During his lifetime, Rufus Jones’s skills as a writer, speaker, and organizer won him a great many admirers. In the first half of the twentieth century, Jones was one of the most-admired Quakers in the world. Jones was also, as scholars such as Leigh Schmidt and Matthew Hedstrom have shown, one of the more influential liberal Protestants in the United States. In the early decades of the twentieth century, a great many American liberal Protestants avidly embraced what they thought of as the “science” of eugenics. Thus far, however, Jones’s attitudes toward eugenics have not attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. Scholars have not spent much time determining whether Jones moved in circles where eugenic ideas were prevalent, expressed himself in ways that echoed the rhetoric used by proponents of eugenics, or went out of his way to get along with eugenicists. Nor has there been much inquiry into whether Jones admired scientists who were deeply committed to eugenics, or whether he lent his support to organizations that propagated eugenic ideas. This essay attempts, in a modest way, to begin to address such lacunae in the scholarly literature.1 I ought to confess, at the outset, that this essay is driven by something other than dispassionate curiosity. It grows out of a conversation I had with a brilliant colleague, Isaac May, who mentioned in passing that he had come across a primary source that highlighted Rufus Jones’s connections to the American Eugenics Society. The text began an attempt to understand the nature of Jones’s connections to that organization and then became an effort to put those connections into a larger framework. Because I teach courses on Jones’s life and thought at a school with which he was closely associated, Haverford College, my interest in Jones’s attitudes toward eugenics is personal as well as professional.
Watt, David Harrington
"Eugenicists, Quakers, and Rufus Jones, 1893-1938,"
Quaker Religious Thought: Vol. 135, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/qrt/vol135/iss1/3