William E. Castle Papers

Mss.Ms.Coll.14

Date: 1930-1961 1950-1961 | Size: 1 Linear feet

Abstract

A modest Midwesterner who became one of the most influential geneticists of the first half of the 20th century, William E. Castle spent his career at Harvard and the University of California working on patterns of inheritance in mice, horses, and a variety of other mammalian taxa. An early proponent of Mendelian theory, Castle was director of the Bussey Institution at Harvard for almost thirty years, helping to train a number of important geneticists.

The Castle Papers contain one linear foot of correspondence dating primarily from the period after Castle's "retirement" to Berkeley in 1936 until his death in 1962, dealing almost exclusively with his research on horse breeding and the inheritance of coat coloration in horses. Castle's correspondence with his former student L. C. Dunn is an exception, focusing on mouse genetics and ranging to a variety of topics from the conduct of scientific research during the Second World War to Castle's interests in the early history of genetics.

Background note

William Ernest Castle (1867-1962, APS 1910) was a zoologist and geneticist. A modest Midwesterner, he became one of the most influential geneticists of the first half of the twentieth century. He spent his career at Harvard University and the University of California, where he worked on patterns of inheritance in a variety of mammalian taxa. As a graduate student Castle was Charles B. Davenport's (1866-1944, APS 1907) laboratory assistant. His dissertation, "The Early Embryology of Ciona intestinalis," provided the first documentation of self-sterility in animals, and was published in the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1896. Castle was an ardent proponent of Mendelism, and he was also associated with the eugenics movement.

Castle was born in 1867 near Alexandria, Ohio, the son of William Augustus Castle and Sarah Fasset Castle. His parents were farmers, and young Castle's learning about livestock may have sparked his interest in questions related to heredity and evolution. Castle graduated from Denison College in 1889 and half-heartedly began a career teaching Latin at the University of Ottawa in Kansas. Three years with the classics, however, convinced him that his love of natural science might afford a more interesting future. Applying to enter Harvard with the senior class in 1892, he received his A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. in three successive years, during the course of which he became laboratory assistant to Davenport and switched to zoology. His dissertation, "The Early Embryology of Ciona intestinalis," which he completed in 1895 under the direction of Edward L. Mark (1847-?, APS 1907) provided the first documentation of self-sterility in animals. The following year Castle married Clara Sears Bosworth. The couple had three children.

After brief appointments on the faculties at the University of Wisconsin and Knox College, Castle returned to Harvard in 1897 to begin what would become a forty year career in the department of zoology. Like Davenport, Castle soon acquired an interest in the problems of heredity. After around 1900, he abandoned his work in morphology and embryology to focus on the study of genetics. Turning to the question of the hereditary basis of sexual differentiation, he began large scale breeding experiments using mice and rats. However, the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel's theory of inheritance changed the tenor of his work. Castle soon emerged as one of the most ardent of the early Mendelians in the United States. Helping to construct the framework of Mendelism in America -- his article "Mendel's Law of Heredity," which was published in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1903), is often considered the first on the topic written by an American -- Castle applied his experimental skills to a variety of fundamental problems in mammalian genetics ranging from studies of the selection of Mendelian characters to the effects of inbreeding to linkage and gene mapping. In one of his best known and characteristically elegant experiments, conducted in 1909, he and John C. Phillips (1876-1938) transplanted the ovaries from a black guinea pig into an albino female and mated that female to an albino male. The progeny of the union were all black, neatly demonstrating that it was the genes, not the soma, that carried hereditary information. While best known for his work on mammals, he was also the first to use Drosophila for genetic experimentation, the organism that became synonymous with the work of Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866-1945, APS 1915). Although Castle strongly influenced the development of Mendelian studies in the United States, he at times questioned the view that all inheritance could be explained in Mendelian terms.

