Earnest Hooton life and biography

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Earnest Hooton biography

Date of birth : 1887-11-20
Date of death : 1954-05-03
Birthplace : Clemansville, Wisconsin
Nationality : American
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2010-10-08
Credited as : Anthropologist, work on racial classification,

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Earnest Albert Hooton was an American physical anthropologist known for his work on racial classification. Hooton conducted detailed research on physical and racial characteristics, and used his data to develop wide-reaching analyses of the racial components of American Indians and, more controversially, to attempt to characterize the physical attributes of criminals. While his efforts to connect the external, physical form of people to their internal personality or character had some merit, his simplistic extrapolation to actual behavior was methodologically and logistically flawed.

Hooton's Life

Earnest Albert Hooton was born on November 20, 1887, in Clemansville, Wisconsin, into the family of William Hooton and Margaret Newton, English immigrants to America. He attended Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, where he earned his B.A. in 1907.

Hooton won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, which he deferred in order to continue his studies in the United States. He pursued graduate studies in classics at the University of Wisconsin, where he received an M.A. in 1908 and a Ph.D. in 1911, writing his thesis on "The Pre-Hellenistic Stage of the Evolution of the Literary Art at Rome." Hooton then moved to England. He found classical scholarship at Oxford uninteresting, but quickly became interested in anthropology, which he studied with R. R. Marrett, receiving a diploma in anthropology in 1912.

In 1915, he married Mary Beidley Camp, with whom he had three children.

At the conclusion of his time in England, Hooton was hired by Harvard University, where he taught until his death in 1954. During this time, he was also curator of somatology at the nearby Peabody Museum for Archaeology and Ethnology.

In addition to being a respected scholar and teacher, Hooton was a public figure well-known for popular volumes with titles like Up From the Apes, Young Man, You are Normal, and Apes, Men, and Morons. He was also a gifted cartoonist and wit, and like his contemporaries Ogden Nash and James Thurber, he published occasional poems and drawings that were eventually collected and published.

Earnest Hooton died in 1954, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Hooton's Work

Hooton was known for combining a rigorous attention to scholarly detail combined with a candid and witty personal style. Henry Shapiro (1954) remembered that Hooton's lectures "were compounded of a strange, unpredictable mixture of strict attention to his duty to present the necessary facts…and of a delightful impatience with the restrictions of this role to which he seemed to react by launching into informal, speculative, and thoroughly entertaining and absorbing discussions of the subject at hand." As a result, Hooton attracted a large number of students and established Harvard as the center for physical anthropology in the United States.

Beside his other accomplishments, Hooton's career encompassed serving as editor of Harvard African Studies from 1918 to 1954, as secretary (1920–1922) and as chairman and vice-president (1922–1923) of Section H of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as a member of numerous professional societies, and receiving honorary doctorates from Lawrence College (1933) and the University of Wisconsin (1954).

Physical anthropology

Many of Hooton's research projects benefited from his training in physical anthropology at a time when the field consisted mostly of anatomy, focusing on physiological variation between individuals. The "Harvard Fanny Study," for instance, involved measuring buttock spread and buttock-knee lengths in order to design more comfortable chairs for Pennsylvania Railroad. A similar study on the restrictive shape of ball-turrets in the B-17 aircraft was instrumental in the creation of a mature, applied physical anthropology in the United States.

Hooton advocated a cautious approach to the claims of evolutionary origins of the human race, especially after the events connected to the discovery of the Piltdown man, which was proven to be a hoax, and a great slap in a face to the scientific community. In light of this, Hooton wrote:

No anthropologist is justified in reconstructing the entire skeleton of an unfamiliar type of fossil man from parts of the skullcap, one or two teeth, and perhaps a few oddments of mandible (jaw bone) and long bones…. Inferences concerning the missing parts are very precarious, unless more complete skeletons of other individuals of the same type are available to support the reconstruction (Hooton [1937] 1970: 115).

Hooton's research projects were filled with meticulous data, but he was not content with the mere documentation of details. For Hooton, the broader implications of his findings were the essence of his research. Thus, his study of the skeletal remains of Pecos Pueblo led him to identify various racial components in American Indians.


Hooton remains famous for his work in criminology, in which he used his work in racial classification and applied it to the area of criminal behavior. Hooton believed in Cesare Lombroso’s theory of the born criminal, according to which criminals could be identified based on their physical characteristics. Through his own research surveying American criminals, Hooton tried to find evidence supporting Lombroso’s theory, suggesting that criminals have inferior characteristics compared to people who do not commit crimes. He classified those characteristics into sociological, psychological, physical, morphological, and pathological areas (see Hooton, 1939a). For example, according to Hooton:

* criminals are less often married and more often divorced
* criminals often have tattoos
* criminals have thinner beards and body hair, and their hair is more often reddish-brown and straight
* criminals often have blue-gray or mixed colored eyes, and less often dark or blue eyes
* criminals have low sloping foreheads, high nasal bridges, and thin lips
* criminal’s ears often have rolled helix and a perceptible Darwin’s point

Based on these observations Hooton concluded that the underlying cause of criminal behavior is to be found in physical characteristics, that is, physical inferiority. He suggested that human somatotype (body shape and physique) can even determine which type of crime a person will commit: tall-slender men are predisposed for murder and robbery; tall-medium heavy men for forgery; tall-heavy men for first-degree murder; medium height-heavy for antisocial behavior, short-slender for burglary and larceny; short-medium heavy for arson; while short-heavy men for sex offenses. Since he believed that biological predispositions determine deviant behavior, Hooton advocated removal of criminals from society, seeing no hope in their rehabilitation.

Hooton’s theories were heavily influenced by eugenic ideas, and as such were harshly criticized. His methodology was seriously questioned, and his beliefs characterized as racist.


Hooton’s appointment to the anthropology department at Harvard in 1913, led to the establishment there of the first major training program in the United States for physical anthropology. Hooton’s first graduate was Harry L. Shapiro in 1926, and over the next 30 years, most of the physical anthropology programs in American universities were staffed by Hooton’s graduates.

His publications, particularly the popular series beginning with Up from the Ape, were not only used as a textbook but also widely read by the general public, as Hooton intended.

His theory of somatotypical determination of criminal behavior was quite influential in his time, but also severely criticized.

Major Publications

* Hooton, Earnest A. 1916. The Relation of Physical Anthropology to Medical Science. s.n.
* Hooton, Earnest A. [1931] 1946. Up from the Ape. Macmillan Company.
* Hooton, Earnest A. [1937] 1970. Apes, Men and Morons. Ayer Co Publ.
* Hooton, Earnest A. 1939a. The American Criminal. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
* Hooton, Earnest A. 1939b. Twilight of Man. G.P. Putnam's Sons.
* Hooton, Earnest A. [1940] 1945. A Survey in Seating. Olympic Marketing Corp.
* Hooton, Earnest A. 1941. Why Men Behave like Apes, and Vice Versa; or, Body and Behavior. H. Milford. Oxford University Press.
* Hooton, Earnest A. 1942. Man's Poor Relations. Doubleday, Doran & Company.

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