Henry Farnham Perkins

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Henry Farnham Perkins (1877–1956) was an American zoologist and eugenicist.


Early life and ancestry

He was born at 205 South Prospect Street in Burlington, Chittenden County, Vermont in the house where he spent his entire life in the affluent "Burlington Hill" neighborhood next to the University of Vermont on May 10, 1877.[1][2][3][4][5] He was born into a family with Midwestern roots that trace back to Mayflower passengers, Love Brewster, a founder of the town of Bridgewater, Massachusetts; Elder William Brewster, the Pilgrim colonist leader and spiritual elder of the Plymouth Colony; and William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony and the second signer and primary architect of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor. He was also a descendant of Martha Wadsworth Brewster,[6] a notable 18th-century American poet and writer.

He was the only son and the second child of George Henry Perkins[4][7][8] and the grandson of Frederick Perkins and Harriet Olmstead.[1][4][9] Henry's father was a noted American educator, naturalist and Professor of Geology and kindred sciences at the University of Vermont. His father served as Dean of Arts and Sciences, vice president and was appointed interim president of the University of Vermont during World War I. He was also the state geologist of Vermont from 1898 to 1933. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University, class of 1867; received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from Yale in 1869.

His mother was Mary Judd Farnham,[1][2][3] an 1863 graduate of Knox College, and a daughter of Eli Farnham[10] and Jerusha Brewster Loomis.[11] She attended the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas at Knox College on October 7, 1858.[12] It was said of her that she was a woman of superior mental endowments. She was the president of the Vermont Chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and was active in her church and philanthropic work. Her first cousin was Dr. George Trumbull Ladd an American philosopher, educator and psychologist.

Mary's parents had emigrated to Illinois in 1836 and were the among the founders and pioneers of Galesburg, Illinois. They built a temporary cabin in Log City near current Lake Storey, just north of Galesburg, the settlers having decided that no log cabins were to be built inside the town limits. They were also instrumental in the founding of Knox College. Eli Farnham served as secretary of the Board of Trustees for nearly forty years and also the first school teacher in Galesburg.[2][3][10][13]


He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Vermont, Burlington in 1898, received his M.Sc in 1899 and was awarded his PhD in Zoology at Johns Hopkins University in 1902. The title of his doctoral thesis was The Development of Gonionema Murbachii, which was on the development and life cycle of Gonionema murbachii (a type of jellyfish).[14] After receiving his doctorate, he joined the faculty of UVM where he remained until his retirement.

Marriage and family

He married on June 11, 1903 at Baltimore, Baltimore County, Maryland, Mary Edmunds, born at Baltimore, Maryland on October 18, 1874 the daughter of James Richard Edmunds and Anna Smith Keyser. She was the sister of Dr. Charles Keyser Edmunds, one of his fellow graduate students at Johns Hopkins. He was president of Canton Christian College in Canton, Kwangtung Province, China and the fifth president of Pomona College in Claremont, California.[15][16] Another brother was James Richard Edmunds, Jr., a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania,[17] and a notable Architect in Baltimore, Maryland.

She was a descendant of John Howland, (c. 1599–1673) who was one of the Pilgrims who travelled from England to North America on the Mayflower, signed the Mayflower Compact, and helped found Plymouth Colony.[18] She was also the great great granddaughter of Thomas Hurst Hughes,[19] the founder and owner of the Congress Hall Hotel in Cape May, New Jersey, and a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from New Jersey.

Henry and Mary were the parents of two children, Anna Keyser Perkins-Middlebrook,[16] who married as her second husband, Stanwood Wollaston[1][20] and Harriet Perkins.[1]


In 1903, he was appointed associate professor of Zoology at University of Vermont, Burlington. He taught biology, entomology, anatomy and physiology, and embryology during the first half of his career. In 1911 was promoted to full professor and served as chairman of the Zoology Department. His sporadic research projects involved field studies in the rapidly fading naturalist tradition: studies of birds, game fish, and marine invertebrates. He retired in 1945 and remained active in the UVM Alumni Association until his death in 1956.

His interest in eugenics began shortly after the end of World War I. It was after World War I that he learned of a study by the U.S. Army which was used as part of the draft process. The results from the Army study showed that men from Vermont had an inordinately high rate of "defects" (such as diabetes, epilepsy, "deformities" and "mental deficiency"). Perkins saw this as a problem that needed to be fixed. He went about trying to "fix" this through investigation and social reform.[21] This reform, as denounced by historian Nancy Gallagher in her research titled Breeding better Vermonters, also targeted French Canadians and American natives in Vermont state, considered insane invasion to eliminate.

