And Now for Something Completely Horrifying

I came across this on the BoingBoing blog the other day and have been meaning to mention it . . .

A collector/dealer of rare and used science books recently posted on his blog a description of a 1939 science book titled A Preliminary Atlas of Early Human Fetal Activity by one Dr. Davenport Hooker.


Behind the book’s drab cover and innocuous title lies a gallery of horrors pictorially chronicling systematic experimentation on live fetuses. As the book’s discoverer describes it in his blog post:

. . . 42 fetuses subjected to experimentation, physiological and morphological, poked with needles to determine how they would respond during the integral period of development of motility (from the 8th to 14th weeks, in regard to reflexes). The fetuses float in front of the camera unencumbered, and then the long and very pointed needle comes into view, finding its target, then a series of stills from the film made to show how the fetus moved in reaction to having been touched or abraised.

The subject fetuses were “derived from either hysterectomy or hysterotomy…undertaken in the interest of the health, sanity or life of the mother.”

You can read the full post for a fuller picture of just how appalling this research really was. But it is consistent with the “Progressive” spirit of the era and of a piece with the work of eugenicist Margaret Sanger. A quick Google search on Dr. Davenport Hooker revealed a short blurb in Time magazine appearing in 1938, the year before the book was published:

At the meeting of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia last week (see above), Dr. Hooker announced that the grasping movement originates in the embryo at the age of about eleven weeks. At this age the embryo, whose thumb is not yet in place, flexes its fingers if the palm is stimulated. At twelve weeks it makes “a pretty fair fist.” At 13½ weeks it opens and closes its hand easily. At 15 weeks the thumb comes into play and at 22 weeks the grasp can be described as a real grip.

With admiration in his voice, Dr. Hooker told the spellbound philosophers of a 25-week-old fetus which snatched a glass rod weighing three grams from the scientist’s hand, waved it feebly but triumphantly for an instant before the spark of life went out.

In the 1930s, the American Philosophical Society mentioned in the article was a major center of Progressive thought. To really understand the horror of the Progressive movement in 1920s and ’30s America, you really need to read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. Unfortunately, it’s also the best book to help you understand the current administration.

By the way, In that same May 2, 1938 issue of Time, there’s a subtly sarcastic write up about a German Adolf Hitler throwing himself a 49th birthday party parade:

With Greater Germany shouting “Heil!”, Celebrator Hitler’s followers strove hard to depict as a great soldier the former corporal of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s army. In radio broadcasts throughout Germany, Führer Hitler was being pictured as a military as well as a political genius. It fell to no army officer but to Dr. Otto Dietrich, Reich Press Chief, to reveal that Genius Hitler’s technical knowledge of things military “astonishes even the experts.” So exultant was the Hitler birthday celebration throughout the Reich that Dr. Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior, was moved to summarize: “Adolf Hitler is Germany and Germany is Adolf Hitler.”

Less than a year later Hitler would invade Poland and tear the lid off Pandora’s box.