sex Determination...................................244
Morgan, Sex Determination, and Genetics ........................ ...................248
Goldschmidt, Sex Determination, and Genetics ..................... ...................260
Heredity/Development in Goldschmidt's Thought.....................................261
Separate Genetical Sciences....... ..... ........................ ....................264
Heredity and Control........................ .. ... .............................................. 268
Summary: Genetics, M odernity, and Control ....................................................273
N otes ..................... .... ....... ...... ................... ... ................ 275
CONCLUSION. WORDS AND THINGS: THE DISCURSIVE
TECHNOLOGIES OF SEX DETERMINATION ............................ ............ 283
Introduction .............................. .... ............... ....................... .....................283
Policing the Borders: Biologists, the Discursive Technologies
of Sex Determination, and the Borders of Sex and Gender ...............................284
The W ill to K now ........................................ ................. ....................287
Sex and Truth: Naming, Normalizing, Controlling ..........................................303
Discursive Technologies: Taxonomies of Sexual Aberration
and the Calculus of Perversion..................................................305
Sexology: Taxonomies of Human Sexuality ..............................................305
Sexology and the Mathematization of Sex and Sexuality.............................307
Biologists and Discursive Technologies of Sex Determination....................310
Biologists and the Mathematical Nature of Sex...........................................317
Conclusion: Biology and the Normalization of Sex .........................................320
N o te s ............................................................ ...................... ...........................3 3 1
BIBLIOGRAPHY ...................................................................... .... .................. 338
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .....................................................................................391
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE SEX PROBLEM: THOMAS HUNT MORGAN, RICHARD
GOLDSCHMIDT AND THE QUESTION OF SEX AND GENDER IN THE
Christopher Scott Whiston Koehler
Chair: Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis
Major Department: History
Biologists made extensive investigations into the biological basis of sex
towards the end of the nineteenth and during the early decades of the
twentieth centuries. Concerned with such phenomena as the nearly equal
ratio between the sexes and the basis of sexual dimorphism, biologists
attempted to discover through a variety of means the exact moment when sex
was determined. This was one aspect of the so-called sex problem.
Sex determination constituted a major focus of the experimental study
of heredity and was a science in its own right. Nonetheless, historians have
focused on it only to the extent that it contributed to the development of
genetics. While genetics made crucial contributions to twentieth-century
biology, this approach obscures the extent to which the experimental study of
heredity was consumed by concerns about sex and its biological basis.
At the same time, the era historians refer to as the "fin de siecle," sex
presented similar problems to middle-class society in western Europe and
North America as part of the adjustment of bourgeois culture to Modernity.
This was another aspect of the so-called sex problem. The bourgeoisie was
predicated on the separation of men and women into public and private
spheres of activity and influence, and this separation by the fin-de-sicle was
increasingly fragile. Two types of people, feminist women and homosexual
men, threatened the bourgeois understanding of sex and gender by crossing
the borders between the two spheres.
This dissertation argues that the coincidence of such intense interest on
the part of biologists in sex determination with cultural anxieties about the
definition of sex and gender was not accidental. Focusing on the work of the
American biologist Thomas Hunt Morgan and the German geneticist Richard
Goldschmidt, this dissertation examines the ways in which culture and
science interacted to produce an understanding of sex and gender and argues
that sex determination constituted an effort to control and limit the changes
which occurred to the middle-class understanding of sex.
READING THE SEX PROBLEM:
BIOLOGY AS CULTURE, CULTURE AS TEXT
Nature is the shape in which the man of higher Cultures synthesizes
and interprets the immediate impressions of his senses. History is that from
which his imagination seeks comprehension of the living existence with a
Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, 2 volumes, (London: G. Allen,
1922), p. 8.
What was the meaning of sex? This question lay at the heart of the so-
called "sex problem," a problem that many biologists sought to solve at the
end of the nineteenth century and during the early decades of the twentieth.
It was this question about the meaning of sex that motivated biological work
on sex determination in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Beginning in the later nineteenth century, biologists became ever more
interested in the processes and implications of sex determination, and by the
beginning of the twentieth century much of the work of some of the most
prominent biologists was devoted to the determination and control of sex,
especially among those interested in questions of heredity.'
The language used in many articles, as well as in speeches and lectures,
by these early twentieth-century biologists confused and conflated sex and
sexuality. This confusion and ambiguity centered on the phrase the sex
problem, and ramified outward to many terms dealing with biological sex,
sexuality, and gender roles.2 The sex problem was defined perhaps once or
only a few times in over thirty years of work on sex determination;3 it was
simply assumed that all who read it knew what the phrase meant. Did the
"sex problem" refer to sex determination, sexual dimorphism, the roles of
gametes in fertilization, to the control of sex, to the mystery of the nearly
equal sex ratio in most sexually reproducing species, to the existence of sexual
variants like gynandromorphy and intersexuality, or even human sexual
variants?' The answer was, "Yes." These were all part of the sex problem, and,
with perhaps one exception, which sense of the phrase was intended was
never explicitly stated.
Biologists, however, were not the only ones confronting a perceived
sex problem; the sex problem referred to more than biology. The varied
approaches to the determination of biological sex mirrored a similarly varied
concern about the cultural meanings of sex and sexuality on the part of
various societies in many Western countries. The later nineteenth century,
and especially the early twentieth century witnessed many changes in the
transition to modernity, but the ones which posed the greatest cause for alarm
within the traditional, male-dominated bourgeois order were those that
related to changes in traditional sex and gender roles, as well as to changes in
traditional conceptualizations of sexuality. While to some, sexuality
represented the emancipation of humanity from the strictures of the past, to
others, particularly conservative commentators, sexuality contained within it
the destruction of Western culture.5 Two sorts figures, both of whom
traduced the accepted bourgeois definitions of appropriate feminine and
masculine behavior, were of particular concern to the middle classes. One
was the "New Woman," the woman who left the domestic sphere allotted to
her by bourgeois culture to demand a more active, public role in middle-class
culture, and the other was the homosexual or "Inverted Man," who by virtue
of being perceived to have given up the "man's" sexual role was thought to
have forsaken the masculine realm for the feminine. These two sexual
personae together caused anxiety in middle-class men about the status and
nature of masculinity. Taken together, these changes characteristic of
modernity embodied in these personae seemed to created a climate of great
concern over matters of sex and gender. The New Woman and the Inverted
Man appeared to some to conspire to create the belief that somehow,
modernity had created sexual anarchy.
It is the intention of this project to demonstrate that these two
seemingly disparate yet parallel narratives, sex determination and crises of
sexual identity, were, in fact, manifestations of the same phenomenon: a
cultural preoccupation with matters of sex, gender, and sexuality. Located
between science and culture, sex determination reflected both cultural
concerns and biological expectations. This dissertation maintains that sex
determination was the scientific effort to control and order aspects of life that
had apparently moved beyond all control or understanding. Sex
determination, then, was concerned with making the changing definitions of
gender more comprehensible, rule-like, and orderly at precisely the same
moment as the old assurances of traditional sexual roles were breaking down
in the face of modernization. Sex determination sought to make science, and
hence culture, more exact and rigorous, and, reflecting cultural
preoccupations, sought to reify sexuality Through this historical examination,
this dissertation will look not only at specific programs of sex determination
and how sex determination led to genetics, but will also examine the role of
science in the shaping of a cultural response to the threat posed by the New
Woman and the Inverted Man. This dissertation will also suggest some
implications of the biological categorization of gender.
Bourgeois Biologists at the Fin de Sicle
Work on sex determination advanced rapidly in the 1890s with the
work of the cytologist H. Henking, who first noticed the presence of an
"accessory chromosome," which N. M. Stevens (1861-1912) and E. B. Wilson
(1856-1939) independently connected to sex determination in 1905-06. The
period between 1900 and 1930 witnessed the greatest work by biologists on the
sex problem. Before this period, sex determination was the province of many
areas of biology, while after the province of medically oriented sexologists.
This dissertation focuses, then, on the period in which fears of changes
expressed by men (and it was usually, though not always, men) ran the
deepest and when the work on the biological basis of sex was at its most
Although biologists in many countries tried to solve the problem of
sex, such work was concentrated primarily in the United States and Germany.
While Lucien Cudnot in France and F. A. E. Crew and Leonard Doncaster in
Great Britain worked on sex determination, there is little evidence suggesting
that these countries supported the concentrated, virtually institutionalized
effort to understand the biological basis of sex that the United States and
Germany did. The present project takes as its subject the bourgeoisie in the
United States and Germany, both because most biologists were members of
the middle classes, and because the middle class itself had particular attitudes
towards sex, the body, and science. While the middle classes have been
regarded as those that introduced the repression of the body to the West, they
in fact applied the techniques of the body (medicine, pedagogy, and biology,
for example, as well as an ethos of self-control) to themselves through the
process of class differentiation from the upper classes and the working classes:
The health of the body and its sexuality became the hallmark of the
bourgeoisie, as well as the source of its identity.6
The present project focuses on middle-class male biologists who were,
more than any other segment of the population, in a position to marshal the
most powerful resources of Western culture to deal with a perceived threat
that was thought to have organic origins. To begin with, it was men's
attitudes and perceptions that precipitated a crisis of masculine sexual
identity. Many of the historical actors involved with the narrative of sex
determination were men, although there were notable exceptions, and
science, including academic biology, was run by and for men. In fact, it may be
that much of this cultural narrative about controlling sexual anarchy was
about silencing the New Woman and the Inverted Man, about re-establishing
or re-emphasizing traditional bourgeois definitions of femininity and
This project consequently focuses its attention on two of the most
significant biologists in the United States and Germany who attempted to
solve the sex problem, and then compares the work of these biologists with
that of their colleagues and associates. This project will examine the work on
sex determination of Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866-1945) in the United States
and Richard Benedict Goldschmidt (1878-1958) in Germany to assess and
explain the meaning of sex determination. Both biologists worked extensively
on sex determination in the early decades of the twentieth century, and both
scientists contributed, not incidentally, to the developing science of genetics,
which was inextricably linked to the work on the determination of sex. Both
Morgan and Goldschmidt were pioneers in the field of genetics, and both had
early interests in sex determination. They were, however, to develop
significant differences in their ideas on the nature of sex, as well as on the
modes of genic action in relation to sex. Morgan fitted into what Maienschein
called the developmentalist approach, which saw sex as something which
unfolded in accordance with individual physiological processes.7 Yet as work
on hereditary concerns developed, and as Morgan's work on genetics began to
contribute to a convergence of Mendelian and chromosomal approaches, his
views changed. By 1911 Morgan saw sex determination as a nuclear process.8
Similarly, Goldschmidt's theory of sex determination rested upon the action
of the genes, as was thus ultimately nuclear in nature. This later led to a
science of physiology and development--physiological genetics--that
depended upon the action of the genes.
Primary among the questions raised by sex determination and
addressed by Morgan, Goldschmidt, and others was the nature of the
relationship between the hereditary material and the eventual form of the
organism. How does a single pair of alleles, to use anachronistic terminology,
have such profound consequences for the developing organism? This was a
question that interested both Morgan and Goldschmidt. The divergent
answers to this question contributed to the eventual split between the
Morgan school and the proponents of the evolutionary synthesis on the one
hand and Goldschmidt on the other, fact, there are grounds for the argument
that the interest in sex determination, both scientific and cultural, led directly
to the rise and eventual adoption of Mendelism and classical genetics. Given
the dramatic difference that arose in the 1930s between the Morgan school
and Goldschmidt, a comparison of their views in this crucial area should
reveal the importance to concerns about sex and gender to the formation of
For the sake of comparison and to provide scientific and institutional
context, this project also will assess related work on sex determination,
notably the work of William E. Castle (1867-1962), Wilson, Stevens, Carl
Correns (1864-1933), and others. This project is not, however, intended in any
way to be biographical. Both Morgan and Goldschmidt have sufficient
biographical or autobiographical materials devoted to them, as well as
numerous articles and other works that elucidate to varying degrees their
scientific work. Nonetheless, short biographical sketches are presented below.
Thomas Hunt Morgan
Morgan was born in 1866 to a patrician family in Lexington, Kentucky.
Like many biologists, Morgan displayed an early interest in nature and in
collecting various aspects of it. Historian of biology and Morgan biographer
Garland Allen notes that however much Morgan's scientific work focused on
laboratory biology, Morgan always enjoyed natural history.' Morgan attended
the State College of Kentucky at Lexington, followed by graduate study at
Johns Hopkins University under the biologist William Keith Brooks.
Morgan was evidently always a congenial and pleasant person, and despite
his family background not particularly aloof or class-conscious.'0 Well-
traveled, Morgan made many trips to Europe and was interested in classical
painting, sculpture, and literature." He maintained a life-long interest in
music, and Morgan and his wife regularly attended concerts.12 He was always
financially generous and on more than one occasion made up for shortfalls in
his students' fellowships.'" In fact, it was Morgan who paid the two
thousands dollars (in 1919) bond to secure Goldschmidt's release from an
internment camp to which he had been relegated as an enemy alien." After
graduate school, Morgan worked first at Bryn Mawr and then later at
Columbia University (and eventually at the California Institute of
Morgan is reputed to have advocated a certain elevation from
contemporary political and cultural struggles, operating, according to Allen,
on the principle that scientists best served their country by concentrating on
science and avoiding political entanglements. He evidently regarded the
activism of some of his students with a jaundiced eye." This would seem to
render him ill-suited to a project such as this, which depends on situating the
biologist and the science securely within their contemporary context.
Evidence exists, however, that is at slight variance with the public persona
that Morgan projected. Otto Mohr (1886-1967), a post-doctoral student of
Morgan's and a life-long friend, wrote to Goldschmidt about Morgan's
perspectives about Mohr's recent work on genetics, which included a section
dealing with human applications of the science. Mohr wrote,
Morgan's remarks on my last chapter may interest you. It reads/runs
as follows: "The final chapter, dealing with the bearings of genetics on
human affairs, takes an unusually sane and unbiased attitude towards
such controversial subjects as sterilization, birth control, racial crossing,
environment versus heredity. ." You know Morgan well enough to
realize that this was more than I expected, since Morgan is very afraid
of committing himself in connection with such topics.'6
This did not mean that Morgan did not think about such topics, only that he
preferred not to take public positions. Indeed, Morgan not only thought about
such topics, but on occasion spoke about them publicly. Morgan and the
American biologist C. B. Davenport considered writing a joint paper on the
subject of war and eugenics during World War One, although there is no
evidence that they ever completed the project.17 Morgan also addressed a
group of sociologists on "the relation of modern theories of heredity to the
State."'8 Morgan was cognizant of the implications of the study of heredity,
even if he would not always, or even ever, take a public position. Despite this
reticence (or perhaps because of it), Morgan was a figure of no little interest
culturally, as well as biologically.
Richard Goldschmidt's position vis-a-vis his culture is easier to
ascertain, thanks in part to Goldschmidt himself. In several retrospective
essays, as well as an autobiography that virtually ignored his scientific work,
Goldschmidt endlessly examined himself and his life. Goldschmidt
descended from an ancient Jewish family, a proud heritage that nonetheless
proved difficult in Germany after the institution of the National Socialist
government in 1933. When the Nazis came to power they published a poster
bearing his family tree to show how this family, which Goldschmidt traced
back to sixteenth-century Frankfurt, had set out to conquer the world, or at
least Germany (the Goldschmidts were related to many of the world's great
banking and industrial families)." Goldschmidt was painfully aware that his
Jewish heritage marked him as a perpetual outsider in German culture,
despite the contributions he and other such acculturated Jewish Germans had
made to German culture.20 This awareness of his status as outsider remained
with him all his life and may have contributed to his aloof personality.
Goldschmidt was born on 12 April 1878 to Solomon Goldschmidt and
Emma Fliirscheim in Frankfurt am Main. His parents were prosperous,
though by no means wealthy, bourgeois. It was a comfortable life,
surrounded by family and servants.21 Goldschmidt noted, however, that in
such bourgeois families, children were more pets than anything else, and as a
result, no-one seemed interested in his mind.22 Although it was a good life,
Goldschmidt felt that his home life was "too bourgeois--conservative,
parsimonious, but without a cultured style, the enjoyment of literature and
arts, or those small but highly important refinements that make up the
difference between comfortable living and cultured living."23 Nonetheless,
Goldschmidt was highly cultured, described by his friends as a "man of very
broad knowledge and culture and.. .especial competence in the field of
Oriental ceramics and life."24
Goldschmidt was educated in the humanistic traditions of the
Gymnasium and the Bildungsburgertum, or cultivated middle class. This
humanistic school included nine years of Latin and French, and six years of
Greek, as well as numerous history and mathematics courses. Goldschmidt
The Gymnasium graduates [that I taught] were brought up practically
without sciences, [but they] understood science much better than the
graduates from modern schools based upon mathematics and science. I
realized... that secondary schools are more successful if they do not
impart practical knowledge, useful later in life, but teach the
impressionable young mind to work, to think clearly.25
Of direct significance to his scientific formation was the Senckenberg Society
in his hometown of Frankfurt, in which Goldschmidt's interests in the
natural world were encouraged and cultivated.26 After the Gymnasium,
Goldschmidt attended university at Heidelberg, pushed into the medical
faculty by his parents, who were not optimistic about their son's chances to
earn a living as a zoologist in the climate of the German universities during
the Wilhelmine era.27 After working at the University of Munich,
Goldschmidt was called to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology in Berlin,
where he worked until he fled Germany in 1936.
