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Dight Institute records

Identifier: ua01012

Scope and Content

The bulk of the collection dates from Dr. Reed's tenure as director. Materials include correspondence, reports, lecture files, publications, and photographs.


  • undated, 1930-1989


Language of Materials

Collection material in English

Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.

Special Use Restrictions

University Archives will make every attempt, in accordance with University and federal policies, to protect private information located within its holdings. In order to provide reasonable safeguards to limit incidental disclosures of private information, the Archives needs 24 hour retrieval notice to review materials that may contain restricted items. Restrictions, where applicable, are noted at the series or file levels in the description below.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Historical Note of the Dight Institute

In the summer of 1941, the University of Minnesota established The Charles Fremont Dight Institute for the Promotion of Human Genetics. Its mission was to support the study and promulgation of human genetics, provide instruction in human genetics, and establish a resource center for persons who desire counseling on such questions.

The Dight Institute did not perpetuate the more outrageous beliefs of its benefactor; beliefs that were later found to be naive and based upon inadequate scientific information. Since its inception, the Institute has studied a variety of genetically linked disorders including albinism, Down's syndrome, impacted teeth, muscular dystrophy, cleft palate, asthma, harelip, hay fever, hemophilia, and Huntington's disease.

Dr. Clarence P. Oliver was the Institute's first director. He resigned in 1946 to establish a center of human genetics at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1947, Sheldon C. Reed, then Assistant Professor of Biology at Harvard University was selected as the new director. Reed, a distinguished scientist in the field of genetics, introduced the now commonly used term "genetic counseling." He is well-known for his landmark book Counseling in Medical Genetics(a.k.a. Parenthood and Heredity) and Mental Retardation: A Family Study, a large scale study done by he and his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Wagner Reed. In addition to his research, teaching, and administrative duties, Dr. Reed personally handled over 4,000 cases of genetic counseling at the Dight Institute. He also was Director of Minnesota Planned Parenthood from 1948-1965, and closely connected with the Minnesota Association for Retarded Children. Reed retired as director in 1978, and Dr. Elving Anderson, longtime assistant to Reed became the new director.

Over the years, the Dight Institute has made significant contributions in the areas of cancer, mental disabilities, psychotic disorders, and epilepsy. In 1984, it was renamed the Institute for Human Genetics.

Biographical Sketch of Charles Fremont Dight (1856-1938)

Charles Dight, M.D. (1879) University of Michigan. Medical doctor and researcher in the field of eugenics, donor to the University of Minnesota for establishment of the Dight Institute (1941).

Charles Fremont Dight was born in Mercer, Pennsylvania, in 1856. He graduated with a medical degree from the University of Michigan in 1879 and served as a health officer in Holton, Michigan from 1879-1881. From 1883-1889 he was a professor of anatomy and physiology at the American Medical College in Beirut, Syria (now Lebanon). He came to Minnesota in 1890, and was a resident physician at Shattuck School until 1892. He married Dr. Mary A. Crawford in 1892; they were divorced in 1899. During the 1890s, he practiced medicine in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, taught for two years as professor at the medical school of New Orleans University, and spent four years studying and traveling New York, Chicago, Ann Arbor, and then the University of Minnesota. He taught at Hamline University's medical school until 1907, when it was assimilated into the University of Minnesota, and then continued to teach at the University of Minnesota until 1913.

From 1914-1918, he served as an alderman on the Minneapolis City Council (12th ward). Social justice was his first passion; as a member of the Socialist Party until 1917, Dight ran for Congress in 1906 as a member of the Public Ownership Party. Among other things, he was active in getting an ordinance passed requiring milk pasteurization.

He was also an advocate for sterilization of the "unfit" (anyone deemed a criminal or mentally handicapped). In 1925, a sterilization law did go into effect in Minnesota, the 17th state to pass such a law; it was to remain on the books until 1975. This sterilization law was intended to delay marriages of the feeble-minded, epileptic, and insane, until they could be sterilized, was "voluntary," and applied only to institutionalized individuals. By 1930, Minnesota ranked fourth out of 24 states with legalized sterilization, with 388 operations. The law, however, was not stringent enough to satisfy Dr. Dight; he wanted it to be mandatory, and applied to those "unfit" still in society. He even championed creating a position called "State Eugenist" whose job description included recommendations as to who was to be sterilized. This idea never became a reality.

Dight's furor in support of the eugenics of the 1920s and 1930s included possible support of Hitler's eugenics program, honoring Lindbergh for his "hereditary endowment," and advocating the selective breeding of humans. Underlying this early eugenics, enthusiastically supported by many prominent people, including scientists and ministers, was a reflection of the racism always present within the society. "People who supported eugenics had good motives in many respects. They were naive, though, and didn't see the many-sidedness of things." (Milford Q. Sibley, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Dight Institute information file.)

Considered by many to be an eccentric - he lived very frugally in a "tree house," a house placed on stilts because he was afraid of grass fires, he embraced both eugenics and socialism, and found neither contradictory. On June 20, 1938, Dr. Charles Fremont Dight, died at the age of 80. His will left the balance of his estate, approximately $75,000, to the University of Minnesota "to promote biological race betterment, better human brain structure and mental endowment by spreading abroad the knowledge of the laws of heredity and the principles of eugenics."


6.55 Cubic Feet (7 boxes (5 record cartons; 1 hollinger; 1 1/2 hollinger))


Collection contains the records of the Dight Institute, established at the University of Minnesota in 1941 with a bequest from Charles Fremont Dight. Its mission was to support the study and promulgation of human genetics, provide instruction in human genetics, and establish a resource center for persons who desire counseling on such questions.


The collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Correspondence and Administrative Files
  2. Subject and Lecture Files
  3. Dight Lectures
  4. Other Lectures
  5. Research, Publications, and Photographs

Source of acquisition

The records were deposited in University Archives in 1992.

Other Related Materials

The Minnesota Historical Society holds the personal papers of Dr. Charles F. Dight.

Dight Institute records, undated, 1930-1989
Karen Spilman
June 2008
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area