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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 526

Records of the Genes and Gender Collective, 1974-1999


The Genes and Gender Collective was formed in 1977. Members included faculty, students, and researchers in fields as diverse as literature, anthropology, biology, psychology, physiology, medicine, and women's studies, who were concerned with how theories of genetic determinism were used to promote racism and sexism.


  • Creation: 1974-1999

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Access. Unrestricted, except that folders #4.12-5.3 are closed until January 1, 2025. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the records of the Genes and Gender Collective is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


1.88 linear feet ((4 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio+ folder, 2 audiotapes)

The bulk of the collection pertains to the conferences held by the Collective and the conference proceedings the Collective subsequently published. Some material concerning the Collective's involvement in other meetings is also included. The folder titles were created by the Collective and some documents were annotated in preparation for transfer to the Schlesinger Library. The Collective numbered the majority of their folders, leaving some significant gaps in the numbering sequence; the processor kept these numbers on the folders. The processor also added dates and some additional information to the folder titles, placing these additions within square brackets.

Series I, Genes and Gender conferences (#1.1-2.3, T-318.1-318.2), documents the planning and organizing of the Collective's conferences. Located here are registration forms, statements of conference purpose, and ideas for the structure of the conference, such as that events last only one day, in order to allow students, working women, and out-of-towners to participate fully. Also included are meeting minutes, paper topics, suggested speakers, speakers' curricula vitae, correspondence, post-conference questionnaires, meeting programs, and talk abstracts. (Material on Conference II is not included.)

Series II, Publications (#2.4-3.15), concerns the publication of conference and symposium proceedings. (Some material concerning the conferences and symposiums themselves is also included.) Included is correspondence with authors, publishers, and prospective reviewers, drafts of articles, editorial comments from publishers and members of the Collective, publicity and promotional materials, authors' contracts, biographies, and curricula vitae. The series also documents Choichiro Yatani's difficulties with U.S. Immigration Authorities, who had placed him on a list of undesirable aliens. (Yatani, a native of Japan, was a contributor to the sixth Genes and Gender volume, which addressed the topic of racism.)

Series III, Other conferences (#3.16-4.11, F+D.1), documents events at which Ethel Tobach, a founding member of the Collective, gave presentations. Also included here is material on the American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium honoring Eleanor Leacock.

Series IV, Correspondence and minutes (#4.12-5.3), consists of correspondence with Collective members, concerning prospective presentations at the symposium honoring Eleanor Leacock, and the issues of racism and eugenics. (#5.2 includes Barry Mehler's testimony as an expert witness in a libel case concerning physicist William Shockley's theories.) In addition, the series documents issues which arose within the Collective concerning the inclusion of a paper in the seventh volume in the Genes and Gender series: Challenging Racism and Sexism: Alternatives to Genetic Explanations. Minutes from meetings of the Collective are also located here.


On January 29, 1977, 350 women from scientific institutions and neighborhood organizations met at the American Museum of Natural History in New York to discuss the increasingly prevalent theories of genetic determinism and sociobiology. (These theories argued that human traits and behavior were determined solely by our genes, making efforts to change behavior or moral nature pointless.) At this meeting, it was determined that further discussions on this topic would be welcome and the Genes and Gender Collective was established, with members including faculty, students, and researchers in fields ranging from literature and women's studies to biology and physiology. The Collective's goal was to challenge the theory of genetic determinism and to provide alternate theories and explanations.

The proceedings of the Collective's first meeting were published as Genes and Gender I. Members of the Collective then co-chaired a symposium on pitfalls in researching sex and gender at a 1978 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the papers from this symposium were published as Genes and Gender II: Pitfalls in Research on Sex and Gender. Between 1979 and 1986, the Collective organized four more conferences focusing in turn on children, health, changing technology in the workplace, and attitudes towards peace and war. The proceedings of these conferences were published as the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth volumes in the Genes and Gender series.

The Collective also organized symposiums at meetings of the Eastern Psychological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. One such symposium was held in 1989 in honor of Eleanor Leacock, an anthropologist and founding member of the Collective, while two others were prompted by lectures given by proponents of genetic determinism. Thus, in 1984 the Collective organized a symposium challenging the presumptions of sociobiologists in regard to rape. (This topic was inspired by a 1983 lecture theorizing that rape was a reproductive strategy which was selected for in evolution.) An expanded version of the papers presented was published as a monograph entitled Violence against Women: A Critique of the Sociobiology of Rape. An additional symposium, held in 1990, was entitled "Evolutionary Biology and Human Behavior: Contributions to Race/Gender Concepts," and was a response to a paper arguing that genes determine differences among Asians, Africans, and Europeans in regard to their socioeconomic status, intelligence, brain size, genital size, and sexual behavior. Biologists, anthropologists, educators, science historians, and psychologists all addressed the topic from the perspective of their particular disciplines. These papers, along with other writings on the same topic, were published as Challenging Racism and Sexism: Alternatives to Genetic Explanations (Genes and Gender, Volume VII). The Collective disbanded after this book was published.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Genes and Gender conferences
  2. Series II. Publications
  3. Series III. Other conferences
  4. Series IV. Correspondence and minutes

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 99-M116

These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Betty Rosoff and Ethel Tobach in August 1999.

Processing Information

Processed: June 2005

By: Susan Earle

Genes and Gender Collective. Records of the Genes and Gender Collective, 1974-1999: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from the Edward, Frances and Shirley B. Daniels Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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