To fulfill its goal, the present project relies on the writings of and about
many early twentieth-century biologists. Some of the primary sources
constitute the printed and published works of Morgan, Goldschmidt, and
biologists such as Correns, Castle, Wilson, Stevens, and others on the subject
of sex determination. Other primary sources for this project include
unpublished archival material, such as speeches on the sex problem, notes,
and letters. The scientific papers and books provide the primary material that
is to be subjected to a close critical reading. It is in these sources, for example,
that one finds the greatest ambiguity in the language of sex and sexuality, as
well as the most suggestive use of metaphor, simile, and word choice.
Scientific sources reveal a great deal about attitudes toward sexuality, even
given the reticence of many scientists, such as Morgan, to comment about
such matters. If science and culture are assumed to be at least partly the same
thing, then contemporary debates about changing sex and gender roles or
fears about homosexuality become clearer, even in scientific texts. These
papers are so rich with possibilities for analysis precisely because the authors
often claimed value-neutrality for them.
Other important sources include related contemporary works from
other branches of knowledge. These scientific and "para-scientific" works help
to reveal the debate over changing sex and gender expectations, both through
explicit reference and the sorts of implicit discussion mentioned above. For
this project, material from contemporary debates about the role of women in
society and culture, which were often tied to their "role" in biology and
nature, and the material from sexology will be important primary sources.
Likewise, the literature on degeneration, which spanned all areas of cultural
production, plays an important role, because many of the changes detailed by
the present project were couched in terms of degeneration as a biological
Given the emphasis of the project on the influence of gender and
sexuality on biology, original materials relating to the study of sexuality might
shed some light on the subject. However, much of the material on the study
of sex represents the emergence of sex research, particularly sexuality research,
from biology and its concomitant adoption by medicine, whereas this project
is interested specifically in the work of biologists as biologists on sex, rather
than in the work of biologists as sexologists. The primary focus of the project
is on the lives and work of various biologists, and not on assorted sexologists
per se. Furthermore, there is little evidence that Morgan, Goldschmidt, or any
of the other biologists whose work is to be explored, read, or even had access
to, primary sexological literature. So while Alfred Kinsey, somewhat like
Goldschmidt, was a zoologist who considered human sexuality, he did so for
reasons much different from those that motivated Goldschmidt.28 Thus
while the Kinsey Records at Indiana may contain relevant documents from
the period after this study, they were not examined. Likewise, while
Hirschfeld certainly had an enormous collection of data, his Institute, with
most of its records, was destroyed by the Nazis. But although Goldschmidt
lived in Berlin at the height of the Institute's visibility and was aware of
Hirschfeld's work, there is no indication that he ever entered, let alone
examined the records on sex and sexuality.
Conceptual Distance and the Histories of Biology and Sex
Although it might not appear so at first glance, the history of science
and the history of sexuality can profitably inform one another, especially in
the context of the fin de siecle. One reason for this is that biology participated
in the definition of sexuality and gender roles; the life sciences at the fin de
sibcle were permeated with sexual imagery.29 At the fin de siecle, the era in
which the West became recognizably modern, questions of sex and identity
were reconceptualized and incorporated into scientific discourse." The sexual
element has been implicit in the modern project from the beginning, both in
attitudes between the sexes and in human attitudes towards natural order.31
This project lies at that cross-roads between the history of the life sciences
(specifically the study of heredity) and the history of sexuality, because
discussions about biological nature and causation were not objective
explanations, but rather were part of a discourse of naturalness and
degeneration, emancipation and enslavement.32 What counted as "natural"
or "degenerate" was culturally and historically mediated.
Scientists worried about these issues, and did so well into the twentieth
century. Yet a history of sex determination that ignores the contemporary
crisis of sexuality tells perhaps only half of the story. This confluence of
biology and culture suggests what historian Stephen Kern terms a
"conceptual distance."33 It is a way of bridging the gaps between fragmentary
and disparate historical sources by juxtaposing seemingly disparate
phenomena, such as the sex problem in biology and contemporary concerns
about changing gender roles. Kern suggests that the thinking of widely
disparate fields, when they arrive at similar generalizations, may reveal
something of the Zeitgeist of a particular place and time. When biologists
and other cultural producers like writers or artists fretted about the dis-order
of sex, there may well have been something dis-ordered, from their
perspective, about it.
One interesting example of the confluence of the history of sexuality
with the history of science was Otto Weininger (1880-1903) and his book, Sex
and Character (1903; English-language edition, 1906). Weininger was a
Viennese Jewish intellectual who published a virulently anti-Semitic and
misogynist work and then committed suicide not long after.34 Sex and
Character was one of those mediocre books that nonetheless had a wide
impact, and it is thus difficult to over-estimate its influence on culture in
general. It became a best-seller almost overnight by virtue of the fact that it
seemed to express the anxieties about sex that many members of the
bourgeoisie had been feeling.35 As historian Richard Evans observes, "it was
huge, turgid and absurd, but it went through eleven editions by 1909."3
Sex and Character was by no means a scientific text; it had no
significant impact on the scientific world of the fin-de-siecle West.3
Nonetheless, Weininger used the language of science to articulate
contemporary fears and prejudices about sex and modernity.3 Weininger
argued that the sexual impulse was not limited to the sex organs, but was
generalized throughout the body. Humans were furthermore innately
bisexual, and even adult humans retained a vestige of this condition
it can be shown that however distinctly unisexual an adult plant,
animal or human being may be, there is always a certain persistence of
the bisexual character, never a complete disappearance of the characters
of the undeveloped sex. Sexual differentiation, in fact, is never
complete. All the peculiarities of the male sex may be present in the
female in some form, however weakly developed; and so also the
sexual characteristics of the woman persist in the man.9"
Reflecting contemporary anxiety about the crumbling distinctions between
the genders, Weininger argued that "in the widest treatment of most living
things, a blunt separation of them into males or females no longer suffices for
the known facts."40
Since a physical examination could not be counted on to reveal the
true natures of men and women, Weininger turned to science to differentiate
between them.41 Noting that chemistry had laws that described the behavior
of the atoms of an ideal gas, Weininger crafted mathematical formulae to
describe the sexual and romantic behavior and composition of ideal men and
women. These formulae described the balance between the feminine and
masculine elements of any given person." For what Weininger termed a
"true sexual union" to occur, the proposed couple had to add up to a complete
female and male. That is, the amount of the feminine essence in a man had
to complement the amount of masculine essence in a woman." Weininger
went so far as to craft a formula to describe the strength of the sexual
attraction between any two people, taking into account such variables as race,
class, age, health, and other such considerations.4 Weininger attempted to
define scientifically the subjective qualities of true femininity and
masculinity, and so to establish mathematically his culture's belief in sex as
something that occurred between a man and a woman, regardless of the
Homosexuality (what was referred to at the fin de sibcle as sexual
inversion), which appeared to hold unique horrors for the German-speaking
world, was similarly susceptible to such "scientific" treatment. Inverts were
simply those men and women in whom the amounts of the essence of the
"opposite" sex were very nearly equal. Weininger argued that "individuals
[exist] in whom there is as much maleness and femaleness, or indeed who,
although reckoned men, may contain an excess of femaleness, or as women
and yet be more male than female."45 These inverts, however, were not all of
a kind, but rather constituted a continuum between two polar sexes (poles
that no one ever really reached)." Weininger's system represented an
attempt to define in an authoritative manner (hence his use of science)
something his culture found to be highly threatening.
Weininger, however, was no biologist. Yet biologists certainly
expressed concerns similar to Weininger's. In 1895, just a few years before
Weininger's work was published, James Weir, Jr., published a jeremiad
against the evils of female emancipation in, of all places, The American
Naturalist. Like so many at the turn of the century, Weir associated the
extension of the franchise to women, which seemed to symbolize the
intrusion of women into the public, masculine realm, with rule by women,
what Weir castigated as "matriarchy."4 That is, if women voted, they would
perforce dominate everything, and lead to the decline of the race.
A return to matriarchy at the present time would be distinctly, and
emphatically, and essentially retrograde in every particular. The right
to vote carries with it the right to hold office, and, if women are
granted the privilege of suffrage, they must be given the right to
What Weir called a privilege was, at that time, at least according to the
Constitution, a right theoretically possessed by all citizens. Yet if women
voted (and naturally from there, they would try to take over), it would lead to
the deterioration of the race and of bourgeois culture. Women seemed to
carry the possibility for cultural decay within them.
Worse than suffrage, however, was feminism. Comparing feminism
to the "retrogressive" doctrines of communism and nihilism, Weir argued
that they were all "degenerate beliefs."49 He claimed that
woman of to-day, who believes in and inculcates the doctrines of
matriarchy, doctrines which have been, as far as the civilized world is
concerned, thrown aside and abandoned these many hundred years, is
as much the victim of psychic atavism... [as the neurasthenic].50
Weir was obviously horrified by the so-called New Woman (see chapter 3,
below), part of a cadre of educated bourgeois women who sought life in the
heretofore masculine world of work and politics. These New Women were
held by some, including scientists, to be mentally degenerate. This pernicious
feminism, however, led to sex reversal ("viraginity") and lesbianism in
Viraginity has many phases. We see a mild form of it in the tom-boy
who abandons her dolls and female companions for the marbles and
masculine sports of her boy acquaintances. In the loud-talking, long-
stepping, slang-using young woman we see another form, while the
square shouldered, stolid, cold, unemotional, unfeminine android (for
she has the normal human form, without the normal human psychos)
is another. The most aggravated form is that known as homo-
sexuality... Another form of viraginity is technically gynandry, and
may be defined as follows: A victim of gynandry not only has the
feelings and desires of a man, but also the skeletal form, features, voice,
Weir's most revealing comment was his parenthetic note about the
constitution of the "unfeminine android." Although the physical description
of this woman was that of the ideal man, the description of her psyche,
presumably also masculinized, was not referred to as "manly" but as
"inhuman." Weir equated a lack of femininity as bourgeois culture defined it
at the fin de siecle with a lack of humanity. A cold, "unfeminine" woman
was not "unwomanly" or "manly" but "inhuman." To Weir and the editors
of The American Naturalist, the New Woman not only demonstrated a high
degree of degeneracy, she carried it with her like a plague, so that the
matriarchy that she planned to institute would drag all of bourgeois culture
down with it.52
Both Weininger and Weir, who approached the sex problem from
different perspectives, arrived at similar conclusions. According to the
notion of conceptual distance, when commentators from divergent areas,
such as biology and a semi-popular consideration of sex, reached similar
conclusions, there may have been something to those generalizations.
This project will attempt to evaluate this conceptual distance through
which a science, specifically sex determination, expressed certain cultural
preoccupations. Much of it will consist of tracing out the connections between
words and ideas and their relations to biological and cultural phenomena in
relevant biological texts. This project of "deeper meanings" necessitates the
use of a comparative methodology--attention to the details of language--and
the subsequent analysis of power/knowledge relations.
This dissertation depends on a close reading of texts both biological and
cultural, although that distinction is somewhat artificial. Intellectual history,
from which the history of science has so often drawn, has tended to view
language as a stable set of references and narrative as something that conveys
fixed and determinant meanings. However, according to certain post-
structuralist critics, including Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, and Michel
Foucault, language could not be relied upon to convey fixed meaning.
Language, instead of a stable system of signs, was a play of unintended
transformations and represented economy of differences in perception that
made the world (from the human perspective) rather than reflected it.53
Likewise, narrative was similarly problematic for the post-structuralists
because of its reliance on words. Historians have always assumed that an
historical narrative contained a fixed meaning, that of the historian or that of
the historical subject. This notion of narrative, however, was destroyed by
the notion that no relationship of word to thing existed; there were only
words, which proliferated rapidly.54 Because narratives were constructed of
words, they, like words themselves, generated multiple meanings."
Science at the beginning of the twentieth century (and at the end, for
that matter), however, was made up of language that was taken to be an
essential reflector of the natural world, and language-based narratives were
taken to reflect the truth of the natural world. Science depended on texts that
were written by individuals (or small groups) of subjects and that were
focused on the intent of the authorial subject. Methodologically, the history
of science has tended to adopt this stance. This was absolutely necessary when
the historian attempted to understand the science of past eras, and thus the
history of science relied on the subject and the text to a degree perhaps greater
than other forms of history. To certain analyses, however, especially to
analyses of scientific texts for content other than the explicitly "scientific," the
text--a constellation of subject and object bound together and permeated by
discourse--contained more than what it was intended to convey. Taken at
"face value," the journal articles, books, and documents that constitute the
sources of the sex problem were rather technical expressions of biological
esoterica. When read within a larger context, these texts assumed real
meaning for the culture that produced them. It was on this level that the
question shifted from "how did this audience understand the determination
of sex?" to "what work did this do for the culture in which it was produced?"
In this shift, the biological details and assumptions assumed a broader
The present project thus depends on language to link together
seemingly disparate subjects, specifically the history of biology and the history
of sexuality, through the idea of the conceptual distance. It does this through
attention to the language of biological and sexual writing. Such a literary read
of a variety of sources can avoid the question of the validity of a given text, in
favor of taking it as a witness to certain events, as is implied in the concept of
conceptual distance.56 Instead of worrying about the objectivity of the
biologist, the purity of the biology, and the isolation of the biologists from
culture, this language-based approach assumes from the beginning that
science and culture are part of the same thing and that both constitute human
experience. The object of inquiry becomes how the author of the text went
about producing the meanings contained within it. In this manner, because
the common reality shared by interlocutors cannot be transferred to author
and reader, and because reference and representation are problematic actions
(due to the putative lack of connections between words and things), the text is
severed from authorial intent."5 The author fades thus from view along with
his or her intentions, and the text then can suggest possibilities for wider
cultural meanings.5 Thus biological texts dealing with making the organic
bases of femininity and masculinity can become barometers of cultural
Biological texts at the fin de siecle were cultural texts, as well. As
historical evidence, virtually all texts are equally permeated with ideological
elements or philosophical commitments. These commitments reveal a great
deal about the climate that the texts were written in. As historian Hayden
White suggests, any text or artifact can reveal something of the cultural
milieu of its time and place of production.59 Through a broader, more
ecumenical use of a text than is customary in the history of science--assuming
that science and culture are the same--questions of causation can assume a
different aspect. Science is neither internally autonomous nor externally
determined. By looking at a "text" as what historian Dominick La Capra
terms a "situated use of language marked by an interaction between mutually
implicated but contestatory tendencies," the question of the internal and the
external becomes meaningless.60 The distinction between what is inside and
what is outside becomes meaningless as nothing is seen as purely internal or
purely external to texts. The question becomes one of interactions between
language and the world.61
Just as a comparison of language sheds light on the cultural aspects of
sex determination as represented in scientific discourse, so too can an
examination of power/ knowledge relations in the discourse of sex
determination illuminate other levels of the cultural meaning of sex, gender,
and sexuality in early twentieth-century culture. This sort of method of
historical investigation tries to determine who holds positions of authority,
tries to define the forms that authority takes, and tries to see who and what
constitutes the subjects of that authority. Some of the work of the French
historian and philosopher Michel Foucault, especially his analysis of
power/ knowledge relations,62 and his analysis of sexuality in the West,63 has
particular relevance to the history of science, particularly the history of sex
determination. Cultural history, inasmuch as it represents a 'discipline'
rather than a set of analytical tools, holds the realm of scientific investigation
to be one of the primary domains of power and knowledge, whereby
knowledge of nature becomes power over nature, and thus the scientific
investigation of sex and gender can be seen as an aspect of controlling the
sexuality of bodies. The scientific work on sex determination, which began to
increase dramatically in breadth and comprehensiveness in the nineteenth
century, represents an example of an institutional "will to know," to learn as
much as possible about the human body.
A power/knowledge analysis can allow the historian to ask questions
that tend to remain unanswered in histories of genetics. For instance, an
analysis of power/knowledge relations can elucidate the work that sex
determination did for early twentieth-century culture by asking who was
determining and defining, thereby reifying the normal and the aberrant, and
who and what was subject to these definitions. Such an inquiry brings into
greater relief just exactly what the subject matter was and what it represented,
the hidden "who" behind the sex problem. In many cases, workers like
Morgan and Goldschmidt looked at gynandromorphic or intersexual bodies.
Yet these genetic and/or morphological anomalies are comparatively rare (at
least until scientists like Goldschmidt and others began to breed for them).
Rather than take the work at face value, a power/knowledge analysis looks
beneath the surface of the scientific discourse to see how it operates and to see
how it goes about making cultural meaning out of fairly rare phenomena.
This dissertation is organized along comparative lines, and it discusses
culture and then biology to demonstrate the lack of strict separation between
the two. Chapter 1 examines the cultural background for the investigation of
sex common to both the United States and Germany, highlighting those areas
in which German experience with modernization differed from the
American. Chapter 1 also examines the ways in which American and
German culture attempted to address various problems, specifically
problematic changes to definitions of gender, through science.
