Iconic Photos

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The Great Ivy League Photo Scandal

with 7 comments

something like this

In the late 1970’s, an employee at Yale University unlocked a room in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium and found thousands of photographs of nude students sprawled across the floor. The subjects in the pictures were incoming freshmen that attended Yale between the 1940’s and 1970’s. (Read New York Times report here).

The photos belonged to William Herbert Sheldon, an American psychologist, and the practice didn’t stop at Yale. The practice was widespread among America’s most prestigious universities (including three Ivy League schools — Harvard, Yale and Princeton), and Who’s who of Americana, George Bush, Bob Woodward, Hilary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Meryl Streep, etc., went through this ignominy.

Although later defended as a part of the studies on the rate and severity of rickets, scoliosis and lordosis, sharp metal pins were attached to each naked student’s spine in the photos suggest that it may have been conducted to support Sheldon’s Mengelian theory on the relation between body types and social hierarchy. While Yale burned and shredded most of the photographs when they discovered them, some of the pictures survived and were later transferred to the Smithsonian. Only in 2001, those final images were destroyed.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 29, 2010 at 2:05 am

Posted in Society

Tagged with ,

7 Responses

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  1. Wow, now that is interesting and a facinating article. Does it perhaps explain our current rulers?


    July 29, 2010 at 7:59 pm

  2. I’m surprised that no one said NO and also the colleges allowed this ?

    Vicki Day

    July 30, 2010 at 5:13 pm

  3. In Box 43 I came across a document never referred to in any of the literature on Sheldon I’d seen. It was a faded offprint of a 1924 Sheldon study, “The Intelligence of Mexican Children.” In it are damning assertions presented as scientific truisms that “Negro intelligence” comes to a “standstill at about the 10th year,” Mexican at about age 12. To the author of such sentiments, America’s elite institutions entrusted their student bodies.



    July 31, 2010 at 12:28 am

    • Attitudes like this in education aren’t at all unusual and have persisted until quite recently, unfortunately. One of the buildings at the university here is named after a famous mathematician and professor. He refused to give black students anything greater than a ‘C’ and on one occasion stormed out of the room when a black student spoke. Even in the 1950s his racist views made the faculty uncomfortable.


      January 11, 2011 at 12:43 am

  4. The reference is a long, but interesting article, other than his final conclusions.

    I wonder how photos of Steven Hawking would have effected the “study”.


    August 4, 2010 at 1:31 am

  5. Playwright Rick Willett used the Sheldon project as an element in his play, “Tryptych.”

    Michael Dobkins

    August 4, 2010 at 9:18 am

  6. My grandmother enrolled at Oberlin in 1932 and described being photographed in a similar manner. “They told us we would be photographed again after completing the freshman course in calisthenics. The before and after photographs would ascertain any improvement in our posture”


    October 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

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