Pearl, Raymond, 1879-1940

Raymond Pearl (1879-1940), a biologist and statistician at John Hopkins University, studied world population growth and genetics and was a leading eugenicist. An advocate of sterilization of criminals, he believed that both heredity and environmental factors shaped personality. His research on class-based fertility differentials, which utilized CRB records, supported MS’s claim that contraception affected birth rates.  Pearl was a member of the ABCL’s national council (1922-1927.)  Was a member of the BCCRB medical advisory council 1924-; was on the MRC board as well;


1879-1940; biologist and statistician; wife was Maud Mary DeWitt, had two kids; In 1905 he went to Europe, study with Karl Pearson who became major influence on his work; Pearl learned to apply statistical analysis to biological phenomena. Returned to U.S. studied Mendelian laws by studying fertility of chickens in Maine, argued that offspring did not always resemble their parents with regard to traits, so that argued that you need to study the distribution of traits across the entire population in order to predict fertility levels.  “Unlike most American biologists of the time, who studied the inheritance of traits by individuals, Pearl studied how the distribution of traits in a whole population influenced genetic and environmental factors.” Pearl “concluded that many eugenically inspired biologists and social reformers were misguided in their recommendations of policies to influence reproduction by individual couples based on the individual’s own traits.”WWI he worked in the Hoover administration as chief statistician of the Food Administration Program, which distributed food in war-torn Europe; he became interested in food supply needs at that time; in 1923 appointed professor of biometry and vital statistics at Johns Hopkins U. School of Hygiene and Public Health; there he continued to study how “birth and death rates, food supply and density affected population growth” through experimentation with fruit flies. He was known to aggressively publicize his work and respond to those who criticized it, attracting him widespread attention and some irritation among colleagues.

            Pearl was a BC supporter, who noting the differential rates between middle and upper class groups, believed birth control would “redress this imbalance and help achieve population levels that could be sustained on earth indefinitely.”  In 1925 he got Rockefeller money to establish the “Institute for Biological Research” at Hopkins, he was director until 1930 when it ended; he founded The Quarterly Review of Biology (1926) and Human Biology (1929); was co-founder and president of the International Union for the Scientific Investigation of Population Problems, 1928-1930. 

Best known for writings, extensive public speaking on population biology and birth control. “His energy and stamina were legendary.  He enjoyed food and wine; during Prohibition, Pearl, his good friend H. L. Mencken, and others formed the Saturday Night Club to dine together regularly and enjoy homemade wine. Pearl loved music and played the french horn.”

            Many books include: The Biology of Population Growth (1925); The Natural History of Population (1939
Created by Esther Katz .
Last edited by Cathy Hajo .