Chapter 2 picks up the biological background to the sex problem,
and examines in detail the cytological background for the research, performed
predominantly by American and German biologists, that led to an
understanding of the chromosomal basis for differences between men and
women. Chapter 2 also examines the Mendelian contribution towards an
understanding of sex and then addresses the very real barriers that existed to
the synthesis between cytology and Mendelism, a synthesis that not only
"solved" (on one level) the sex problem but also led to the formation of
genetics. Chapter 2 considers some of the theories of sex that opposed
Mendelism and some theories of sex that, while quite Mendelian, were not
"correct," and how these theories were particularly evocative of cultural
anxieties about changing definitions of sex and gender.
Chapter 3 examines the first of the troubling sexual personae,
specifically the New Woman in the United States, and makes connections
between the New Woman and the blurring of boundaries between the sexes
by virtue of her education. At this same time, when the academic world was
not only becoming more open to women scholars but also subject to attack for
"defeminizing" women (educated middle-class women had significantly
fewer children than those who did not attend college), the geneticist Morgan
began work on sex determination in parthenogenetic forms. Chapter 3
concludes by examining Morgan's status as arbiter of some of these cultural
and sexual changes.
Chapter 4 details the implications of the second troubling persona,
the Inverted Man, for Imperial and Weimar Germany. In Weimar Germany,
Goldschmidt formulated a theory of sex determination and inheritance,
which he eventually extended throughout the animal kingdom. From 1916 to
1931, he included human homosexuality under the rubric of intersexuality,
suggesting a confluence of interests.
Chapter 5 explores the formation of classical genetics out of work on
sex determination, particularly as it grew out of Morgan's discovery of a sex-
linked mutation that proved the validity of the chromosome theory of
inheritance. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 together examine the mechanical
technologies of sex determination.
The Conclusion explores the discursive technologies of sex
determination, the ways in which words and language contributed to the
definition of gender, and highlights the importance of language in the
discourse of sex determination. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz,
paraphrasing Max Weber, claims that if man is an animal suspended in webs
of significance that he himself has spun, culture constitutes those webs.64
Historian William Bouwsma argues that those webs are spun with the help
of language, because it is with language that humans order the mass of
information provided by the natural world.65 Through language, which is
shifting and without fixed meaning, humans order the chaotic, organize
nature into categories and make it useful.6
Nature is one such conceptual category that humans create to order
sensory impressions. It is, however, often thought to be the one category with
the least distance between perception and reality, and taken to be
unconstrained by language. Because science is fundamentally dependent on
language, and language is so historically contingent, the concept of science as
the next step away from undifferentiated nature is historically contingent,
too. If the dream of modernity since the Enlightenment has been the creation
of a social and cultural order that was as orderly and rational as the
Newtonian world--what historian Stephen Toulmin refers to as the
Cosmopolis--then that orderly rational world was in and of itself an
imposition on nature, a reflection of Western culture.67
The order of nature, like all representations, was and is a story that the
West has told about itself. It has been extraordinarily successful in its
manipulations of the natural world, but it is still an imposition from
without. Nature does not recognize the divisions and categories that are
imposed upon it. Toulmin suggests that the emotional, particularly its
ultimate somatic embodiment in the guise of the sexual, has been carefully
bracketed out of the Cosmopolis, the modern relation of the cultural and the
natural.68 The West perceived the sexual as irrational, and this ran counter to
the explicit agenda of the creation of a human culture that fitted into exact
and rational "natural" categories. Sex determination, in trying to "scientifize"
sex, represented the belated attempt to fit the sexual (literally the
polymorphous perverse) into the exact rational categories of Newtonian
nature. At the particular historical juncture of the fin de siecle, sex was seen
as not only fundamentally disordered, but also disordering, a source of
contagious chaos. Sex determination was how a certain group of cultural
producers, specifically biologists, sought to organize the chaos.
SW. E. Castle to C. B. Davenport, 16 October 1906, C. B. Davenport Papers, Library of the
American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA.
2 Historian Alice Dreger notes that the late twentieth century draws distinctions between sex
(an anatomical category), gender (social identification), and sexuality (sexual desires and acts)
However, until at least the late nineteenth century, these distinctions did not exist. As Dreger
points out, the characteristics were conventionally associated with one another (p. 49). See
Alice Dreger, "Hermaphrodites in Love: The Truth of the Gonads," in Science and
Homosexualities, ed. Vernon A. Rosario (New York: Routledge, 1997), 46-66.
3 Richard Goldschmidt, "Geschlechtsbestimmung," in Festschrift der Kaiser Wilhelm
Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Wissenschaften zu ihrem 10. Jihrigen Jubilium, ed. C. Neuberg
(Berlin: Julius Springer, 1921), 90-95.
SThe general term for a body that combined both female and male elements under pathological
conditions was gynandromorphy, although humans so afflicted were also designated as
androgynes. Hermaphrodites combined the sexes normally.
5Cornelie Usbome, The Politics of the Body in Weimar Germany: Women's Reproductive
Rights and Duties (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1992), p. 70.
6 Biddy Martin, "Feminism, Criticism, and Foucault," New German Critique 27 (1982): 8.
7 See Jane Maienschein, "What Determines Sex? A Study of Converging Approaches, 1880-
1916," Isis 75 (1984): 457-480.
9 Garland Alen, Thomas Hunt Morgan: The Man and His Science (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1978), pp. 10-11.
5 Ibid., pp. 14-15.
SIbid., p. 20.
12 Ibid., p. 21.
" Ibid., pp. 16-17.
1 Richard Goldschmidt, In and Out of the Ivory Tower: The Autobiography of Richard
Goldschmidt (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1960), p. 180.
' Allen, Morgan, pp. 21,207-208.
6 Otto Mohr to Richard Goldschmidt, 6 February 1935, p. 1. Richard Goldschmidt Papers, The
Bancroft Library, the University of California, Berkeley, CA.
7 Morgan to C. B. Davenport, 13 April 1917; Davenport to Morgan, 19 Aril 1917; Morgan to
Davenport, 9 May 1917, Davenport Papers, APS.
" Morgan to Hans Driesch, 27 November 1907, Morgan-Driesch Correspondence, APS.
" Goldschmidt, Tower, pp. 4-5. The Nazi propaganda poster, on which Richard Goldschmidt's
name appears near the bottom, can be found between p. 274 and p. 275.
20 Ibid., p. 7.
21 Ibid., p. 5.
SIbid., p. 6.
23 Ibid., p. 36.
2 L. C. Dunn to L. Farrand, 11 October 1935. L. C. Dunn Papers, APS.
25 Goldschmidt, Tower, pp. 11-13.
" Ibid., pp. 29-30.
7 Ibid., p. 39.
"James H. Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life (New York: W. W. Norton &
9 Ludmilla Jordanova, "Natural Facts: A Historical Perspective on Science and Sexuality," in
Nature, Culture, Gender, ed. Carol P. MacCormick and Marilyn Strathern (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 42.
0 Chandak Sengoopta, "Science, Sexuality, and Culture in the Fin de Sicle: Otto Weininger as
Baedeker," History of Science 20 (1992): 256.
1 Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1990), p. 134.
1 Rainer Herrn, "On the History of Biological Theories of Homosexuality," in Sex, Cells, and
Same-Sex Desire: The Biology of Sexual Preference, ed. John P. De Cecco and David Allen
Parker (Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press, 1995), p. 32.
" Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1983), p. 7.
Sengoopta, "Science," p. 249.
M Ibid., p. 249; Helen Haste, The Sexual Metaphor: Men, Women, and the Thinking that Makes
the Difference (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 95.
1 Richard J. Evans, The Feminist Movement in Germany, 1894-1933 (Beverly Hills: Sage
Publications, 1976), p. 183.
3 Sengoopta, "Science," p. 249.
8 Weininger's book in fact deals with both sex and race in the face of modernity, although the
racial element is excluded from the present project. According to Rita Felski, Weininger
portrayed modernity as synonymous not with the sovereignty of the masculine, but with the
advancement of feminization. Felski, Gender of Modernity, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1995), pp. 46-47.
"Otto Weininger, Sex and Character (New York: AMS Press, 1906), p. 5.
*Ibid., p. 5.
" The scientific tropes in Weininger's work will be discussed in the Conclusion following
Chapter 5, below.
2 Weininger, Sex, pp. 7-8.
SIbid., p. 29.
"Ibid., pp. 37-38.
SIbid., p. 47.
SIbid., pp. 7,45.
" James Weir, "The Effect of Female Suffrage on Posterity," American Naturalist 29 (1895):
*Ibid., p. 818.
"Ibid., p. 818.
5 Ibid., pp. 818-819.
5 Ibid., p. 820.
2 Ibid., pp. 822-824.
3 David Harlan, "Intellectual History and the Return of Literature," The American Historical
Review 94(1988): 596.
Ibid., p. 582.
5 Ibid., pp. 582-583.
Hayden White, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 192.
7 Harlan, "Intellectual History," p. 587
"Ibid., p. 587.
" White, Content, p. 187.
a Dominick La Capra, "Rethinking Intellectual History and Reading Texts," History and
Theory 19 (1980): 247.
1 Ibid., p. 247.
6 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, trans. Alan
Sheridan-Smith (New York: Random House, Inc., 1970); Foucault 1977 PowerlKnowledge:
Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. by Colin Gordon (New York: Random
House, Inc., 1977).
" Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley.
(New York: Random House, Inc., 1978).
4 Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), p. 5.
" William Bouwsma, "Intellectual History in the 1980s: From the History of Ideas to the
History of Meaning," in The New History and Beyond: Studies in Interdisciplinary History, ed.
Theodore K. Rabb and Robert 1. Rothenberg (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 289-
"Ibid., pp. 289-290.
SIbid., pp. 134-135.
'ALL THAT IS SOLID MELTS INTO AIR':
MODERNITY, BOURGEOIS ANXIETY, AND THE SEX PROBLEM
ANGEL: Forsake the Open Road:
Neither Mix nor Intermarry: Let Deep Roots Grow:
If you do not MINGLE you will Cease to Progress:
Seek not to Fathom the World and its Delicate Particle Logic:
You cannot Understand, You can only Destroy,
You do not Advance, You only Trample
PRIOR: We can't just stop. We're not rocks-progress, migration, motion is
"Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika"
Act I, Scene 2; Act V, Scene 5
To be modem is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, "all
that is solid melts into air."
Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of
Modernity (New York: Penguin Books, 1988), p. 15.
The Fin de Sidcle
The general cultural environment at the end of the nineteenth
century, at least for such producers of middle-class Western culture as some
writers, artists, scientists, and social critics, was one of profound pessimism.
This was the era of the fin de siecle, the period stretching from approximately
1890 until after World War One. Although he characterized the sentiment
defined by the phrase "fin de siecle" as originally French and expressive of an
originally French feeling, Max Nordau (1849-1923), a prophet of cultural
degeneration and despair, observed before World War One that the
expression was found in most of the "civilized" languages of the West by the
end of the nineteenth century. Nordau opined that its near-universal
adoption indicated that it fulfilled a need.1 Though particularly acute during
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the sentiment was not new
to the bourgeois culture of western Europe and North America. In fact, as
historians David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley observe, cultural pessimism
actually characterizes bourgeois societies in general, and Western culture at
the fin de siecle was no exception.2 The bourgeoisie regarded any change or
deviation from its cultural ideals as a turn for the worse. That the
bourgeoisie never achieved these ideals only further heightened the
pessimism. An age of progress accordingly lived in perpetual fear of decline.
The sensitive and astute at first, and then increasing numbers of other
observers, noticed this decline, which Nordau characterized as "a compound
of feverish restlessness and blunted discouragement... The prevalent feeling
is that of immanent perdition and extinction."3 Both confession and
complaint, the fin de sibcle evoked the feelings of a jaded, weary culture,
bored with itself and helpless in the face of inevitable decay.
Immediately after the war, Oswald Spengler summarized this middle-
class pessimism best in Der Untergang des Abendlandes (Twilight of the
Evening Lands) (1918). Suggesting that cultures, like organisms, possessed
definite life spans, Spengler proclaimed that the West had reached the end of
its natural span. Spengler stated that
Each culture has its own new possibilities of self-expression which
arise, ripen, decay, and never return. There is not one sculpture, one
painting, one mathematics, one physics, but many, each in its deepest
essence different from the others, each limited in duration and self-
Western culture (Kultur) by the fin de siecle had declined to a mere
civilization (Zivilisation). Civilizations, in Spengler's view, constituted the
"inevitable destiny" of cultures, and were
the most external and artificial states of which a species of developed
humanity is capable. They are a conclusion, the thing-become
succeeding the thing-becoming, death following life, rigidity following
expansion... They are an end, irrevocable, yet by inward necessity
Before the West lay only the void of extinction, as inevitable in Western
culture as the senescence and death that awaited all life forms.
One of the greatest sources of fin-de-siecle anxiety, and one that linked
all the seemingly disparate causes for concern together to unify them, was the
final transition of nineteenth-century bourgeois culture to the "modern
condition." While modernity after the Renaissance often implied
progressive rationality and cohesion, by the end of the nineteenth century, it
had also become associated with less positive traits. Historian Detlev Peukert
notes that while the concept of "modernity" derived from the history of art
and architecture, it nonetheless proves useful in describing the character of
the fin de siecle and early twentieth century.6 Developments on a number of
cultural fronts at the turn of the century, including in science, technology, the
arts, and intellectual life--all of which are constitutive of the form of life
extant at the end of the twentieth century--were affected by the modern
condition.7 The beginning of modernity is notoriously difficult to date with
any precision.8 Stephen Toulmin, in fact, has observed that whereas some
date the origin of modernity to Gutenberg's invention of moveable type
printing in 1436, the pronouncement of Luther's theses in 1520, or to the end
of the Thirty Years' War in 1648, others date the origin of the modern
condition to the late nineteenth century with the publication of Sigmund
Freud's (1856-1939) Interpretation of Dreams (1895) and the development of
the "Modern style" in the arts.9 Still others, however, place the start of
something called "modernity" firmly within the Enlightenment project of
the liberation of humanity through the accumulation of knowledge.10 On
the other hand, Peukert argues that many of the characteristics of what
historians term "modernity" were in place by the fin de siecle or immediately
prior to World War One at the latest. Thus the era of "classical modernity"
consisted of the period from the 1890s to the 1930s." The present project
follows Peukert's periodization, focusing on the years from 1900-1930 as the
height and twilight of the modern era, and, as this dissertation argues, not
coincidentally, the years of greatest activity by geneticists on the
determination of sex.
One characteristic of modernity, and one that William Everdell, author
of The First Moders (1997), argues is among its chief constituents, is the
notion of ontological discontinuity.' That is, much of modern thought
across a host of disciplines depended on discontinuity and a lack of smooth
transition between apparently disparate phenomena. This idea contributed to
the sense of anxiety and foreboding that afflicted the bourgeoisie at the turn of
the century. If, as Everdell argues, the fully realized modern world of the
twentieth century can be thought of as "digital," than the world-view of the
middle classes during the nineteenth century was "analog," that is, the
bourgeoisie perceived the world to be continuous and singular, while
modernity implied a discontinuous and fragment cosmos.'
One thing above all became clear to certain observers of the mental
world of the bourgeoisie at the fin de siecle: Their mental world had run
down. The singleness of mind that the bourgeoisie had sought during the
nineteenth century, and that science would ultimately render untenable, was
in the twentieth century to die entirely.1 The goal of intellectual life in the
nineteenth century was unity, but the reality of the twentieth century
promised fragmentation and discontinuity. Where nineteenth-century
sciences depended on evolution, fields, and Entwicklung, twentieth-century
sciences would reveal the gene and the quantum, and the digital notion of
atoms (in the wider sense of discrete, bounded entities) in the void.15 The
twentieth-century world (at least the world of certain cultural elites) came to
be defined by the discrete. For example, mathematics insisted on the notion
of "space" between numbers, just as modern culture insisted that all things
were discontinuous and separable. Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1916) applied
this notion to the molecules of a gas, and crafted statistical statements of their
behavior. Max Planck (1858-1947) derived the quantum of energy from
Boltzmann's work, and within two generations, the continuous physics of the
nineteenth century, emblematized by James Clerk Maxwell's (1831-1879)
electromagnetic field theory, had been rendered discontinuous and, in
Werner Heisenberg's approach, at least, linked to particles. The arts displayed
a similar switch from continuity as the pointillism of the painter Georges
Seurat (1859-1891), which depicted the world as a myriad of tiny dots that
coalesced into a coherent whole, replaced the Renaissance technique of
imperceptible shading from one color to another. Likewise, Santiago Ram6n
y Cajal (1852-1934) resolved the gray matter of the brain into billions of
discrete neurons, which communicated in a manner reminiscent of
Boltzmann's colliding gas molecules, and Freud constituted the human mind
from the fragments of human experience, a discontinuous entity made of the
conscious and the unconscious. In 1900, Hugo de Vries (1848-1935) proposed
the concept of the gene to account for the whole number ratios he discovered
in hereditary phenomena." The wholeness of the nineteenth-century world
thus appeared to members of various cultural elites to disintegrate into an
infinite number of fragmented images at the beginning of the twentieth
From the middle of the nineteenth century on, modernity was very
much an urban phenomenon. Cities appeared to many observers to be
something of an alien world, and lurid stories taught the residents of smaller
towns that cities were not to be trusted.17 The bourgeoisie itself was
somewhat ambivalent towards the cities that it had created and that had, in a
sense, created it. While cities were the physical locations of middle-class
wealth, power, and dominance over nature, they also harbored social
disorder, crime, poverty, and disease.18 Modernity arose along side the
tremendous growth of cities in western Europe and North America due to
migration from rural areas, and resulted from the need to confront the
psychological, social, technological, political, and other cultural problems
attendant upon the major shifts of population."
