Osborn, Frederick, 1889-1981

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Historical/biographical note.

From the description of Frederick H. Osborn Papers, 1941-1963. (Princeton University Library). WorldCat record id: 177674693

Government official, businessman, and sociologist; d. 1981.

From the description of Papers, 1947-1954. (Harry S Truman Library). WorldCat record id: 70959636

Frederick Henry Osborn was an administrator, humanist, scientist.

From the description of Papers, [ca. 1903]-1980. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122380109

Foundation and corporation executive, government official.

From the description of Reminiscences of Frederick Henry Osborn : oral history, 1967. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 86147569

The respectable face of eugenic research in the post-war period, Frederick Osborn was raised in an environment of wealth, social power, and intellectual privilege. From youth, he stood out from the crowd. At 6'8" tall, confident and well-spoken, Osborn adopted his family's ethic of public involvement leavened with philanthropy, enjoying success in business, the military, and public life, and played an important part in reviving and reorienting the eugenics movement in the years following World War II.

The grandson of the railroad tycoon, William Henry Osborn, and nephew of Henry Fairfield Osborn, the paleontologist and Director of the American Museum of Natural History, Frederick Osborn was descended from New York's merchant elite on both his paternal and maternal sides. After graduating from the Browning School in New York City, he took his bachelor's degree from Princeton in 1910, and attended Trinity College, Cambridge, for a postgraduate year before entering into business. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Osborn set out to make a career as a railroad man, reviving the flagging Detroit, Toledo, and Ironton Railroad and working his way from Treasurer to President in the span of half a decade.

Osborn took leave from the railroad to enlist in the army during the First World War, and when refused, he joined the Red Cross instead, serving in France as Commander of the Advance Zone during the last eleven months of the conflict. When he returned to business in 1919, he sold his share in the railroad to Henry Ford at considerable profit and entered into partnership with two friends from the Red Cross in the firm G.M.P. Murphy and Co., which specialized in industrial management and later in stock brokerage. His business interests, however, were highly diversified and he maintained a hand in several other corporations, particularly in the oil industry, serving as officer or member of the board.

During the 1920s, Osborn became increasingly interested in the fields of anthropology and population studies, perhaps with the encouragement of his uncle. He became one of the founding members of the American Eugenics Society in 1926, an organization founded to promote eugenic education in the general public, and was associated with the Society throughout its existence. He was also began an active association with the Galton Society in 1928, serving as its Secretary in 1931. The year that he joined the Galton Society marked the end of his business career, as Osborn decided to retire to devote himself to science and the public welfare.

Osborn represented a distinct strain of reformed eugenics, and is credited by later eugenicists with providing the "American movement with a program that abandoned the race- and class-consciousness of an earlier period and that tied eugenics closely to science" ( Social Biology 16, 1969, 58). Elected president of the AES in 1946, he convened a meeting to discuss the reconstitution of the Society, steering it away from "propagandizing" on social policy and toward becoming a forum for the discussion of eugenic ideas with a "well-informed audience," and toward promoting scientific studies of population. One of the most tangible fruits of his impact on the society was the new journal launched in 1954, the Eugenics Quarterly, which, after an acrimonious debate, changed its name in 1970 to Social Biology.

A trustee of Princeton, as his father was before him, Osborn was also active in promoting study of the social issues surrounding population. He was instrumental in founding the Office of Population Research as part of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1936, an organization devoted to the study of population issues. He also served as trustee to the Milbank Memorial Fund and the Social Sciences Research Council.

