Updated December 7, 2021. (Originally published as “Pre-Scopes Textbooks Coming Into View,” January 18, 2019)

After a 96-year embargo (thanks, Sonny Bono), copyrighted works from the early- and mid-1920s are finally entering the public domain. As of January 1, 2022, this list will include textbooks and other works by prominent biologists and educators published in 1926, including Samuel. J. Holmes, George W. Hunter, Truman J. Moon, and Alfred Kinsey (yes, that Alfred Kinsey – see related article).

Why is 1926 so important? It was the year after the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial. Publishers, spooked by the possible loss of sales in the south (and everywhere else evangelicals held sway) encouraged authors to edit their texts in response. For an overview, I encourage you to read Adam R. Shapiro’s article on the topic … and mine. But now that you can do your own primary document research, I encourage you to examine these textbooks for yourself.

Now in the public domain or available online:

New Essentials of Biology (1923) and New Civic Biology (1926) by George W. Hunter. When compared to the same author’s original volumes, Essentials of Biology (1911) and the Scopes’ textbook, A Civic Biology (1914), these volumes trace the development and maturation of Hunter’s highly eugenic curriculum.

Two other biology textbooks published that in 1923, Henry Linville’s Biology of Man and Other Organisms and Gilbert H. Trafton’s Biology of Home and Community, offer an interesting study in contrast. Trafton’s is gentle and thorough, while Linville’s is wildly eugenic – See chapter: Up From Savagery (p. 154-180) in Linville’s book for example.

Of the three high school biology textbooks published in 1924, the first is a doozy. Biology and Human Welfare (1924) by James E. Peabody and Arthur E. Hunt is among the most harshly prescriptive biology textbooks ever published. Though the authors avoid any discussion of evolution, the book does not shy from eugenics as it related to protecting one’s “heritage.” In contrast, New Biology by W. M. Smallwood, Ida L. Reveley, and Guy A. Bailey, which was a significant update to the authors’ earlier Biology for High Schools (1920), avoided harsh prescriptions. It would evolve into the most popular textbook of the 1930s. Finally, Living Things, An Elementary Biology (1924) by Arthur Clement, along with its revision published just one year later, offers an interesting case illustrating the (minimal) changes publishers implemented after the Scopes Trial of 1925. You can read all about it here.