The large city, or the metropolis, inseparable from industrialization,
became the locus of new modes of perception as human contacts were both
multiplied and robbed of any form of continuity by the teeming masses of the
cities.20 The sexologist August Forel (1848-1931) voiced this concern when he
observed that the society of urban areas was made up of many social circles,
each of which had little to do with the others. Forel thought that this only
encouraged "vice and depravity... produc[ing] a restless and unnatural
existence."21 To be modern was thus to find oneself in an environment that
promised adventure, transformation, and power at the same time that it
threatened the destruction of the familiar patterns of life. Modernity cut
across all boundaries of geography, ethnicity, sex, class, and ideology. So
while modernity in a sense unified the West, it was what literary critic
Marshall Berman termed a "unity of disunity, a maelstrom of perpetual
disintegration and renewal... To be modem is to be part of a universe in
which, as Karl Marx (1818-1883) said, 'all that is solid melts into air.'"22 The
loss of continuity of experience in the midst of the multitude provoked a
Amerikanisierung: The United States, Germany, and Modernity
The modern experience had made inroads in the United States by the
end of the nineteenth century. Industrialization, mechanization,
urbanization, and immigration swept America at the turn of the century to
create a nation recognizably modern." Although Europeans dating back at
least to Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) had branded America as 'modern,'
America only became such at the end of the nineteenth century.24 Much of
this anxiety associated with modernity concerned the morals of the country.
Just as America on the eve of the twentieth century was believed, if not
always in a positive sense, to be more modern than western Europe, it was
also thought to be more Victorian.25 Reformers, reacting to the moral threats
of modernity, demanded a purity that most Americans had never really
practiced. In so doing, however, they sought to reinforce traditional sexual
values and definitions of femininity and masculinity. This threat mounted
at the fin de siecle, sparking a veritable witch-hunt.26
Modernity made similar inroads in Germany, especially between 1900
and 1930, for which the United States served as the explicit model. While the
name of the Weimar republic was synonymous with modernity, not all of
German modern culture was a product of the Weimar era itself. In fact, in
Germany, modernity constituted a cultural epoch stretching from the turn of
the century to the early 1930s.27 Like many countries in western Europe and
North America experiencing modernity, German cities experienced
unprecedented growth. Grosstiidte, cities of more than 100, 000 inhabitants,
grew from 8 in 1871 to 48 in 1910, a six-fold increase.28 In 1910, 21. 9 per cent
of the German population lived in cities of 100, 000 or more inhabitants,
while by 1933, more than 30 per cent did so. More importantly, only about
one-third of the population could be described as 'rural.'29 With cities came
both a brilliant display of wealth and learning, as well as misery, poverty,
rising crime, suicide, and abortion rates.30 Of all the German states, Prussia,
with its capital city of Berlin, was the most modern, because it displayed the
ruptures and discontinuities of modern life.3
The modernization of the United States and Germany occurred not in
isolation from one another, but in fact constituted an asymmetric dialogue.
German cultural critics worried about Amerikanisierung, or
"Americanization," an insidious cultural imperialism that symbolized
unfettered modernity.32 America constituted the bete-noire of the culturally
conservative, at once the source of all degeneracy and the omnipotent threat
to Kultur. One such observer remarked that "historians of the future will
one day mark the page following the great European war as the beginning of
the conquest of Europe by America."33 The real danger, though, was not so
much the economic dependence that American assistance packages created or
even the possibility of mere political colonization, but instead a spiritual
peril. The true danger to Europe was American "boredom," a quality that
rose from the essences of American life. American boredom was restless,
nervous, and aggressive, outrunning itself and seeking anesthesia in
sensation. American boredom constantly created new diversions, such as
radio or cinema, to quiet its racing senses as part of its "rabid frenzy of eternal
flight from time."34 As with so many of the changes that some members of
the bourgeoisie on both sides of the Atlantic found threatening (urbanization,
industrialization, changes in the definitions of gender roles), the United
States rushed in where other countries, angelic or decidedly less so, feared to
tread. America represented to Germany Western bourgeois culture at its
purest, an image of the middle-class future awaiting it.35
The perceived "decadence" of the modern era was striking, and
modernity accordingly received a mixed reception in Germany after World
War One. The author of a cultural history of the inflationary period
summarized the utter chaos and lack of moral guidance well when he
described the period as a "hellish carnival" characterized by
plunderings and riots, demonstrations and confrontations, profiteering
and smuggling, agonizing hunger and gluttonous feasts, sudden
impoverishment and rapid enrichment, debauched, maniacal dancing,
the horrifying misery of children, naked dances, currency conjurers,
hoarders of real value, amusement ecstasy--indulgence, materialist
worldviews and religious decline, flourishing occultism and
clairvoyance--gambling passion, speculation frenzy, an epidemic of
divorce, women's independence, the early maturity of youth.3
All the moorings of German life had been cast loose by the war and its
aftermath. Among those were sex and sexuality, which escaped all fetters, as
"an ecstasy of eroticism cast the world into chaos. Many things that otherwise
took place in secret appeared openly in the bright light of the public stage."37
An influx of new cultural forms (conservatives of the right found American
jazz music especially alarming) and the perception of moral laxity, especially
in Berlin, struck many as evidence of the decay of Kultur.38 Germans, linking
political change to the cultural "decline," held the Weimar Republic itself
responsible for the decadence and the crisis of the private world of the
bourgeoisie, and for the inroads that superficial Zivilisation made into the
formerly pure German Kultur.9 As youth like Hans Goldschmidt
(Goldschmidt's son) danced to sound of "Yes, We Have no Bananas" and
danced the Charleston and the "Edgar Slide" on his father's priceless Chinese
rugs (Edgar was a school friend of Hans's who consented to be dragged around
on the rugs "fanny down and legs up" in order to "de-Charlestonize" them),40
members of the cultivated middle classes fulminated against precisely such
decadence and worried that the world, or at least their world, was coming to
an end. Richard Goldschmidt certainly did, "blowing his top" when he saw
the damage to the rugs.41 In a sense, that world already had ended. While no
doubt containing elements of generational conflict and difference, Hans
Goldschmidt's dancing on his father's carpets can be read as a metaphor, as
the children of Germany's Kulturtrager, the guardians and preservers of the
humanistic traditions, trampled the very thing their parents worked so hard
to preserve in the face of modernity.
A Consuming Desire
Another characteristic of modernity, and one that held great
significance for a history of sex determination, was the change in mentality
associated with the shift from a society of production to a culture of
consumption. Although the late nineteenth-century changes in capitalism
were intrinsically significant from an economic point of view, they also
effected profound changes in Western culture. Although the Enlightenment
model of economics that informed industrialization emphasized production
and property, it had begun to decline by the fin de sibcle.42 The autonomous
individual, upon whom industrial capitalism had been based and who had
been characterized by his property, was by the turn of the century
characterized by his desire for goods, which was fulfilled through
consumption.4 This change indicated a profound shift in the world-view of
the Western bourgeoisie, and one that led to the eroticization of objects and
the objectification of desire. This new emphasis on consumption and desire
cut across the distinction between the public and the private, one of the
constituent distinctions of the bourgeoisie. Cultural historian Rita Felski
argues that the modern department store, such as the one depicted in Emile
Zola's Au bonheur des dames (The Ladies' Paradise) (1883), which made the
connection between shopping and the erotic, created a public space that
catered to women and allowed the public world of commerce and trade to
invade the domestic sphere through women." This sexualization of
modernity was synonymous with its demonization. To some members of the
bourgeoisie, the belief that Western culture had repressed erotic drives
through an ideology of restraint was jeopardized by the primacy of desire and
sexualized representations in the rise of the modern consumption-based
economy." Concomitant with this was the realization that consumer
demand did not passively reflect economic imperatives, but was instead
susceptible to the influence of a number of factors, including gender.
Significantly, the consumer was quite often depicted as a women.46 Because
of the domestic, non-laboring role demanded of bourgeois women, shopping
came to be seen as a leisure activity, and the department store, perhaps the
greatest innovation of modern consumerism, came to market not just goods,
but an aesthetic model that blurred the distinctions between classes and sexes.
The department store, the "ladies' paradise," sold not just goods, but the very
act of consumption, and turned the act of purchasing into a sensual
experience.47 The modern became associated with a pessimistic vision of
feminine sexuality that had been seduced by a consumer culture. Rather than
the rational and progressive society dominated by a masculine public sphere,
modernity exemplified an advancing feminine irrationality based on the
satisfaction of manufactured desires.48
Public and Private Modernity
The sexually problematic nature of modernity lay at the center of the
study of sex, including its biological basis, at the fin de siecle and early
twentieth century. In fact, modernity threatened the bourgeoisie by blurring
the distinction between the public and the private worlds upon which the
bourgeoisie was predicated. Accordingly, the relations between and among
the sexes that the separation of the public and private worlds entailed had by
1900 metamorphosed into a hotbed of politicism, negotiation, and wrangling.
This is hardly surprising, as the most political venues were those that appear
to be the least political-the domestic realm and sexuality.49 Changing
economic and social conditions led to a struggle for control and definition in
the relations between the genders. Sexuality became a battleground not only
because it was the locus of many of the changes associated with modernity,
but also because it became what historian Jeffrey Weeks termed a 'surrogate
medium' through which other concerns were articulated.50
The exact locus of shifting assumptions, the space between the
boundaries of the political and the sexual constituted the space of ideological
formation." Sexuality, like any ideology, depended on mutual definition.
What counted as sexuality was not only variable and political, but also
historically contingent.52 It was this historically contingent space that various
men and women at the fin de siecle rendered untenable by their refusal to
consent to mutual definition. For a relatively long time, relations between
the sexes in the middle classes had been fixed by custom and that most
powerful of bourgeois forces, propriety. Men went out into the political,
sexual world and women maintained a pure, clean, sanctified self and home,
a retreat from the venality and cupidity of the world of men.5 Modernity
implied the intrusion of the private through the sexual into the public.
This was the ideology of the separate spheres of the bourgeoisie. The
nineteenth century, the century of the bourgeoisie, was the century that saw
the final separation of the private world from the public world concomitant
with the formation of the bourgeoisie as a distinct class.5" The public sphere--
the world of men--was separated by an uncrossable divide from the private
world of the family, the domain of women. Historian Christoph Asendorf
argues that the distinction was, to a very real extent, actually constitutive of
the bourgeoisie.55 The notion of the spheres was a crucial one, for on it was
predicated the more or less absolute distinction between a set of binary pairs
that coordinated with one another: male/female and public/private. These
were political, social, and moral precepts that constituted the foundations of
bourgeois culture." In fact, the very moral code that was so important to
middle-class culture depended on these pairs, as well as the distinctions
between public/private, society/family, work/leisure, and
promiscuity/ restraint.57 These patterns of social organization, in reality the
"building blocks" of the middle-class world, mapped onto one another and
reflected a particular set of attitudes towards sex and sexuality.58 The sexual
danger of the public sphere opposed the purity and decency of the domestic,
just as the corruption and decay of the urban environment confronted the
"naturalness" of the family.59 These provided the basis for the fundamental
notion of "man/woman." As this system began to break down under the
weight of its own internal contradictions, sex determination, cultural and
biological, grew more and more important. As the social values on which
middle-class society depended came under harsh scrutiny, and as the iron
separation between the public and private realms began to falter, attitudes
towards sex and gender, so confident earlier in the Victorian century, gave
way to a sense of anxiety and foreboding.6
Modem Sexual Personae
The fin de siecle, in fact, witnessed major upheavals in the rush
towards modernity as the separate cultural spheres of Victorian society began
to move together in some people, who literally embodied these changes.
What seemed to be happening in response to these changes-rapid
urbanization, industrialization, the decline of traditional social relations-
was a continuous conflict over the definition of appropriate and acceptable
sexual behavior.61 Some middle-class women (the New Women), aided and
abetted by certain men (homosexuals, or Inverted Men), threatened to bring
down the entire social settlement of previous generations. What many
referred to as "the woman question," really a subset or iteration of a larger
problem of sex and sexuality, challenged the traditional institutions of work,
marriage and family. Historian Elaine Showalter argues that to many men of
the fin de siecle "women appeared to be agents of an alien world," one that
evoked anger and confusion, while to women, men appeared as the
defenders of an "indefensible order."62 In a context of change, such as that
witnessed during the fin de siecle, this posed a serious threat. As historian
George Mosse claims, the effort to control sexuality constituted a part of that
larger discourse of control aimed at mitigating the effects of modernization.6
Sexualities and gender roles were in flux and both tormented segments of the
bourgeoisie with visions of dissolution.64
The continuing modernization of the bourgeoisie at the fin de siecle
and the concomitant decline of the ideology of the separate spheres created
two sexual personae, the New Woman and the Inverted Man. The New
Woman, the woman who deliberately left the private sphere of the domestic
world for the masculine public sphere of education and employment, was
fundamentally a product of modernity.65 This New Woman, who was
supposed to represent the comforts of home and family in a traditional sense,
instead brought the "perils" of modernity into the home, further collapsing
the distinctions between the spheres.66
Likewise the male homosexual, or the Inverted Man, was both a
product of bourgeois modernity and a threat to bourgeois definitions of
masculinity. Beginning in the 1890s, there was a fear that sexual inversion
was on the rise, especially among the "better" classes of society, and that this
increasing homosexuality presaged decline and degeneration. Historian
Isabel Hull notes that this was part of the general climate of pessimism of the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries associated with modernity.67
The Inverted Man was further linked to modernity through the rapid growth
of cities and the concomitant disruption of traditional patterns of communal
life." The sexologist Iwan Bloch thought that the 'vibrations of modernity'
caused homosexuality.69 Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), himself an early
twentieth-century advocate for homosexual emancipation, noted that many
assumed homosexuality to indicate a state of mental or psychological decay,
and the sexologist and psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902)
associated homosexuality with neurosis and an hereditary neuropathische
Belastung (neuropathic disease). However, Carpenter argued that there were
few people in modern life who could be declared entirely sane.70 The
Inverted Man, who was really part of a third sex, neither male nor female,
was himself an emblem of modernity and a corporeal indicator of its harmful
The Crisis of Masculinity
The figures of the New Woman and the Inverted Man posed a distinct
challenge to accepted conceptions of the roles and actions appropriate for the
sexes, the one by crossing the borders from the feminine to the masculine
sphere, the other by acting in a sexual manner antithetical to traditional
bourgeois notions of manhood, and in a sense crossing the sexual borders in
the opposite direction.72 The existence of both personae cast doubt on the
comfortable world of the middle class and rendered the established gender
norms increasingly untenable. Both provoked a similar reaction from
heterosexual middle-class men, viz., a crisis of masculinity.73 The crisis of
masculinity stemmed, at least in part, from bourgeois men themselves, and
was generated from the stresses and tensions produced by the disparity
between the inflexible gender roles they expected and the fluid reality they
experienced. By the fin de siecle the system of patriarchy predicated on the
relegation of women to the private sphere was under attack from all sides by
those who challenged the assumptions that permitted the dominance of
middle-class heterosexual males in Western culture.74
If some men doubted and feared women, they also found themselves
doubting each other, too. Otto Weininger raised the specter of homosexuality
in male friendship when he declared that
there is no friendship between men that has not an element of
sexuality in it, however little accentuated it may be, and however
painful the idea of the sexual element would be... Much of the
affection, protection, and nepotism between men is due to the presence
of unsuspected sexual compatibility.75
This inherent inversion threatened the masculine sense of the self by
suggesting to men that they might not, indeed, be "all man." Certain middle-
class men were hostile towards the Inverted Man because they perceived real
threats to the gender relations at the turn of the century as the New Woman
whittled away at what they regarded as their manly prerogatives and rights.76
This can be seen in changing views of the hermaphrodite, the embodiment of
sexual ambiguity: Hermaphrodites caused the greatest concern at times of
acute male anxiety about sex and gender roles, about the boundaries and
distances between the sexes." The hermaphrodite (or gynandromorph, or
intersex), not coincidentally, played an immense role in the work on the sex
problem, which suggests a connection between the two.
A New Reflexivity
At the root of the crisis of masculinity lay a dialectical relationship
between the definition of the masculine and feminine roles in culture, and
even between the biological sexes that often, but not always, mapped onto
those roles. Peter Gay summarized them succinctly: Man was active,
vigorous, assertive, intellectual, the warrior on the battlefield of life; woman
was passive, retiring, domestic, healing, the keeper of the home.78 New
Women and Inverted Men caused great concern perhaps less because of
whatever feelings they inspired in and of themselves, but because of what the
implications of these personae caused middle-class men to think about
themselves. Changes in sex roles were so threatening precisely because these
changes made it difficult to "be a man." The bourgeois notion of true
masculinity suffered assault on many fronts, from work and the notions of
success, to family structure and sexuality. These changes in women's roles,
embodied by the New Woman, and the changes in the definitions of
manhood, embodied by the Inverted Man, represent what historian Peter
Filene termed not only a "battle of the sexes, but also a psychic civil war."79
The changes in sex roles and expectations forced middle-class men to change
their mental view of the world.