From the 1930s onward, Osborn was regularly drawn into public life, and his experiences in the public realm both shaped and were shaped by his scientific interests. An advocate of an activist foreign policy and an ardent anti-isolationist, he volunteered for the war effort even before America entered the war. His administrative and organizational skills made him a valuable asset, and in August 1940 he was selected by Franklin Roosevelt to chair the Civilian Advisory Committee on Selective Service. Five months later he took over as Chair of the Army Committee on Welfare and Recreation, responsible for information and education services for military personnel, and in September 1941, he was commissioned as Brigadier General and appointed Chief of the Morale Branch of the War Department. His efforts were well regarded. By the war's end he had earned promotion to Major General and had been awarded a bronze star in Paris, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Selective Service Medal, and was made Honorary Commander in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

After the war, Osborn continued to pursue his joint interests in public policy and population policy. His military experiences further strengthened his belief in an activist position on the world stage, and he assumed a hard line position, though not extremist, with respect to the Soviet Union. A supporter of the Marshall Plan and moderation in reconstructing Germany and Japan, he was he was appointed Deputy to the U.S. Representative to the UN Atomic Energy Commission in March 1947 (resigning in 1950), and he served for a year on the U.N. Commission for Conventional Armaments beginning in 1948. With John D. Rockefeller, he was also co-founder of the Population Council in 1952, promoting birth control and population planning internationally. He remained active in public life into the 1970s, opposing the war in Vietnam, largely because he felt it flummoxed American foreign policy while the Soviets consolidated their position in Eastern Europe and Asia. He held a dim view of the prospect of unchecked population growth in the third world

From middle age through the end of his long life, Osborn was active in civic affairs on a more local level, as well as international, including taking part in the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, the Olana Preservation Society (Olana was home of the artist, Frederick Church), and the New York Governor's Committee to Study the Sale of Liquor to Minors, 1956-1957. He married Margaret Schiefflin, a descendent of John Jay, in 1916, with whom he had two sons and four daughters. Frederick Osborn died in 1981 at the age of 92.