Castle conducted much of his work as a research associate at the Station for Experimental Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The Station, later renamed the Department of Genetics, was directed by Davenport and financed by the Carnegie Institute of Washington. The institution funded Castle's work from 1904 to 1943. In 1908 the Bussey Institution at Harvard was reorganized as a graduate school for applied sciences, and Castle relocated his lab, his mice and guinea pigs there. The arrival of Edward M. East (1879-1938, APS 1916) the following year transformed the Bussey into one of the two most active early centers of genetic study in the country. Castle served as Director of the Bussey until his retirement in 1936, at which time the institution was shuttered for economic reasons. Castle's influence, however, continued through his many graduate students who went on to careers in genetics, including Clarence C. Little (1888-1971), Leslie C. Dunn (1893-1974, APS 1943), Gregory Pincus (1903-1967), George D. Snell (1903-1996, APS 1985), Sewall Wright (1889-1988, APS 1932), and Sheldon C. Reed (1910-2003).

Castle's influence was also felt through his association with scientific eugenics during the 1920s, even though he was skeptical of the feasibility and desirability of eugenics to improve the human race. In 1916 he argued that human society could not be managed like a farm; subsequently he also claimed that genes did not determine social status, and that negative eugenics violated individual liberty. Nevertheless, his criticism of eugenics was rather conservative. For example, he believed that there could be social objections to the mixture of different races, and he agreed that the segregation and sterilization of the "feebleminded" was desirable. Unlike other notable scientists who eventually distanced themselves from the eugenics movement, such as Thomas Hunt Morgan and Herbert Spencer Jennings, Castle remained consistent in his advocacy, possibly because he did not want to offend his friend Davenport. He served on the advisory board of the Eugenics Record Office that was established by Davenport at Cold Spring Harbor in 1910, and he was a founder of the eugenically connected American Breeders' Association that was reorganized into the American Eugenics Society in 1913. Moreover, his textbook Genetics and Eugenics (1916) was widely used and went through four editions in fourteen years.

After receiving emeritus status from Harvard, Castle moved to the West Coast to become a research associate at the University of California, Berkeley. He spent an additional twenty five years in research, focusing on the genetics of coat coloration in horses. The last of his 242 scientific papers was published in 1961 at the age of 94. During his long career, he served as an officer for a number of professional societies and received his share of awards, including election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1900), the American Philosophical Society (1910), the National Academy of Sciences (1915), the Genetics Society of America, and the American Genetics Association, which he served as vice president in 1924. He was also president of the American Society of Naturalists in 1919, and he was the first recipient of the Kimber Genetics Award of the National Academy of Sciences in 1955. Finally, he was a founder of the journal Genetics and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Experimental Zoology from its initial issue in 1904 until his death in 1962.

Scope and content

Despite the length and importance of his career, the geneticist William E. Castle left only a slender documentary record. He appears to have disposed of old correspondence on a regular basis, and at his death in 1962, little remained. The Castle Papers contain one linear foot of correspondence dating primarily from the period after his "retirement" to the University of California Berkeley in 1936 until his death in 1962, dealing almost exclusively with his research on horse breeding and the inheritance of coat coloration in horses.

Much of Castle's surviving correspondence consists of letters to and from horse breeders, breeders' associations, and clubs for horse and pony breeds regarding the inheritance of coat color and patterns, and less often with other academic geneticists, such as Dewey Steele of the University of Kentucky and Miguel Odroziola of the Estación de Mejora de la Patata in Spain. Castle's most prolific correspondents during the period were Ralph Singleton of the Blandy Experimental Farm in Virginia and Ralph Armstrong, an attorney and pony breeder in Washington state, and like many others, they occasionally sent photographs documenting examples of particular coat colorations or, in the case of Armstrong, hair samples from unusual ponies.

Castle's correspondence with his former student L. C. Dunn is an exception, focusing on mouse genetics while ranging to a variety of other topics including Castle's retirement from Harvard (to make room, he notes, for younger researchers less set in their ways) and the closing of the Bussey Institution to the conduct of scientific research during the Second World War to Castle's interests in the early history of genetics. The collection is arranged alphabetically by writer.