This growing sense of novelty in masculinity, of the renegotiation of
sex and gender roles, and the attendant crisis of masculine identity they
engendered, were observed by contemporaries and witnesses to the
turbulence. Edward Carpenter observed in 1912 that "in later years (and since
the arrival of the New Woman among us) many things in the relation of
men and women have altered." The growing sense of equality in cultural
roles and expectations, such as university education, suffrage, athleticism,
that Carpenter observed had brought about a "rapprochement" between men
and women. If the modern woman was just a bit more 'masculine' than her
predecessors, the modern man was just a bit more sensitive and artistic,
though "by no means effeminate.""8 Carpenter claimed that not only had
men and women achieved a certain parity, but also that the borders between
what had been the masculine and the feminine were no longer all that
Although he did not use the term, Carpenter described the birth of a
New Man to accompany the New Woman. Showalter points out that while
some bourgeois men focused increasing attention on "the woman question,"
the New Woman and the Inverted Man raised "the man question."8 Was
there a New Man? To a certain extent, Carpenter and others were somewhat
optimistic when they expressed the idea that the New Man existed and was
the New Woman's willing play-mate. This New Man was exactly what lay at
the root of the crisis of masculinity. The qualities that Carpenter ascribed to
the New Man were precisely those qualities that scientific authorities often
used to define women biologically." The New Man had quite a bit of the
womanly about him, so the creation of the New Man appeared to involve
what many middle-class heterosexual men feared most: feminization and
the loss of traditional masculine identity. An example of this concern was
articulated by a contemporary to Oscar Wilde's trials for homosexuality, an
event that shocked the West. It was part of a diatribe against "sexomania"
and was written by "An Angry Old Buffer":
When Adam delved and Eve span
No one need ask which was the man.
Bicycling, football, scarce human,
All wonder now, 'Which is the woman?'
But now a new fear my bosom vexes;
Tomorrow there may be no sexes!
Unless, as end to all the pother,
Each one in fact becomes the other."83
The poem expressed the basic fear of the traditional bourgeois that the
changes in sex and gender roles, which seemed to imply women acting as
men and men as women, presaged an actual reversal of the sexes. Men were
afraid that they would be turned into women.
The Sex Problem
The new sexual personae and the crisis of masculinity they sparked led
to a "sex problem" in middle-class society. A belief in the essential
subversiveness of sex was relatively old in the West. Jean Jacques Rousseau
(1712-1778), linking sex to the 'subversiveness of women,' the Other of
Western sexual discourse, declared that "'never has a people perished from
an excess of wine; all perish from the disorder of women."'"8 At the fin de
sibcle, Sigmund Freud articulated this thought when he described an
unconscious life seething with sex, a sexual world that was not the bipolar
world of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, but a world wherein the
distinctions between the two sexes were diffuse and increasingly arbitrary.85
It was only with the advent of the modern world that that subversiveness
came to represent a widespread problem." The moral values that supposedly
radical individuals fought at the beginning of the twentieth century were
precariously hegemonic at best and there was no 'golden age' of sexual
propriety."7 Sex was always unstable, and at no time more so than the fin de
siecle. The very precarious nature of this hegemony, however, explained the
vociferousness with which the sexual status quo was defended. The novelist
George Gissing (1857-1903) named the fin de sibcle a time of "'sexual
This climate of anarchy was perceived in both the United States and
Germany. By 1900, tensions between American men and women had grown
considerably, threatening the traditional definitions of masculinity and
femininity.8 A newspaper editor proclaimed in 1913 that sexuality was
running rampant: "Sex o'clock had struck America."90 Social critics saw an
erotic revolution. Between 1905-1909 and 1910-1914, for example, the number
of articles in American periodical literature dealing with issues of sexuality
doubled, and more than 90 per cent were hostile towards the changes.9
Sexual anarchy had come to America; the situation in Germany was the
same. Just as American commentators decried the changes, their
contemporaries in Germany lamented the same "erotic revolution."92 By
1918, the end of World War One, some observers perceived that the old
moral order had broken down past the point which it could be repaired.
German historian and moralist Bruno Grabinski lamented the corruption of
Germany. He blamed emancipation movements such as those of women and
homosexuals (among others), decrying the "moral syphilis" that attacked
Germany and lamented the unfettered "sexualism."93 This concern
sometimes reached hysterical heights, as when pastor and pamphleteer
Ludwig Hoppe of Berlin wrote a scathing attack which denounced changes in
morality as "'sexual bolshevism.'"94 The concept of "sexual crisis" became one
of the central metaphors of German modernity.95
Science and Modernity
Science played an integral part in the experience of modernization,
both in helping to define the modern experience itself and in providing a
vocabulary for the articulation of anti-modern sentiment, including the
reaction to changing sexual standards. On the one hand, science at the fin de
siecle was characterized by what historian T. J. Jackson Lears described as a
species of positivism." This positivism--no doubt derivative of Comtean
positivism--was not so much the systematic positivism of the Vienna Circle
but rather a cultural tendency shared by educated Europeans and Americans.
It took the form of a belief that the universe, including and especially human
life, operated by certain laws that science alone could discover.9 The idea,
grounded in Enlightenment thought, was to use the steady accumulation of
knowledge to liberate humanity from its past. Such a scientific domination of
nature promised freedom from the social problems of the past and promised
to rationalize the social forms of the future by making them scientific.98
The modernization of science, however, especially the biological
sciences, presented another, more reactionary face, specifically an obsession
with degeneration. Degeneration was a perceived threat of the later
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that was triggered by the realization
that living processes were bound by the second law of thermodynamics, the
so-called law of entropy." What were perhaps the greatest discoveries of
physics in the nineteenth century--the notion that energy cannot be destroyed
and the qualification that it can be lost to heat and therefore lost to use--led to
the assumption of an inevitable universal decline, a descent into exhaustion
as the energy of the universe finally declined past the point where it could be
harnessed.'" Attributed to a variety of causes, including and especially
homosexuality and the changes in women's roles, the "race" (and by that
scientists meant the north-western European race) actually devolved under
the impact of modernity.1'0 Degeneration was an evolutionary step
The most prominent, and indeed the most pessimistic, proclaimer of
degeneration was Max Nordau, a fin-de-siecle journalist and critic. Nordau
both biology and culture and despaired as the final years of the nineteenth
century wound down. Both seemed to indicate the decline of the races of the
West.'02 Indeed, Nordau was not alone in this rather gloomy prediction, as
the terminal years of the century suggested a diseased and exhausted culture
winding down at long last.103 Nordau stated that "in our days there have
arisen in more highly developed minds vague qualms of a Dusk of the
Nations, in which all suns and stars are gradually waning, and mankind and
all its institutions and creations is perishing in the midst of a dying world."'04
Degeneration had an explosive impact on Western bourgeois culture; it was
something that everyone read.' 0 In Degeneration (1895) Nordau discussed
the decline and fall of virtually every major nineteenth-century cultural
producer from the fields of art and literature. Everyone from the Pre-
Raphaelites, Leo Tolstoy, and Richard Wagner to Heinrik Ibsen, Friedrich
Nietzsche, and Emile Zola all exhibited some symptom of degeneration of
one kind or another, and Nordau charged them with dragging Western
culture into the sewers."'0 To Nordau, however, the worst aspect of fin-de-
siecle degeneration was sexual degeneration. Nordau, who imagined himself
as a sort of mad-doctor to Western culture, discarded his "physician's"
objectivity when he discussed sexuality, one of the tacit subjects of his book.l07
The 'sexual psychopathology' of the degenerate cultural producers constituted
'the single greatest factor in determining the popularity and success of
unhealthy art.'1" Nordau argued that the public, already weakened by
modern life, easily fell prey to the sexual degenerates masquerading as artists
and writers. Nordau foresaw a future in which "men dress as women and
women as men, one of his worst personal nightmares."109
The modern world constituted the chief cause of degeneration;
Degeneration detailed the symptoms it displayed. Commentators concerned
with degeneration such as Nordau and others argued that the transition to a
fragmented, urban modern society caused significant morphological,
psychological (the sexual instinct), and racial warping. Morgan, for example,
implicitly commented on degeneration when he suggested that one of the
possible applications of the new science of heredity was the amelioration of
"the physical deterioration of the race, that may take place under the
abnormal conditions of a complex and protracted social life," one of the most
critical indictments of modern life10 Krafft-Ebing believed that the demands
of modern civilization on the nervous system led to the rise in mental
disturbances that he observed."' August Forel argued something similar.
Urban society was made up of numerous groups with little interaction among
them (atoms in the void), and these circumstances favor the increase of "vice
and depravity." The frenzied pace of urban life produced a "restless and
unnatural existence." People left their jobs in 'unhealthy' factories to engage
in "the most repugnant sexual excesses. The rapacity, frivolity, and luxury of
society lead to alcoholism, poverty, promiscuity, and prostitution.""2 Nordau
himself similarly attributed degeneration to modern, urban living, blaming
steam and electricity."3 Steam and electricity, along with the industrial order
they facilitated, were totemic of modernity."' Nordau painted a picture of the
modern city straight out of the most horrifying dystopia. The modern
urbanite breathed polluted air, ate stale, adulterated food, and lived in a state
of perpetual nervous agitation. Nordau compared city life to life in a malarial
swamp because residents suffered the same vitiation and degeneration."5
Degeneration was thus located in the body, and this biologizing of
degeneration served a very important role in Western culture. The situating
of the social and cultural dislocations of modernity, including the New
Woman and Inverted Man, in the body and its health or lack of it, opened the
door to the prospect, however dim, of scientific analysis and control. It
provided a focal point for otherwise rather ephemeral cultural
disorientation."6 Aberrantly sexed degenerate bodies furnished biologists
with excellent locations to situate the degenerative effects of modernity and
provided living examples of the dangers inherent in crossing 'sexual' (i.e.,
'cultural') boundaries. Androgyny, gynandromorphy, hermaphroditism, and
intersexuality (all different ways of describing bodies that displayed both
female and male characteristics) were included under the rubric of
degeneration. By locating degeneration in the body, biology offered a renewed
sense of certainty and situatedness. A cultural crisis of sexuality was
articulated as a biological science of sex determination and control. This
science voiced the fears of Western culture and attempted to engineer a
remedy. Western culture responded to the supposed degeneration of the
New Woman and the Inverted Man by attempting to discover the system
(and biologists sought a single, unitary system) whereby sex was determined
in an effort to control the sex and sexuality of bodies. Locating concerns about
changing sexual roles, shifting gender identification, and the violation of the
borders between the male and the female in the body offered some biologists
an opportunity to control or remediate these problems, an opportunity
afforded no other group of cultural producers.
The Sex Problem and the Biology of Sexual Anxiety
In both the United States and Germany, regardless of the specific
differences of the reactions to the perceptions of sexual disorder (the subject of
subsequent chapters), Western culture turned towards the natural sciences to
quell the disturbances."1 In fact, before the fin de siecle, certain biologists had
begun to take notice of sex on biological grounds, and work on the so-called
sex problem was well advanced by the turn of the century."8 The timing of
scientific interest in sex determination with contemporary anxiety about
changing definitions of masculinity and femininity was not coincidental. Just
as biology by the fin de siecle discovered that sex, through the production of
variation, was a means to ends other than increase, culture discovered that
sexuality meant more than bearing children. This dissociation had enormous
consequences in that it provided the biological background for the sexual
anarchy."' And just as the traditional bourgeois definitions of femininity
and masculinity had been a source of stability rendered unstable, these
biologists realized with the elucidation of the role of chromosomes in sex
determination (see Chapter 2, below) that sex was actually a source of endless
variety and instability on the biological level as well.'20 Cells, like psyches,
seethed with sex.
Certain biologists were quite interested in the sex problem. Morgan
lectured on sex determination and, of all the Hitchcock Lectures that Morgan
gave to the Department of Genetics at the University of California in 1916,
only his speech on sex determination has been preserved, indicating that it
might have been regarded as being of particular interest, either to Morgan or
to whomever inherited his papers.'2 E. B. Wilson, a friend and colleague of
Morgan at both Bryn Mawr and Columbia University and one of the
cytologists who proved the role of a so-called "accessory chromosome" in sex
determination, wrote extensively on the sex problem, considering both the
scientific minutiae of his own research and the larger synthetic picture.122
Goldschmidt, too, commented often on the problematic nature of sex.123
Leonard Doncaster, a prominent British biologist, summarized the matter
neatly and made the connection between sex determination and
considerations of human sexual problems explicit, when he stated that
the question, 'will it be a boy or a girl,' raises one of the most widely
discussed problems of biology, that of the cause% which determine
whether any individual shall be male or female, and it suggests the still
deeper question, 'why should there be male and female sex at all?'124
Part biological query and part expression of cultural anxiety, this question is
simply another way of asking, "What does sex mean?" The present work
contends that while the work on sex determination performed by biologists
was on one level performed with the intention of understanding the
biological basis of sexuality, on other levels it was concerned with sex in
precisely those ways that early twentieth-century bourgeois culture found in
to be a problematic source of anxiety. While biology labored successfully for
centuries without understanding the precise biological mechanisms
underlying sex, late nineteenth and early twentieth-century bourgeois culture
in the United States and Germany faced acute crises of gender and sexuality
that made the resolution of the enigmatic nature of sex critical.
The biological aspects of the sex problem, then, involved two principle
questions."2 The first dealt with the mechanism which, at a certain moment,
forced development to take one of two different streams, and the second
involved the material differences between the individuals in those
streams.126 Oscar Riddle (1877-1968), who worked on the physiological basis of
sex, stated that the sex problem involved both the origin and the nature of
sexuality and its bifurcation into two varieties of individuals.127 Thus it was
sexual dimorphism--the division of species into females and males--that
proved the most troubling. However Doncaster argued in 1914 that while the
existence of two distinct sexes and their occurrence in relatively equal
numbers were important, they did not constitute all of the sex problem.
Hermaphroditism and other instances of bodies that followed neither one
stream nor the other were also important, as was parthenogenesis, the
limitation of a species to one of the two developmental streams.128 In fact, it
was those organisms that did not fit into either category that Goldschmidt and
others argued were crucial to the sex problem precisely because of their
ambiguity.29 Gynandromorphs, bodies that were neither female nor male
but somehow both, represented the breakdown of a near-universal sexual
dimorphism and echoed contemporary concerns in the larger cultural milieu.
Various aspects of bourgeois culture came to regard sex as the deepest
secret of life and the general substratum of existence.30 Many biologists
certainly viewed life in this manner. Doncaster viewed sex as something that
ramifiedd into almost every field of biology."'3' Shosabura Watase, a Japanese
biologist who worked at the University of Chicago during the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries, noted that "the distinction of sex is probably the
most nearly universal single attribute or property of organized beings."'32 He
the phenomena of sex-differentiation extend through the whole
organization, including both the 'germinal' and the 'personal' parts of
the organism. The organism is either a male or a female, not by the
difference of 'primary sexual characters' alone, but by the difference
which saturates the whole of its structure.'33
Sex was the discriminating biological factor and it constituted the central
organizing feature of a body. Similarly, William Bateson (1861-1926), the
British biologist who, for all intents and purposes, created Mendelism, argued
that the influence of sex on the body constituted the most important means of
solving the sex problem,4' while biologist John Beard noted upwards of five
hundred theories of sex in his own contribution to the count.'35 When Beard
indicated that the "prelude to every developmental history. .. is the
determination of sex," he indicated that the instant of sex determination was
the single most significant event in the life of an organism.136 Furthermore,
T. H. Montgomery (1873-1912), a cytologist who contributed to the discovery
of the role of an "accessory chromosome" to the determination of sex,
maintained that not only did the germ cells themselves carry sex factors, but
themselves possessed sexuality regardless of those factors, so that an ovum
was female and a sperm was male.'3 Montgomery and other biologists
viewed sexual dimorphism as an integral characteristic of even cells, a
fundamental organizing metaphor of life.
These and other biologists accordingly contributed to the cultural
discourse on the sex problem through perspectives such as those expressed
above. For example, Walter Wilcox (b. 1869), who reported on the "crisis" of
fertility afflicting Americans of European descent (see Chapter 3, below),
Calvin Bridges (1889-1938), a student and colleague of Morgan, and Raymond
Pearl (1879-1940), a biologist with strong interests in eugenics and public
health, all spoke on aspects of the "crisis of fertility" at the Sixth International
Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference, held in New York City in
1925.138 Similarly, several prominent biologists, including E. M. East,
Goldschmidt, Julian Huxley, and Pearl, spoke at the World Population
Conference organized by birth control advocate Margaret Sanger (1883-1966)
in 1927.'9 Goldschmidt, for his part, lamented in a radio address (which he
later published in a journal devoted to eugenics) the fact that non-scientists
persisted in formulating sex-determination theories, although by the very
forum he fueled the fire of popular interest.40 The sex problem, then,
represented nothing less than one of the most fundamental problem facing
biology at the beginning of the twentieth century."'