Around the same time, he revamped his Zoology curriculum and began teaching courses specifically on Heredity and Evolution. His heredity class provided the first known venue for eugenics education at UVM and the inspiration for a "Eugenics Survey"—a field station to study Vermonters.


He died on November 24, 1956 in Burlington, Vermont. He is buried in Greenmount Cemetery, Burlington, Vermont.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e Cutter, p. 747
  2. ^ a b c Jones, p. 621
  3. ^ a b c Jones, p. 622
  4. ^ a b c Whipple, p. 294
  5. ^ Duffy, p. 232
  6. ^ Burt, 71
  7. ^ Obituary: "George Henry Perkins" New York Times. September 14, 1933.
  8. ^ SuccessfulAmericans, p. 302
  9. ^ "George Henry Perkins, State Geologist". Biographical sketches from the Vermont Legislative Directory, Biennial Session, 1902. 1902. Retrieved 2010-05-17. 
  10. ^ a b "Loomis-Farnham Collection". Knox College Special Collections & Archives. 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-17. 
  11. ^ Loomis, p. 117
  12. ^ Jones, p. 274
  13. ^ Webster, p. 49
  14. ^ NaturalSciences, pp. 750–790
  15. ^ Howe, p. 292
  16. ^ a b Howe, p. 312
  17. ^ "WIN ARCHITECTURAL PRIZES.; University of Pennsylvania Carries Off Twelve of Nineteen Awards." New York Times. April 28, 1912.
  18. ^ Mary Edmunds, James Richard Edmunds, Thomas Hughes Edmunds, Lidia Hughes, Thomas Hurst Hughes, Ellis Hughes, Hannah Whilldin, Joseph Whilldin, Hannah Gorham, Desire Howland, John Howland
  19. ^ Thomas Hurst Hughes at Find A Grave
  20. ^ "Stan Wollaston 1915-2006". Lyric Theatre Company. 2006. Retrieved 2010-05-17. 
  21. ^ Gallagher, pp. 38-39
  22. ^ Henry Farnham Perkins at Find A Grave


  • Burt, Daniel S. The chronology of American literature: America's literary achievements from the colonial era to modern times Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004. ISBN 0-618-16821-4
  • Cutter, William Richard. New England Families, Genealogical and Memorial, Lewis Historical Publishing, NY, 1914.
  • Duffy, John J. The Vermont encyclopedia Publisher: UPNE, 2003. ISBN 1-58465-086-9
  • Gallagher, Nancy L. Breeding Better Vermonters: the Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State. Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1999.
  • Howe, Paul Sturtevant. Mayflower Pilgrim descendants in Cape May County, New Jersey; memorial of the three hundredth anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, 1620–1920; a record of the Pilgrim descendants who early in its history settled in Cape May County, and some of their children throughout the several states of the union at the present time Cape May, New Jersey. Publisher: A. R. Hand, 1921.
  • Jones, Emma C. Brewster. The Brewster Genealogy, 1566-1907: a Record of the Descendants of William Brewster of the "Mayflower," ruling elder of the Pilgrim church which founded Plymouth Colony in 1620. New York: Grafton Press, 1908.
  • Loomis, Elias. The descendants of Joseph Loomis: who came from Braintree, England, in the year 1638, and settled in Windsor, Connecticut, in 1639 Author Elias Loomis Publisher: Tuttle Antiquarian Books, 1870.
  • NaturalSciences. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Volume 54 Publisher Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1903.
  • Webster, Martha Farnham. Seventy-five significant years: The story of Knox college. 1837-1912 Publisher Wagoner Printing Company, 1912.
  • Whipple, Blaine. 15 Generations of Whipples: Descendants of Matthew Whipple of Ipswich, Massachusetts, Abt 1590-1647: An American Story (Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 2007).

Further reading

  • Academy of Natural Sciences. The Development of Gonionema Murbachii Publisher Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1903
  • Jones, Emma C. Brewster. The Brewster Genealogy, 1566-1907: a Record of the Descendants of William Brewster of the "Mayflower," ruling elder of the Pilgrim church which founded Plymouth Colony in 1620. New York: Grafton Press, 1908.

External links

  • The Eugenics Survey of Vermont: Participants & Partners
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