Digital objects note

This collection contains digital materials that are available in the APS Digital Library. Links to these materials are provided with context in the inventory of this finding aid. A general listing of digital objects may also be found here.

Collection Information

Provenance

The bulk of the collection was donated by Mrs. Ralph Singleton, 1982, however the letters to and from L. C. Dunn and E. C. MacDowell and Castle's autobiographical and genealogical notes were donated to the APS Library by L. C. Dunn in 1963 (accn. nos. 1963-169ms and 1963-224ms).

Preferred citation

Cite as: William Ernest Castle Papers, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued by rsc, 2002.

Other finding aids

The Castle Papers are also described in Bentley Glass, Guide to the Genetics Collections at the APS.

Related material

The Printed Materials Department holds reprints of many of Castle's major works, along with a number of monographs, including:

  • Castle, William E., Genetics and eugenics : a text-book for students of biology (Cambridge, Mass., 1916). Call no.: 575.1 C27g.
  • Castle, William E., Heredity in relation to evolution and animal breeding (New York, 1911). Call no.: 575.1 C27.
  • Castle, William E., Mammalian Genetics (Cambridge, Mass., 1940). Call no.: 575.1 C27m.

Castle appears as a correspondent in several collections at the APS, including the papers of George W. Corner (Ms. Coll. 11), Charles B. Davenport (B D27), Milislav Demerec (B D394), L. C. Dunn (B D917), C. C. Li (B L61), and the University of California Department of Genetics Collection (378.794 C12gen).

Bibliography

Dunn, L. C., "William Ernest Castle (1867-1962)," Yearbook of the American Philosophical Society (1962), 115-119.Dunn, L. C., "William Ernest Castle, October 25, 1867 - June 3, 1962," Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 38 (1965), 33-80.

Genetics Note

AuthorFormatDate
Bell, Donald C.Correspondence (3 folders)1959-1961
Dunn, Leslie ClarenceCorrespondence (2 folders)1930-1962
Gregory, Paul WallaceCorrespondence (1 folder)1950-1952
Odriozola, MiguelCorrespondence (1 folder)1951-1961
Singleton, Willard RalphCorrespondence (8 folders)1958-1962
Steele, Dewey GeorgeCorrespondence (2 folders)1960-1961
Welsh Pony Society of AmericaCorrespondence (5 folders)1951-1953

Indexing Terms


Corporate Name(s)

  • Harvard University. Bussey Institution
  • University of Virginia. Blandy Experimental Farm
  • Welsh Pony Society of America.

Genre(s)

  • Photographs

Personal Name(s)

  • Bell, Donald C.
  • Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962
  • Dunn, L. C. (Leslie Clarence), 1893-1974
  • Gregory, Paul Wallace, 1898-
  • Odriozola, Miguel
  • Singleton, W. Ralph (Willard R
  • Steele, Dewey George, 1898-

Subject(s)

  • Genetics -- Research -- United States
  • Heredity
  • Horses -- Breeding
  • Horses -- Genetics
  • Mice -- Genetics
  • Ponies -- Genetics


Detailed Inventory

William E. Castle Papers
1930-1961 box 1-2
American Shetland Pony Club
1951-19532 folders
Armstrong, Ralph
1949-19503 folders
Folder #1
1948 
Folder #2
1949 January-February 
Folder #3
1949 October-1951 
Berga's Pony Farm
19581 folder
Bell, Donald C.
1959-19613 folders

Subject(s): Hair Samples -- Horses; Photographs; Genetics -- Horses

Blandy Experimental Farm
1958-19621 folder
Briggs, Fred N.
19521 folder
California Horseman
1953-19621 folder
Castle, William Ernest
n.d.1 folder
Castle, William Ernest -- Autobiographical and genealogical notes
19522 items
Corey Pony Farm
 1 folder
Creamcup Shetland Pony Ranch
1949-19541 folder
Davis, Deering, "Cromohipologia"
19512 folders
Dunn, L. C. (Leslie Clarence)
1930-19622 folders