A Single Sexual System
The biologists who worked on sex determination, influenced perhaps
by positivistic beliefs in the unity of knowledge, regardless of nationality or
experimental orientation, expected to find a single solution to the sex
problem, a unitary explanation for the incredible variety of sexual possibilities
they saw in nature. Goldschmidt argued that a theory of sex determination
had to explain not only the mechanics of sex determination and sexual
dimorphism, but also gynandromorphy, intersexuality, parthenogenesis, and
the alternation of generations.'42 However, Morgan stated that
the immediate problem of sex determination resolves itself into a
study of the conditions that in each species regulate the development
of the one or the other sex. It seems not improbably that this
regulation is different in different species, and that, therefore, it is futile
to search for any principle of sex determination that is universal for all
species with separate sexes.143
Yet in his own work, Morgan sought such a universal explanation. For
example, in his 1909 paper, "A Biological and Cytological Study of Sex
Determination in Phylloxerans and Aphids," Morgan reviewed the results of
the most significant work in the field, from mosses to insects and attempted
to derived the solution to the sex problem. Morgan dealt with the very
different sorts of experimental evidence as if they ought to be equivalent.'4 In
a letter to Hans Driesch (1867-1941), Morgan discounted the chromosomal
theories of sex determination that certain cytologists, specifically C. E.
McClung and Wilson, had formulated on the basis that different organisms
displayed different chromosomal mechanisms.'45 Whereas McClung
supposed that cells with the accessory chromosome produced females,
Wilson's work showed that the accessory chromosome produced males.'6
The fact that Morgan and many others saw Wilson's work as a contradiction
of McClung's a priori supposition indicates a not unwarranted assumption
that a single sex determining scheme should have existed."7
It is possible that all of the various theories of sex determination,
which were reviewed up to 1903 by Morgan and 1911 by Wilson, reflected an
effort to impose a variety of viewpoints on the same set of data. Each
interpretation was made because its predecessors had failed to account for the
variety of sexual systems."48 German scientists, such as Carl Correns (1864-
1933) and Goldschmidt, likewise sought to produce a single universal theory
of sex that included cytological, developmental, and evolutionary
perspectives.'49 In one of his earliest considerations of the sex problem,
Goldschmidt compared the various theories and models of sex determination
with the implicit understanding that when the sex problem is solved, these
will be seen to operate by identical mechanisms.'50 Similarly, Goldschmidt
used his work on intersexuality to explain human homosexuality, and argued
that the phenomena of sex were fundamentally the same."' In fact, much of
Goldschmidt's work, especially his extensions of it, was predicated on the
notion that there was a single model of sex determination.'52
Many of the biologists who worked on sex determination thus sought
to do more than impose a conceptual unity on a very fragmented natural
world. They also sought on some level to impose order on a fragmenting
understanding of sexuality as a cultural phenomenon. This stemmed from
the idea that culture could be ordered along scientific lines and that science
acted as an articulator of social norms. At the fin de sibcle, many American
biologists, as with so many members of the educated bourgeoisie, placed
science at the pinnacle of their value system, trusting no other form of
knowledge.'53 Biology came to be the absolute to which these scientists could
appeal to for guidance to proper social behavior.'5 Historians classify middle-
class culture in the United States at the turn of the century as 'Progressive.'
Science played an increasingly important role in late nineteenth and early
twentieth-century culture, becoming a source of metaphor and explanatory
images which served to explain or justify contemporary cultural values.'s5
Progressivism was accordingly predicated on such an informative role of
science, specifically on the use of science to solve social problems. Expertise
and scientific inquiry constituted the means by which social problems might
be solved. Reform as the result of inquiry benefited from the faith of most
Americans in science, but also the belief that science was free from
partisanship and ideological agendas.'56
It was in such a context that Morgan and others could claim and put
absolute faith in a trope of scientific disinterest. Just as in the England of
Robert Boyle, only the one who was free of all entanglements could speak the
truth and produce matters of fact. This involved the creation of a truly
neutral space through rhetoric and belief.'7 This space must not be viewed as
an expediency on the part of the biologists concerned. Rather, scientific
neutrality was a genuine and necessary belief on the part of late nineteenth
and early twentieth-century bourgeois culture. Morgan, for example, by
believing science to be separate from culture, 8 was in fact deeply embedded
in and permeated by his culture. From that value-neutral space, scientists
like Morgan could legitimately address cultural problems without ever
explicitly doing so. This is not to state that Progressivism and, by extension,
the scientists and science that fueled it, were by any means characterized by
any radical reform program. They were not. Progressivism, despite
occasionally radical-sounding rhetoric, was a tool of Protestant, native-born
Americans who were often of Puritan stock and who felt their position and
cultural hegemony threatened by the changes associated with modernity and
modernization, including industrialization, urbanization, and the associated
tides of immigration.1" Progressivism, with its scientific backing, was a
sometimes uneasy amalgam of reform and conservative, if not reactionary,
German culture, too, whether Wilhelmine or Weimar, was similarly
"interventionist" in matters of culture. In Germany at the fin de siecle, a
heritage of idealism which drew from Romantic (naturphilosophisch) and
Kantian idealist traditions combined with a distrust of the effects of
modernization. This inspired leading biologists to use biology to guide
cultural development.'6 Indeed, the natural sciences assumed a major role
in the modernization of Germany and its transformation from an agrarian to
a modern industrialist-capitalist order.162 In fact, science was constitutive of
the identity of the Bildungsbiirgertum, the cultivated middle class, and was a
means of its cultural expression.'63 After World War One, science became
even more important to German culture. The years after World War One
were not easy on the German people, and according to Curt Stern (1902-1981),
a former student and life-long friend of Goldschmidt, scientific achievement
(the older, positive science) could provide a rare island of stability in the
turbulent Weimar cultural milieu. Such a faith in science provided
consolation and hope.'6
Throughout the United States and Germany various people, especially
certain women and homosexual men, began to challenge extant cultural
roles, and naturally enough, middle-class men, who hoped to preserve the
status quo, employed a variety of medical and biological arguments to
rationalize 'traditional' definitions of sex and gender.'65 While the various
cultural producers used a scientific methodology to interpret nature, their
perceptions and interpretations were culturally mediated. Science was
nothing without the perception of nature and the interpretation of data, and
the actual questions a scientist asked may have been biased, just as the
questions presumed certain premises.'66 This was precisely what happened
with sex determination at the turn of the century. Arguments drawn from
biology became metaphors for culture and were used to control virtually
every aspect of a modernizing world. As the metaphoric nature of the
arguments gradually faded from view, they left the word to actually constitute
the thing.'" Putatively pure scientific ideas were easily shaped by the needs of
bourgeois culture to rationalize the extant cultural definitions of sexuality
and to "biologize" the argument.'6
If, as some scholars argue, the heart of modernity is fragmentation,169
then in some ways, sex determination may have represented a pre-modern
manifestation of biology that sought to bring order out of perceived chaos,
rather than a science that broke unity into diversity. The position of sex
determination within the context of fin-de-siecle concerns about sex and
gender was thus somewhat contradictory. While on the one hand, sex
determination was a science that worked against certain cultural trends to
stave off the uncertainty of the times, on the other hand, it also helped to
belie the claims of the middle classes to the singleness of mind or purpose
that characterized earlier generations. The era spanning the turn of the
century until after World War One was an uncertain one, with conflicting
trends and impulses, and some of the sciences reflected this divided nature.
The Biologization of Culture
At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the
twentieth, many of those opposed to changes in the definitions of femininity
and masculinity resorted to scientific arguments to buttress their contention
that men and women must stay irrevocably distinct. The scientific arguments
for the cultural division of labor that the idea of the separate spheres
represented were wide-spread throughout the West as the contention that
women's emancipation meant men's enslavement.170 The decline of the
ideology of the separate spheres was not without impact on Western
scientists, many of whom were middle- and upper-middle class men, and
most of whom had been raised in this bipolar world. Some scientists, then,
particularly certain biologists, rallied to the defense of the natural order of
society as they perceived it.171 The idea of manliness was a requisite for
bourgeois society, and the roles of the sexes had to be clearly demarcated in
order for the concept to have any validity. The distinctions between
masculinity and femininity were perpetually reaffirmed as imperatives of the
modern age.'2 These biologists contributed to this effort by promulgating
biologically-based definitions of 'maleness' and 'femaleness' in an effort to
define organically a cultural construct that they perceived to be in jeopardy.
Macrocosm and microcosm: the reduction of culture to biology
The biologists interested in sex determination reduced the sexual
division of labor that was implicit in the ideology of the separate spheres
ultimately to the level of gametes and from there gave it all the sanction that
biology could muster for the social and cultural order. This "biologizing" of
the relations between men and women was hardly native to the nineteenth
century, but it did assume a new scientific veracity during the later
nineteenth century. Notions of the biological inferiority of women in the
West dated back into classical antiquity with the idea that women were
imperfectly formed men, the fact of which is reflected in the appearance of the
female reproductive track as an inverted image of the male.'73 Throughout
the history of science and gender in Western culture, such biological
explanations have wielded immense authority, and certain biologists
invoked this authority in the later nineteenth century as the social and sexual
settlement between men and women changed."7
William Keith Brooks (1848-1908), Doktorvater to not only Morgan but
also to Wilson and to other figures of import in American biology,'75
promulgated one such biological theory of culture. Brooks, an excellent
morphologist, studied under Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) and Alexander Agassiz
(1835-1910) at Harvard University, where he was educated in the nineteenth-
century naturalist tradition.76 After earning his Ph.D. degree at Harvard,
Brooks took a position at Johns Hopkins and remained there for the rest of
his life.'77 Historian of biology Jane Maienschein notes that Brooks was not so
much an experimenter as an observer of the natural world, which he
attempted to interpret logically. Brooks accordingly saw too many things to be
satisfied with separating out one aspect of a phenomenon to study in
isolation, preferring to take a longer, more interpretive view.'78 Interested in
philosophy at least as much as natural history,'79 and concerned with the
changing roles, duties, and actions of women, Brooks sought once and for all
the explain what biology had to say about women.'s8
In an article entitled, "The Condition of Women From a Zoological
Point of View," (1879) Brooks began his consideration of the sex problem by
examining the present physical form of male and female bodies and then
from there extrapolating their proper functions, both biological and cultural.
Brooks argued that if there is a fundamental difference in the "sociological
influences" of the two sexes, then perforce there had to be a biological
explanation. Recognizing the "insignificance of the merely animal difference
between the sexes, as compared with their intellectual and moral influence, it
is none the less true that the origin of the latter is to be found in the
former."181 Yet Brooks reduced these "intellectual and moral influences" to
the lowest possible level, that of the sperm and egg. His consideration of
women from a zoological point of view was minutely concerned with
gametes. Brooks elaborated his consideration of the woman question with an
examination of the structure, constitution, and function of the male and
female gametes. The egg, in Brooks' view, was incapable of "perfect
development" until it had been fertilized, because only under the influence
of the male-provided gamete did the egg do anything.'"' The egg was
essentially a food depot with little active role, "nothing but one of the cells of
the body, which may, when acted upon by the male element, develop into a
new organism."18 In fact, the egg was only the material medium in which
the "law of heredity" operated.'" Brooks displayed a real belief in the
superiority of the male gamete. Brooks thought that it alone was active,
while the female-supplied gamete displayed qualities remarkably like those
expected of bourgeois women.
Throughout his consideration of the condition of women from a
zoological point of view, Brooks made an interesting series of comparisons,
each of which moved from the microcosmic world to the macrocosmic world.
At each step, science moved closer to supporting the cultural status quo. He
began with the eggs,'18 which were almost useless save as silos and as media
for the "law of heredity." The male element, in contrast, was the vehicle for
the equally vague "law of variation." At the heart of Brooks' argument rested
the facts of nature: The female-supplied gamete was conservative while the
male-supplied gamete was progressive and variable. From this Brooks
generalized up the phylogenetic ladder. In plants and lower animals, for
example, Brooks held that females tended not to change much, while males
varied. Thus the lower animals reflected the gametic state. Brooks slid up
the chain of being to humans, all the while eulogizing the harmony between
organism and environment. Moving from gametes to bodies, Brooks argued
that since the female (human) body was entrusted with all that has been
gained by the race, then the female mind constituted "a storehouse filled with
the instincts, habits, intuitions, and laws of conduct" that humanity had
accrued.186 Likewise if the male (human) body, being variable, represented
evolution, then the male mind "must have the power of extending
experience over new fields, and, by comparison and generalization, of
discovering new laws of nature."'87 In an age of science, that last quality
represented the ultimate power, and men were its sole possessors. He stated:
"Men excel in judgment, women in common sense."188
Brooks then moved from gametes to bodies to minds. The mind-body
dualism, long present in Western thought, appeared to have vanished from
Brooks's work. Instead of each body consisting of uneasy alliance of mind and
body, males were characterized by mind, while females by body. Yet, if one
followed Brooks's own logic, all characteristics of all levels of males and
females above the cellular level were at best accidental properties derived
from the rudimentary characteristics of gametes. However, the "especial and
peculiar functions of the male mind" and, one presumes the female mind (if
she has one), and their relation to establish cultural roles are the main point
of the essay. At each step, Brooks made significant elisions as he ascended to
the next level he saw in the living world. There was no real reason why the
characteristics of sperm and eggs should have determined the qualities of
human minds save that Brooks wanted or needed them to. Brooks buttressed
his culture with biology. His argument is worth quoting at length.
The study of he growth of civilization shows that human
advancement has been accompanied by a slow but constant
improvement in the condition of women, as compared with men, and
that it may be very accurately measured by this standard... If there is...
[a]... fundamental difference in the sociological influence of the sexes,
its origin must be sought in the physiological differences between
them... At the present time, however, there is a growing tendency to
regard the relations of the sexes as due in great part to male selfishness;
and while the substantial correctness of our view of the differences
between the male and female character is acknowledged, its origin is
attributed to the "subjection" of women by men. In this paper I have
attempted to present reasons, which I believe are new, for regarding the
differences as natural and of the greatest importance to the race.'9
These were not the ramblings of a half-mad peddler of pseudo-science,
but the considered position of a professor at The Johns Hopkins University
and one of the foremost zoologists of his generation. Biologists like Brooks
genuinely viewed the social settlement between the sexes, the idea that men
worked and women preserved the sanctity of the home, as something
mandated in the cells.190 To late nineteenth-century biologists, evolution,
which had only reduced the "work" that women did, had made Western
women's lives supremely easy. They had but one task, while the toil of men
was without end. To demand anything else was worse then folly. It ran
counter to the demands of biological necessity."' Equal rights, then, entailed
a step backwards in terms of evolutionary progress, and individual rights
were subsidiary to the rights of the species. Equal rights were "regressive"
because they attempted to undo the dimorphism effected by human
The era of the fin de siecle was one of acute anxiety for the middle
classes of Western culture. One of the greatest sources of unease and
insecurity, and one that had the greatest possibilities for Western culture, was
the transition to modernity. Modernity affected many areas of bourgeois
culture, including the arts and letters, the sciences, and even the perception of
the physical world. The middle classes found modernity to be so threatening
because it promised to erode so many of the fundamental aspects of bourgeois
life, such as the belief in progress or the belief in ontological continuity,
whether physical matter or sexual relations. One area in particular that was
threatened by the transition to the modern world was that of the relations
between men and women and the concomitant definitions of femininity and
masculinity. Much of the relationship between middle-class men and
women was predicated on the notion of different spheres of activity for the
sexes. The boundaries between these realms, once hard and fast, had begun to
erode at the fin de sickle. Two new sexual personae, the New Woman and
the Inverted Man, embodied these changes and sparked a reassessment of the
relations between the sexes. These figures, by eroding the differences between
men and women suggested that modernity heralded sexual anarchy. Because
of the tendency in both American Progressive culture and the German
Wilhelmine and Weimar cultures to address social and cultural issues in
scientific terms, biologists were in a unique position to address the threatened
changes. Beginning with concerns about the erosion of the walls between the
spheres and racial and sexual degeneration, biologists gradually "biologized"
culture. That is, they cast cultural problems, specifically changing relations
between the sexes, in biological terms. Seeking a single causal mechanism for
sex and sexuality throughout all the taxa, biologists ranging from
experimental animal breeders to cytologists and embryologists investigated
the biological bases of sex and sexual difference. Biological research, however,
quickly pointed out the particulate nature of heredity and the fragmented,
atomistic nature of sex.
' Max Nordau, Degeneration, Reprinted from the English-language edition of 1895 published
by D. Appleton & Co. ed. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1968), p. 1.
2David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley, The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society
and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1984), p.
SNordau, Degeneration, p. 2.
SOswald Spengler, "The Decline of the West," in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, ed. Anton
Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg (Berkeley: The University of California Press,
1994), p. 359.
SIbid., p. 359.
6Detlev Peukert, The Weimar Republic: The Crisis of Classical Modernity (New York: Hill
and Wang, 1987), pp. xiii-xiv.
'Ibid., p. xiv.
