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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Charles V. Roman and the Spectre of Polygenism in Progressive Era Public Health Research

  • Author(s): Keel, Terence D
  • et al.

© 2015 The Author. The influence of polygenismover twentieth-century medicine andracial science has been an underdeveloped area of study. During the period referred to by historians as the 'eclipse of Darwinism', assumptions about separate human ancestry often structured debates across the USA over whether racial heredity was responsible for 'innate dispositions' toward certain diseases. This article explores how polygenist carryovers made their way into early twentieth-century medical and public health studies on the links between race and venereal disease during the American social hygiene movement (1910-40). It also recovers the work of the African-American physician, ethicist, and social hygienist, Dr Charles V. Roman, who stressed during this period that the idea of common human ancestry should push public health researchers to think more creatively and critically about the social and environmental factors shaping health outcomes and black susceptibility to sexual diseases.

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