The ambiguous status of women in the work of early anthropometrists, combined with gendered nature of the conclusions drawn by practitioners such as Karl Pearson, illustrates the shaping of such work by the assumptions and values of its time. However, the presence of women such as Alice Lee in Pearson’s workforce complicates the impression of anthropometry as an exclusively masculine exercise.
Well before the war, W. H. R. Rivers was part of a group of researchers whose exploration of the human mind challenged both medical and scientific schemas. For this reason, the anthropometric profile produced for him provides an intriguing historical source. The measurements provide a physical picture of the man who would, within twenty years, call into question the exclusively physical approaches of medical science.
What to make of the Cambridge Philosophical Society’s collection of over 9000 data cards?
Karl Pearson presented a vision for the future of biological science in his 1894 article ‘Socialism and Natural Selection’. According to Pearson’s vision, biological science would be reduced to purely quantitative methods. Such projections were undermined by the human context in which all science is conducted.