SThe end of modernity and the rise of post-modernity are the subject of some debate. David
Harvey dates the end of modernity to the late twentieth century, starting with the "official"
death of Modem architecture on 15 July 1972 [David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity:
An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 1989),
p. 39]. Harvey notes that concurrent developments in the intellectual world, exemplified by
the work of Foucault and Lyotard, spelled the end of the Enlightenment goal of the unity of
knowledge and the liberation of humanity (Harvey, Postmodernity, pp. 44-45). On the other
hand, Stephen Toulmin argues that modernity can be salvaged through the reconciliation of
science and humanism [Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), p. 180, by humanizing the science that led to the
death camps and the atomic bomb and by restoring the philosophical to the scientific (pp. 200-
201). However, William Everdell, author of a recent study of modernity, argues that
modernity never really ended and is, in fact, only just entering a period of crisis [William R.
Everdell, The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1997), p. 36]. Bruno Latour, though, argues that Western culture
was never Modern to begin with (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 10-12]. The present project by and large follows the notion
of cultural modernity, which saw the modem world as one of fragmentation and discontinuity
and characterized by the disorientations that many people experienced in the West by the turn
of the twentieth century.
9Toulmin, Cosmopolis, p.5.
SHarvey, Postmodernity, p. 12.
"Peukert, Weimar Republic, p. 164.
12 Everdell, Moderns, p. 347.
'3 Ibid., p. 351.
1 Ibid, p. 201.
SIbid., p. 351.
6 Ibid., pp. 352-354.
7 Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), p. 14.
' Blackbourn and Eley, Peculiarities, p. 216.
* Harvey, Postmodernity, p. 25.
2 Christoph Asendorf, Batteries of Life: On the History of Things and Their Perception in
Modernity, trans. Don Reneau (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 4-5.
21AugustForel, The Sexual Question: A Scientific, Psychological, Hygienic and Sociological
Study, trans. C. F. Marshall (New York: Physicians and Surgeons Books Co., 1925), p. 328.
22 Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (New York:
Penguin Books, 1982), p. 15.
23 Wiebe, Order, p. 12.
2Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud. Volume 1: Education of the Senses
(Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 62.
"Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), p. 5.
SPeter G. Filene, Him/Her/Self: Sex Roles in Modern America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1986), pp. 99-100.
" Mary Fulbrook, The Divided Nation: A History of Germany, 1918-1990 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1992), p. 39.
a Gay, Education, p. 50.
" Ute Frevert, Women in German History: From Bourgeois Emancipation to Sexual Liberation
(New York: Berg, 1988), p. 176.
SIbid., p. 176.
3 Modris Eksteins, The Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age
(Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1989) p. 133.
Peukert Weimar Republic, p. 178.
" Stefan Zweig, "The Monotonization of the World," in Kaes, Jay, and Dimendberg, eds., pp.
Ibid., p. 399.
" Adolf Halfeld, "America and the New Objectivity," in Kaes, Jay, and Dimendberg, eds., p.
408; Gay, Education, p. 5.
6 Ostwald, "Moral History," p. 77.
3 Hans Ostwald, "A Moral History of the Inflation," in Kaes, Jay, and Dimendberg, eds., p. 77.
SFulbrook, Divided, p. 40.
SIbid., p. 40.
SHans Goldschmidt, from an undated and privately circulated autobiographical manuscript
that I managed to acquire. American dances were evidently quite threatening. Historian
Modris Eksteins notes that the turkey-trot and the tango were all the rage in urban Germany
immediately before World War One, much to the horror of the conservative Wilhelmine
establishment. Clergy, the civil service, and government ministers all denounced what they
regarded as lewd public displays, and editorial pages were full of condemnatory commentary.
According to Eksteins, a Prussian officer was killed by a general over the question of the
propriety of the turkey-trot, and Kaiser Wilhelm himself attempted to ban the officers of his
army and navy from dancing the new steps, at least when in uniform (Rights of Spring, pp. 38-
I Lawrence Birken, Consuming Desire: Sexual Science and the Emergence of a Culture of
Abundance, 1871-1914 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), p. 27.
3 Ibid., p. 34.
SRita Felski, The Gender of Modernity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, ,1995),
"Ibid., p. 61.
SIbid., p. 61.
%Ibid., p. 67.
4 Ibid., p. 62.
"Ben Agger, Gender, Culture, and Power: Toward a Feminist Postmodern Critical Theory
(Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993), p. 43.
0 Jeffrey Weeks, Sexuality and Its Discontents: Meanings, Myths, and Modern Sexualities
(London: Routledge, 1985), p. 74.
5 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. 15.
"Ibid., p. 15.
J See Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in
the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 159, 272-273 n.
124. See also George L. Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality: Middle-Class Morality and Sexual
Norms in Modern Europe (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), pp. 16-20. Susan
Kingsley Kent, Sex and Suffrage in Britain, 1860-1914 (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1987), p. 90, also deals with the subject.
M Asendorf, Batteries, p. 119. See also Gay, Education, pp. 25-44.
"Ibid., p. 119.
* Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud. Volume 3: The Cultivation of Hatred
(Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 291.
5 Helen Haste, The Sexual Metaphor: Men, Women, and the Thinking that Makes the
Difference (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 3.
' Ludmilla Jordanova, "Natural Facts: A Historical Perspective on Science and Sexuality," in
Nature, Culture, Gender, ed. Carol P. MacCormick and Marilyn Strathern (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 1980), pp. 43-44.
" Jeffrey Weeks, Sex, Politics, and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800(London:
Longman, 1981), p. 81.
' Fraser Harrison, The Dark Angel: Aspects of Victorian Sexuality (London: Sheldon Press,
1977), p. 5.
" Weeks, Sex, Politics, and Society, p. 23.
62 Showalter, Anarchy, pp. 6-7.
6Mosse, Nationalism, p. 9.
SShowalter, Anarchy, p. 8. See also Gay, Education, p. 53.
5 Annelise Mauge, I'ldentiti masculine en crise au tournant du siecle (Paris: Editions Puvage,
1987), p. 59.
" Atina Grossmann, "The New Woman, the New Family, and the Rationalization of Sexuality:
The Sex Reform Movement in Germany, 1928-1933" (Doctoral Dissertation, Rutgers University,
1984), p. 40.
67 Isabel V. Hull, The Entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1888-1918 (Cambridge, UK Cambridge
University Press, 1982), p. 135.
" Vern L. Bullough, Science in the Bedroom: A History of Sex Research (New York: Basic
Books, 1994), p. 92. See also Chauncey 1994.
"Mosse, Nationalism, p. 136.
" Edward Carpenter, The Intermediate Sex: A Study of Some Transitional Types of Men and
Women (New York and London: Mitchell Kennerley, 1912), p. 56.
"7GeorgeChauncey, Jr., Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay
Male World, 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994), p. 132.
" Historian Alice Dreger makes a similar point in her forthcoming book, Hermaphrodites and
the Medical Invention of Sex (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 26.
73The literature on the crisis of masculinity affecting bourgeois men and the fin de siecle is vast.
The references that follow are intended to give an overview, rather than an exhaustive list.
See Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the
United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); Victoria Bissell Brown,
"The Fear of Feminization: Los Angeles High School in the Progressive Era," Feminist Studies
16 (1990): 493-518; George Chauncey, Jr., Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the
Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994); BramDijkstra, Idols
of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil at the Fin-de-Sicle (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1986); Joe L. Dubbert, "Progressivism and the Masculinity Crisis," in The American Man,
ed. Elizabeth H. Pleck and Joseph H. Pleck (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1930), 303-
320; Leonard L. Duroche, "Men Fearing Men: On the Nineteenth-Century Origins of Modern
Homophobia," Men's Studies Review 8 (1991): 3-7; Peter G. Filene, Him/Her/Self Sex Roles
in Modern America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); John C. Fout, "Sexual
Politics in Wilhelmine Germany: The Male Gender Crisis, Moral Purity, and Homophobia," in
Forbidden History: The State, Society, and the Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe, ed.
John C. Fout (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 252-292; Ludmilla Jordanova, Sexual
Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine Between the Eighteenth and Twentieth
Centuries (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989); Michael Kimmel, "Men's Responses
to Feminism at the Turn of the Century," Gender and Society 1 (1987): 261-283; Sally Ledger and
Scott McCracken, eds., Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siecle (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1995); Mary Louise Roberts, Civilization without Sexes: Reconstructing
Gender in Postwar France, 1917-1927 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press); E. Anthony
Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the
Modern Era (New York: Basic Books, 1993); Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and
Culture at the Fin de Sicle (New York: Penguin Books, 1990).
" See Showalter, Anarchy.
" Otto Weininger, Sex and Character (New York: AMS Press, 1906).
"See Chauncey, Gay New York.
" Lorraine Daston and Katherine Parks, "The Hermaphrodite and the Orders of Nature:
Sexual Ambiguity in Early Modem France," in Premodern Sexualities, ed. Louise Fradenburg
and Carla Freccero (New York: Routledge, 199), pp. 117-136.
"See Gay, Cultivation.
" See Filene, Him/Her/Self.
' See Carpenter, Intermediate.
" See Showalter, Anarchy.
I See William Keith Brooks, "The Condition of Women from a Zoological Point of View,"
Popular Science Monthly 15 (1879): 145-155, 347-356. See also Patrick Geddes and J. Arthur
Thomson, The Evolution of Sex (London: Walter Scott, 1890), and Clarence E. McClung, "The
Accessory Chromosome-Sex Determinant?," Biological Bulletin 3 (1902): 43-84. See also
Arabella Kenealy, Feminism and Sex-Extinction (London: T. Fisher Unwin, Ltd., 1920).
' As cited Sally Ledger, "The New Woman and the Crisis of Victorianism," in Cultural Politics
at the Fin de Sicle, ed. Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 1995), pp. 22-44. The poem appeared originally in Punch, 27 April 1895, p.
"As cited in Carol Pateman, "The Disorder of Women': Women, Love, and the Sense of Justice,"
Ethics 91 (1980): 20-34., p. 20.
SWeeks, Discontents, pp. 137-138.
"Pateman, "Disorder," p. 21.
8 Weeks, Discontents, pp. 15-16.
A As cited in Showalter, Anarchy, p. 3.
"Joe L. Dubbert, "Progressivism and the Masculinity Crisis," in The American Man, ed.
Elizabeth H. Pleck and Joseph H. Pleck (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980), p. 310.
0 Filene, Him/Her/Self, p. 98.
" Ibid., pp. 98-99. See also Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1865-1885
(Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 1957)., p. 497. Cosmopolitan magazine, for example, from
1912 to 1918, was dominated by the discussion of sex.
2 Hugo Bettauer, "The Erotic Revolution," in Kaes, Jay, and Dimendberg, eds, p. 699.
SStephen Kern, Anatomy and Destiny: A Cultural History of the Human Body (Indianapolis:
Bobbs-Merril, 1975), p. 93.
" As cited in Paul Weindling, Health, Race, and German Politics Between National
Unification and Nazism, 1870-1945 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 368.
"CornelieUsbome, The Politics of the Body in Weimar Germany: Women's Reproductive
Rights and Responsibilities (London: Macmillan, 1992), p. 89.
"T.J.JacksonLears, No Place of Grace: Anti-Modernism and the Transformation of American
Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1981), p. 20.
'Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, Unifying Biology: The Evolutionary Synthesis and Evolutionary
Biology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 14, 200-203.
" Harvey, Postmodernity, p. 12.
"AnsonRabinbach, The Human Motor Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), p. 3.
'"Ibid., pp. 3-4.
I Brooks, "Condition," pp. 354-356; Geddes and Thomson, Evolution, pp. 267-277; Carpenter,
Intermediate, p. 22. See also Russett, pp. 131-132; Grossmann, "New Woman," p. 54; Weindling,
Health, Race, and German Politics, p. 105; Hull, Entourage, p. 135.
" This was the theme of Nordau's book, with the state of culture indicating a high degree of
physical degeneration. Spengler touched on the theme, as well.
m Showalter, Anarchy, p. 1.
1 Nordau, Degeneration, p. 2.
"John Higham, "The Reorientation of American Culture in the 1890s," in Writing American
History, ed. John Higham (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1970), p. 92.
Nordau's book infiltrated contemporary literature, as exemplified by Saki's character
Reginald, himself a nonpareil of weary sophistication. Reginald, a wan upper-bourgeois
cultural critic, read the book at a weekend house-party. Saki (H. H. Munro), "Reginald on
Tariffs," in The Complete Saki (New York: Penguin Books, 1967), p. 31.
* Nordau, Degeneration, pp. 15-33.
' Ibid., pp. 538-539. Nordau (p. 13) noted that "Vice looks to Sodom and Lesbos, to Bluebeard's
castle and the servant's hall of the 'divine Marquis de Sade's Justine, for its embodiments."
Sexual deviance, whether homosexuality, sadomasochism, or lust-murder, was all the same.
" As cited in R. B. Kershner, Jr., "Degeneration: The Explanatory Nightmare," Georgia
Review 40(1986): 436.
" Ibid., p. 436.
" Thomas Hunt Morgan, "Human Heredity and Genetics," p. 18. Undated speech, Thomas Hunt
Morgan Papers, Archives of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.
n' Harry Oosterhuis, "Richard von Krafft-Ebing's 'Step-children of Nature': Psychiatry and
the Making of Homosexual Identity," in Science and Homosexualities, ed. Vernon A. Rosario
(New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 71.
12 Forel, Sexual Question, p. 328.
"3 Nordau, Degeneration, p. 37. See also Mosse, Nationalism, p. 136.
"'Asendorf, Batteries, p. 153, 163. See Chapter 7, especially pp. 155-156, "Polarity and Sexual
Attraction." Asendorf discusses a drawing by Wilhelm Kaulbach entitled "The Production of
Steam" (ca. 1859) that makes the connection between industrial Modernization and sex quite
clear. Steam is a winged demon that results from the rape of a nymph (symbolizing nature) by
Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge (symbolizing iron and industrialization).
"' Nordau, Degeneration, p. 35.
"' Eric L. Santer, My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber's Secret History of
Modernity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 8.
"~ Frevert, Women, p. 131.
'" John Farley, Gametes and Spores: Ideas about Sexual Reproduction, 1750-1914 (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), p. 188.
"' Ibid., p. 207.
'0 Ibid., pp. 188-189.
11 Thomas Hunt Morgan, Hitchcock Lecture 19 April 1916, Thomas Hunt Morgan Papers,
Archives of the California Institutes of Technology, Pasadena, CA.
12 See, for example, Edmund Beecher Wilson, "The Sex Chromosomes," Archiv fir
mikroskopische Anatomie 77 (1911): 249-271 for a consideration of the synthetic picture.
"1 Richard Goldschmidt, "Intersexualitat und menschliches Zwittertum," Deutsche
medizinische Wochenschriften 57 (1931): 1288-1292, especially p. 2. This article makes the
connection between the biological work on sex determination and considerations of human sexual
problems explicit, although the present work argues that the connection was implicit in much
of the work on sex determination.
12 Leonard Doncaster, The Determination of Sex (Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press,
1914), p. 1.
1' Richard Goldschmidt, "The Determination of Sex," Nature 107 (1921): 780. Aside from a very
brief mention in 1917, this is article contains the first explicit statement about what, precisely,
constitutes the sex problem. Before this, biological works both American and German merely
referred to the "sex problem" with no definition of what it was or why sex was problematic.
That it was left undefined for so long suggests that it was "tacit knowledge," something that
2" Ibid., p. 780.
127 Oscar Riddle, "Metabolism and the Newer Aspects of the Sex Problem, Part 1." Undated
speech, Oscar Riddle Papers, APS, pp. 1-3. While Part 1 is undated, Part 2 is dated ca. 1926-
"1 Doncaster, Determination, pp. 5-6.
' Richard Goldschmidt, "Ober die Vererbung der sekundaren Geschlechtscharaktere,"
Sitzungsberichte der Gesellschaft fiir Morphologie und Physiologie in Miinchen 27(1911): 118.
"0 Weeks, Sex, Politics, and Society, p. 12.
31 Doncaster, Determination, p. vi.
1~ S. Watas6, "On the Phenomena of Sex Determination," Journal of Morphology 6 (1892): 492.
13 Ibid., pp. 492-493.
1 William Bateson, Mendel's Principles of Heredity (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press, 1909), p. 164. For Bateson's role in the rise of Mendelism, see William B. Provine, The
Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics, ed. Allen G. Debus, Chicago History of Science and
Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971).
13 John Beard, "The Determination of Sex in Animal Development," Zoologische Jahrbiicher,
Abteilung fir Anatomie und Ontogenie der Thiere 16 (1902): 703-765., p. 708.
136 Ibid, p. 704.
' Thomas H. Montgomery, "Are Particular Chromosomes Sex Determinants?," Biological
Bulletin 19 (1910): 1-17., p. 9. For Montgomery's role in the discovery of the role of the accessory
chromosome, see Thomas H. Montgomery, "A Study of the Chromosomes of the Germ Cells of
Metazoa," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 20 (n. s.) (1901): 154-236.
13 Pamphlet, "6th International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference," Raymond
Pearl Papers, APS. For Wilcox's contribution to the furor over the decline of (white) American
fecundity, see Walter F. Wilcox, "The Proportion of Children in the United States," Popular
Science Monthly 67 (1905): 762-763.
