Osborn, Frederick, 1889-1981Alternative names
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)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|New York (State)--New York|
|New York (State)--Dutchess County|
|New York (State)|
|Nuclear energy--Government policy|
|Education and state|
|Nuclear arms control|
|Mothers and daughters|
|Charitable uses, trusts, and foundations|
|World War, 1914-1918--Personal narratives|
|Husband and wife|
|Conference on Population (1st: 1968: Princeton, N.J.)|
|World War, 1914-1918|
|Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975|
|World War, 1939-1945|
|Fathers and sons--19th century|
|United States--Foreign relations--1945-1953|
|Government executives--United States|