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The Eugenics Survey of Vermont: Participants & Partners


Eugenics Survey Investigator, 1929-1936
Eugenics Survey Assistant Director, 1930-1936
Instructor of Eugenics, UVM Zoology Dept. 1932-1936
Author of We Americans: A Study of Cleavage in an American City , 1937

Henry Perkins hired Elin Anderson in the Fall of 1929 to replace Martha Wadman as Field Investigator. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, she had taught high school for several years in Canada before entering the New York School of Social Work. Anderson completed a Master's degree at Columbia University, where she cultivated a desire to use sociological research as a means to building community solidarity through cooperative ventures. She brought the Survey national recognition through her sociological study of rural decline, Selective Migration from Three Rural Towns and Its Significance (1931). Anderson was promoted to Assistant Director of the Eugenics Survey in 1931 and taught the Eugenics course in the UVM Zoology department in 1932-36. An active member of the Vermont Conference of Social Work, Anderson organized community seminars and roundtables to promote the needs and recommendations for social welfare outlined in the report of the Vermont Commission on Country Life, Rural Vermont: A Program for the Future .

In 1932-36, Elin Anderson directed a four-year study of ethnic communities in Burlington. Her final report, published as We Americans: A Study of Cleavage in an American City (Harvard University Press, 1937), challenged Vermonters to consider the race, class, and religious prejudices within their own culture as the cause of the apparent disparities among Burlington's diverse people. We Americans enabled Henry Perkins to dissociate his enterprise with the more virulent, racist versions of eugenics in America and abroad, most notably in Nazi Germany where eugenics had become the tool for racial purification.

In 1936, when Shirley Farr concluded her sponsorship of the Survey and Perkins could not obtain a new funding source, Anderson returned to Winnipeg where she became Executive Director of the Family Bureau in Winnipeg. In 1939 she returned to the United States as an extension specialist in rural health care in the Midwest until her death from breast cancer in 1951. Elin Anderson's work testifies to the power of an insider to challenge and transform the assumptions and the purpose of an institution.

See: Migration Study , Ethnic Study of Burlington

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