" Margaret Sanger to Raymond Pearl, 1 February 1927, Raymond Pearl Papers, APS.
'" Richard Goldschmidt, "Die Bestimmung des Geschlechts und ihre Kontrolle," Eugenik2
'1 Forel, Sexual Question, p. 3. See also M. M. Knight, Iva Lowther Peters, and Phyllis
Blanchard, Taboo and Genetics: A Study of the Biological, Sociological, and Psychological
Foundations of the Family (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co., Ltd, 1921), pp. 13-14.
11 Richard Goldschmidt, "La th6orie de la determination du sexe," Scientia 43(1928): 59.
"Thomas Hunt Morgan, Experimental Zoology (New York: Macmillan, 1907), pp. 423424.
"Thomas Hunt Morgan, "A Biological and Cytological Study of Sex Determination in
Phylloxerans and Aphids," Journal of Experimental Zoology 7 (1909): 239-359. See especially
' Thomas Hunt Morgan to Hans Driesch, 23 October 1905, pp. 1-2, Morgan-Driesch
"o Morgan to Driesch, 23 October 1905, p. 1. Morgan-Driesch Correspondence, APS.
t" See Thomas Hunt Morgan, "Recent Theories in Regards to the Determination of Sex," Popular
Science Monthly 64 (1903): 97-116. In this paper, which will be discussed in detail in Chapter 3,
below, Morgan compares all of the various sex determination schemes ca. 1903. In many cases,
Morgan dismissed or discounted various theories on the grounds that they were mutually
contradictory, although based on empirical evidence.
'8 See Ibid. See also Edmund Beecher Wilson, "The Sex Chromosomes," Archiv fir
mikroskopische Anatomie 77 (1911): 249-271.
" Margaret Somosi Saha, "Carl Correns and an Alternative Approach to Genetics: The Study
of Heredity in Germany Between 1880 and 1930" (Doctoral Dissertation, Michigan State
University, 1984), pp. 198-199.
10 Richard Goldschmidt, "Das Problem der Geschlechtsbestimmung," Die Umschau 14 (1910):
' Goldschmidt, "biologischen Grundlagen," p. 7.
1n See especially Richard Goldschmidt, The Mechanism and Physiology of Sex Determination,
trans. William J. Dakin (London: Metheun, 1923). In this work, Goldschmidt extended his own
work, which was limited to insects, to cover as much of the living world as reproduced sexually.
'5 Kenneth Ludmerer, Genetics and American Society (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1971), p. 37.
" Ibid., p. 38.
SCharles Rosenberg, No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 1.
1 Ibid., pp. 12-13.
' See Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century
England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994) and Shapin and Simon Schaffer,
Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbies, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1985) for discussions of the production of matters of fact and the spaces in
which they can exist.
" Garland Allen, Thomas Hunt Morgan: The Man and His Science (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1978), p. 21.
'" Ludmerer, Genetics, pp. 31-32.
'6 Donald Pickens, Eugenics and the Progressives (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press,
1968), p. 102.
61 Paul Weindling, Darwinism and Social Darwinism in Imperial Germany: The contribution of
the Cell Biologist Oscar Hertoig (1849-1922) (Stuttgart and New York: n. p., 1991), p. 17.
'" Ibid, p. 22.
'" Ibid., p. 22.
'6 Curt Stern, "Richard Benedict Goldschmidt, 1878-1958," Biographical Memoirs of the
National Academy of Sciences 39 (1967): 141-192.
11 Carroll Smith-Rosenberg and Charles Rosenberg, "The Female Animal: Medical and
Biological Views of Woman and Her Role in Nineteenth-Century America," Journal of
American History 60(1973): 333.
" Bleier, Science, p. 4.
'6"Rosenberg, Gods, p. 7. See also Scott L. Montgomery, The Scientific Voice, ed. Steve Fuller,
The Conduct of Science Series (New York: The Guilford Press, 1996).
* Ibid., p. 26.
1' Everdell, Moderns, p. 117.
0 Gay, Education, p. 208.
" Chauncey, Gay New York, p. 121. See also Rabinbach, Motor, p. 16, and Helen Longino,
Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1990), p. 163.
'"Mosse, Nationalism, p. 24.
"Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 4, 25-27, 63-64.
"1 Smith-Rosenberg and Rosenberg, "Female Animal," p. 333. See also Russett 1989, Bleier 1984,
Fausto-Sterling 1985, Anne Fausto-Sterling, "Society Writes Biology/Biology Constructs
Gender," Daedalus 116 (1987): 61-76. and Evelyn Fox Keller, "The Gender/Science System: Or,
Is Sex to Gender as Nature is to Science?," Hypa tia 2 (1987): 37-49.
15 See Jane Maienschein, Transforming Traditions in American Biology, 1880-1915 (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991) for Brooks' influence on American biology through his
students, E. B. Wilson, E. G. Conklin, T. H. Morgan, and R. G. Harrison.
1* Allen, Morgan, pp. 36-37.
" Ibid. p. 37.
1n Maienschein, Traditions, p. 43.
'" Ibid., pp. 29, 43-44, 45.
6" Brooks, "Condition."
[" Ibid., pp. 145-146.
Ibid., p. 148.
M Ibid, p. 148.
'" Ibid., p. 150.
" Ibid., p. 148.
[" Ibid., p. 154.
" Ibid., p. 154.
m Ibid., p. 155.
1"Ibid., pp. 145, 354.
1~Geddesand Thomson, Evolution, p. 267. "What was decided among the prehistorical
Protozoa cannot be annulled by Act of Parliament."
.. Ibid., p. 269.
1' Arabella Kenealy, Feminism and Sex-Extinction (London: T. Fisher Unwin, Ltd., 1920), p. vi.
CYTOLOGY, MENDELISM, AND SEX DETERMINATION
Introduction to the Biological Aspects of the Sex Problem
Biologists sought a single system to explain the determination of sex.
The greatest evidence of this was that certain biologists such as Morgan,
Goldschmidt, and others compared sex determination in radically different
organisms in the hopes of deriving a single solution to the sex problem. The
realization that the wide variety of different organisms, which spanned the
living world, would provide very different solutions came only gradually,
and then only after the advent of genetics rendered the question irrelevant.
Instead of the simple unitary system biologists in the United States and
Germany sought, biologists faced considerable difficulties in ascertaining
what, specifically, determined sex. Thus biologists, unable to determine easily
the sexing process, faced a bewildering array of possibilities that appeared to
some to suggest sexual anarchy in the animal and plant kingdoms. Rather
than the straightforward system that many expected to find, there seemed to
be as many forms of sex, mechanisms for the determination of sex, and,
consequently, theories of sex determination and inheritance as there were
kinds of animals and plants. The efforts of biologists represent various
attempts to uncover the mechanism (more correctly, mechanisms) behind
the regularities they observed on the level of sexed and sexualized bodies,
such as the inheritance of secondary sex characteristics (sexual dimorphism),
the inexplicably equal or nearly equal numbers of males and females, the role
of the environment in the determination of sex, including the role of
nutrition in sex determination, the relation of parthenogenesis to "normal"
sex determination, the point at which sex determination actually occurred in
the developing organism, and, increasingly through the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries, the causal mechanisms behind and the significance
of an ever-growing array of aberrantly sexed bodies like hermaphrodites and
Understanding the sex problem necessitates an examination of the
biological bases of the conclusions that certain biologists drew about gender.
Because the present work concerns itself with the significance of sex
determination, with the fact that numerous biologists in many countries
sought to determine sex (and sexuality), and because the history of the
working-out of the details is a well- and often-told story in the history of
biology, the present narrative presents only some of the work involved; only
the main lines of research--cytology (the study of cell formation, structure,
and function of cells) and Mendelism--will be examined. Although the
primary argument of the present work is that the scientific efforts to
understand the biological basis of sex also represent an effort to understand
and hence control the biological basis of sexuality and other cultural
manifestations of sex through certain mechanical technologies, the present
chapter concentrates on the scientific aspects of the argument.
The "new" experimental biology was at the heart of the thinking of
many American and German biologists who worked on the sex problem.
According to historian of biology Garland Allen, there were significant
differences between nineteenth- and twentieth-century biology. Whereas
nineteenth-century biology had been characterized by observation-based and
highly speculative morphological studies, biology at the fin de siecle was
marked by increasing reliance on experimentation, what Allen referred to as
the "revolt from morphology."' Much of the younger generation of biologists
expressed a certain dissatisfaction with the methodologies and conclusions of
their teachers, and lacked their interest in phylogenetic problems, the
expression of which tended to involve the construction of elaborate and
speculative maps of relationships between various groups of organisms.
Many of these younger biologists believed that the essentially descriptive
approach of nineteenth-century natural history prevented biology from
assuming the status of a "true" science such as physics or chemistry. This
new generation accordingly turned to the quantitative and experimental
methods and approaches of the physical sciences.2
Allen notes that it was not so much the subject matter as the ways in
which an older generation approached it that Morgan, Wilson, Goldschmidt,
Correns, and others found untenable. The descriptive tradition against which
they rebelled included many areas of the biological sciences, such as
taxonomy, paleontology, embryology, histology, anatomy, and cytology.3
However, the new biology also developed many of these areas considerably.
The new biology was not characterized by a change in theory, or even a
technological change involving new instruments or animals. Instead, the
new biology involved what historian of biology Jane Maienschein
characterized as a "subtle and profound change in the epistemic setting" in
which these younger biologists practiced their science. Conclusions about the
causes and nature of life faced what proponents of the new biology regarded
as higher, more rigorous standards of proof that were based on demonstrable
and reproducible phenomena. It was an epistemological shift of the first
The emphasis on the methods and epistemology of the physical
sciences brought physiology to a new prominence within the biological
sciences. Accordingly the physiology that many of the practitioners of the
new biology looked to at the fin de siecle was a mechanistic and reductionistic
physiology, especially as it was practiced in Germany. Many of this younger
generation of fin-de-siecle biologists studied in Germany, and were
accordingly influenced by the mid nineteenth-century materialist
physiologists of the Berlin school, such as Hermann von Helmholz (1821-
1894), Carl Ludwig (1816-1895), Ernst Briicke (1819-1892), and Emil Du Bois-
Reymond (1818-1894). The new biology pushed the study of heredity and
development from the realm of description into the realm of
experimentation.5 In the area of heredity in particular, the new experimental
biology was quite closely connected to the development of a Mendelian
approach. The rediscovery (or recovery) of Gregor Mendel's original paper of
1866 by Hugo de Vries (1848-1935), Carl Correns, and Erich von Tschermak
(1871-1962) furnished important new ideas about the nature of heredity, and
reinforced the materialist and atomistic approach of much later nineteenth-
century speculation about heredity, such as de Vries's mutationstheorie.6
Cytology: The Accessory Chromosomes and Sex Determination
August Weismann and the Separation of Germ Cells from Somatic Cells
It was in cytology that many important aspects of work on sex
determination--work that brought out the atomistic nature of sex--was
performed. One important insight was the German biologist August
Weismann's largely conceptual distinction between somatic cells and germ
cells, between the cells of the body and those cells that produced gametes,
constituted one important contribution towards the solution of the sex
problem. Weismann (1834-1914), although a staunch Darwinian and
proponent of evolution by natural selection,7 formulated this theory in an
attempt to deny once and for all the efficacy of the inheritance of acquired
characteristics. Nonetheless this distinction also held profound implications
for the study of the heredity of sex. Weismann observed that in certain
organisms the germ cells, which would in the organism's future give rise to
the gametes, were sequestered early in development and thus taken out of the
sequence of cells that gave rise to the body. Weismann noted that these cells
were some of the earliest cells to result from the union of egg with sperm.
These cells remained apart, quiescent until the organism in question reached
sexual maturity. This observation led Weismann in 1885 to his theory of the
continuity of the germ cells, which held that the germ plasm was held
separate from the body's structural cells from the beginning so that nothing
that happened to the body had an impact upon them.8 Thus seventy years
after Lamarck proposed his own model of evolution by the inheritance of
acquired traits, Weismann challenged this doctrine, postulating that the germ
cells alone were responsible for heredity, and were neither produced by the
cells of the body nor affected by its experiences.9
To Weismann's thinking, the germ cells were immortal--only the body
was subject to decline and decay. Each generation handed to the next its germ
plasm uncorrupted by the exigencies of life. What was called "the body,"
female or male, constituted a husk; its sole function was to support and
transmit its germ plasm.10 In his efforts to demonstrate the irrelevancy of the
body to heredity, Weismann conducted an experiment in which he surgically
separated over twenty generations of mice from their tails and found no
tendency of the mice to be born without tails." His work was experimental,
or at least subject to empirical verification, and fitted in with the
experimental trends and developments in biological theory and practice.
Weismann's work was important precisely because it limited the influence of
the environment on heredity. By bracketing such environmental influence
out of consideration, Weismann's work made a chromosome theory of
heredity--in which physical traits were passed in large part or entirely by
chromosomes--much more plausible, or at least subject to experimental
The relationship between chromosomes and sex, or between
chromosomes and any physical trait, however, was not at all apparent during
the late nineteenth century; it stabilized in the early years of the twentieth
century. In fact, part of the significance of the chromosome theory of heredity
consisted of demonstrating precisely that relationship. The discovery of a
relationship between chromosomes and specific physical characteristics like
sex was the result of several workers' efforts. Thus the German cytologist H.
Henking's observation in 1891 that an unpaired chromosome during
spermatogenesis in the insect group Pyrrhocoris went into one of two
different kinds of sperm was not immediately connected to sex determination
in a definitive manner.' Henking noted that during certain phases of
meiosis unequal numbers of chromosomes migrated towards opposite poles
of the cell about to split. This observation stood in contradiction to what
cytologists knew about chromosomes, namely that during duplication and
division they exist in identical pairs called homologues. Yet Henking had
apparently discovered an anomalous unpaired chromosome. Rather than the
eleven chromosomes typically associated with Pyrrhocoris, Henking saw that
some cells possessed eleven chromosomes plus a dark-staining body."
Henking posited that this anomalous body was indeed a chromosome,
although he labeled it with an "X" to indicate a degree of uncertainty. This
may be the origin of the custom of designating the so-called sex chromosomes
as an "X" chromosome. In fact, Henking demonstrated that two kinds of
sperm were formed, one containing the usual eleven chromosomes and the
other containing ten and the dark staining X-element." Henking did not
associate this X-element, which he suspected to be chromosomal in nature,
with sex determination.'5
A few years later in 1901, however, another cytologist, Thomas
Montgomery, cleared up Henking's uncertainty and demonstrated that this
mysterious X-element was indeed a chromosome.16 Montgomery noted that
in certain stages of chromosomal replication maternal and paternal
chromosomes united such that each chromosome consisted of paired
maternal and paternal contributions. Montgomery observed that this X-
element behaved in a manner similar to that of "real" chromosomes.
Montgomery also extended Henking's observations to the Hemipteran order
of insects, thus demonstrating that Henking's observation of an unpaired
chromosome was not an aberration limited to a particular group but was in
fact characteristic of many more forms.7 E. B. Wilson, however, himself a
top-ranked cytologist, cautioned that this was more a surmise than a firm
The observations of the cytologist Clarence E. McClung (1870-1946) in
1902 lent further weight to Henking's observations. In 1902, McClung noticed
an unpaired deep-staining chromosome-like element similar to that observed
by Henking and by Montgomery, which he named this element the "accessory
chromosome."" McClung, drawing on his own observations and those of
others, including those of Henking and Montgomery, surmised that the
correlation of the unequal distribution of the accessory chromosome to two
different types of sperm to the distribution of the sexes into two groups of
approximately equal size may not have been coincidental. McClung reasoned
that owing to this unequal distribution of the accessory chromosome, there
were two qualitatively different types of spermatozoa formed. It followed,
then, that fertilization by these two sperm would have produced qualitatively
different individuals in approximately equal numbers. Given that the only
quality that divided the members of a given species into two groups was that
of sex, McClung concluded that the accessory chromosome was in fact
responsible for the determination of sex.20
Mendelism in a Pea-Shell
In 1900, and nearly simultaneously, three botanists, a Dutch, a German,
and an Austrian, recovered the conclusions of the Czech monk Gregor
Mendel (1822-1884) on the hybridization and breeding of plants." Although
Mendel published his results and conclusions in 1866, the scientific
community of the later nineteenth century largely ignored them until 1900,
when biologists reinterpreted them in such as way as to have a profound
impact on the study of heredity in the twentieth century. Although Mendel
himself sought laws to define the conditions under which speciation might
occur through hybridization, the botanists who recovered his work
interpreted it differently.22 These biologists regarded Mendel's work as
something that answered or explained many of the problems of heredity that
had been discovered in the intervening time between Mendel's era and their
own. They interpreted it as the cornerstone of a particulate theory of
inheritance buttressed by experimentation, and one that expressed two
fundamental laws of heredity, one of which dealt with the segregation of
genes under single-gene systems and the other under multiple-gene
systems.23 Mendel's "laws," like all such natural laws, were really just
generalizations drawn from observations. Mendel performed literally tens of
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