From the guide to the Frederick Henry Osborn Papers, Circa 1903-1980, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Bronson Price Papers, 1926-1978 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Frederick Henry Osborn Papers, Circa 1903-1980 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Osborn, Frederick, 1889-1981. Osborn and Dodge family papers, 1726-1983. Princeton University Library
creatorOf Osborn, Frederick, 1889-1981. Papers, 1947-1954. Harry S. Truman Library
creatorOf Laughlin, Harry Hamilton, 1880-1943. Harry H. Laughlin papers, 1910-1939. Truman State University, Pickler Memorial Library
creatorOf Osborn, Frederick, 1889-1981. Frederick H. Osborn Papers, 1941-1963. Princeton University Library
creatorOf Osborn, Frederick, 1889-1981. Papers, [ca. 1903]-1980. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Leslie Tillotson Webster papers, 1909-1943, 1909-1943 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Bugher, John C., 1901-1970. Papers, 1950-1966. Rockefeller Archive Center
creatorOf Osborn, Frederick, 1889-1981,. Eugenics papers of Frederick H. Osborn and Gladys C. Schwesinger, 1921-1943 (bulk 1929-1940). American Museum of Natural History
creatorOf Frederick Osborn Papers. 1943 - 1969. Subject Files Harry S. Truman Library
referencedIn American Eugenics Society. Archives, 1916-1973. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn New Directions Publishing records Houghton Library
referencedIn Huntington, Ellsworth, 1876-1947. Ellsworth Huntington papers, 1779-1953 (inclusive), 1890-1947 (bulk). Yale University Library
referencedIn William Ernest Hocking papers Houghton Library
referencedIn Robert C. Cook papers, 1882-1992 Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Harry S. Truman Library Oral History Collection. 1960 - 2005. Oral History Interviews. 1960 - 2005. Oral History Interview with Frederick Osborn Harry S. Truman Library
Frederick Osborn Papers Harry S. Truman Library
creatorOf Osborn, Frederick, 1889-1981. Reminiscences of Frederick Henry Osborn : oral history, 1967. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Ellsworth Huntington papers, 1779-1952, 1890-1947 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Hudson River Conservation Society. Records, 1936-1979. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Osborn, Frederick, 1889-1981. Frederick H. Osborn papers, 1930-1970. U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center
referencedIn Webster, Leslie Tillotson, 1894-1943. Papers, 1909-1943. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn American Eugenics Society Papers, 1916-1973 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Population Council. Archives, 1952-1966. Rockefeller Archive Center
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Eugenics Society. corporateBody
associatedWith American Museum of Natural History. corporateBody
associatedWith American Red Cross. corporateBody
associatedWith Bajema, Carl Jay, 1937- person
associatedWith Brown, Newell Kay, 1932- . person
associatedWith Bugher, John C., 1901-1970. person
associatedWith Burden, Douglas person
associatedWith Burden, Douglas. person
associatedWith Capra, Frank, 1897-1991. person
associatedWith Carnegie Corporation of New York. corporateBody
associatedWith Chicago, St. Louis & New Orleans Railroad Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Civilian Committee on Selective Service. corporateBody
correspondedWith Cook, Robert C. (Robert Carter), 1898-1991. person
associatedWith Dobzhansky, Theodosius, 1900-1975. person
associatedWith Dodge, Cleveland H. (Cleveland Hoadley), 1860-1936) person
associatedWith Dodge family. family
associatedWith Eugenics Society (London, England) corporateBody
associatedWith Grossner, Isabel S., person
associatedWith Harriman, W. Averell (William Averell), 1891-1986. person
associatedWith Harris, Kathleen person
associatedWith Harris, Kathleen. person
associatedWith Harvard University corporateBody
correspondedWith Hocking, William Ernest, 1873-1966 person
associatedWith Hudson River Conservation Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Huntington, Ellsworth, 1876-1947. person
associatedWith Huxley, Julian, 1887-1975. person
associatedWith Illinois Central Railroad Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Laughlin, Harry Hamilton, 1880-1943. person
associatedWith Lindbergh, Charles A. (Charles Augustus), 1902-1974. person
associatedWith MacArthur, Douglas, 1880-1964. person
associatedWith Marshall, George C. (George Catlett), 1880-1959. person
correspondedWith New Directions Publishing Corp. corporateBody
associatedWith Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967. person
associatedWith Osborn, Alice Clinton Hoadley Dodge, 1856-1946 person
associatedWith Osborn, Earl Dodge, 1893-1989 person
associatedWith Osborne family. family
associatedWith Osborn, Virginia Sturgis, 1830-1902. person
associatedWith Osborn, William C. (William Church), 1861-1951 person
associatedWith Osborn, William Henry, 1820-1894. person
associatedWith Palisades Interstate Park Commission. corporateBody
associatedWith Population Council. corporateBody
associatedWith Price, Bronson, 1905-1978 person
associatedWith Princeton University corporateBody
associatedWith Robinson, Edward, 1858-1931 person
associatedWith Rockefeller, John D. (John Davison), 1839-1937. person
associatedWith Rockefeller, John D., (John Davison), 1874-1960 person
associatedWith Rockefeller, John D. (John Davison), 1937-. person
associatedWith Rockefeller, Nelson A. (Nelson Aldrich), 1908-1979. person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962. person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945. person
associatedWith Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994. person
associatedWith Russell, Bertrand, 1872-1970. person
associatedWith Sargent, John Singer, 1856-1925 person
associatedWith Stouffer, Samuel Andrew, 1900-1960. person
associatedWith Sturges family. family
associatedWith Sturges, Jonathan, 1802-1874 person
associatedWith Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972. person
associatedWith United Nations. Atomic Energy Commission. corporateBody
associatedWith United Nations Commission for Conventional Armaments. corporateBody
associatedWith United Service Organizations (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Army. Information and Education Division. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Army Service Forces. Special Service Division. corporateBody
associatedWith U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. corporateBody
associatedWith Vance, Cyrus R. (Cyrus Roberts), 1917- . person
associatedWith Webster, Leslie Tillotson, 1894-1943. person
associatedWith Wendell, Evert J. (Evert Janson), 1860-1917. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
New York
New York (State)
New York (State)--New York
New York (State)--Dutchess County
United States
United States
Atomic bomb
Birth control
Charitable uses, trusts, and foundations
Conference on Population (1st: 1968: Princeton, N.J.)
Education and state
Fathers and sons
Human behavior
Human genetics
Husband and wife
Mothers and daughters
Nuclear arms control
Nuclear energy
Nuclear nonproliferation
Nuclear weapons
Population genetics
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975
World War, 1914-1918
World War, 1914-1918
World War, 1939-1945
Government executives


Birth 1889

Death 1981



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