Subject(s): Biographical and personal data -- Castle, William Ernest; Editorial matters -- Genetics; History of biology, especially genetics; Mouse genetics; Publication -- Genetics; Rabbit genetics; Rat genetics; World War II -- Impact on science; Teaching -- Harvard University; Political issues -- Kilgore Bill; National Research Council; Roscoe B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory; American Philosophical Society; Bibliographical matters -- Castle, William Ernest

Folder #1
1930-193819 items
Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie Clarence] Dunn; Boston, Mass.,
Oct. 17, 1930 

A.L.S. 2p. (see Castle papers.) Concerning his experiments in genetics on white mice.

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie C.] Dunn, New York;
Feb. 20, 1936 

A.L.S. 2p. In Pencil. (see Castle papers.) Publications on genetics. Is preparing to retire and close his laboratory at Harvard, and delighted in all his work there.

Pincus, Gregory, 1903-1967.
Letter to L[eslie] C. Dunn, New York;
Feb. 20, 1936 

Cambridge, Mass., Typed L.S. 1p. (see Castle papers.) Dr. Castle retires and will not be given laboratory space at Harvard. wonders if anything can be done?

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie C.] Dunn;
Feb. 25, 1936 

Boston, Mass., A.L.S. 2p. (see Castle papers.) Concerning his future after retirement from Harvard.

Merriam, John Campbell, 1869-1945.
Letter to L[eslie] C. Dunn, New York;
March 3, 1936 

Washington, Typed L.S. 2p. (see Castle papers.) Concerning the studies Dr. Castle is making and attempts to further his studies.

Pincus, Gregory, 1903-1967.
Letter to L[eslie] C. Dunn, New York;
March 13, 1936 

Cambridge, Mass., Typed L.S. 1p. (see Castle papers.) Gives his knowledge of the situation at Harvard, pertaining to further studies by W.E.Castle on genetics.

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie Clarence] Dunn;
Sept. 8, 1938 

Berkeley, Cal., A.L.S. 3p. (see Castle papers.) Genetic studies on rats and rabbits.

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie Clarence] Dunn;
Nov. 28, 1938 

Berkeley, Cal., A.L.S. 2p. (see Castle papers.) Genetic studies on rats.

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie Clarence] Dunn;
Dec. 19, 1938 

Berkeley, Cal., A.L.S. 1p. (see Castle papers.) Will have the experiments run on the rats for genetic research purposes.

Folder #2
1939-196220 items
Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to L[eslie] C. Dunn, New York City;
Feb. 17, 1939 

A.L.S.on postal card. 1p.and add. (see Castle papers.) Recommends Bridges for next portrait in Genetics.

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie Clarence] Dunn;
Feb. 20, 1939 

Berkeley, Cal., A.L.S. 2p. (see Castle papers.) Genetics of short-tail mice.

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie C.] Dunn;
July 28, 1943 

Berkeley, Cal., A.L.S. 3p.,end. (see Castle papers.) Concerning the role of the scientist in the War. Concerning science being organized, i.e. National Research Council: "Even as mild a form of bureaucracy as the National Reserch Council has, I think, limited usefulness and has resulted in waste of talent rather than its utilization."

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie Clarence] Dunn;
Sept. 24, 1943 

Berkeley, Cal., A.L.S. 2p. (see Castle papers.) Genetics. Rabbit and rat colonies for genetic research.

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie Clarence] Dunn;
Dec. 31, 1954 

Berkeley, Cal., A.L.S. 4p. (see Castle papers.) Death of Babcock. Genetics. Pertaining to the Little laboratory and questions need and desireability of a perpetual laboratory for working groups of scientists.

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie Clarence] Dunn;
Oct. 21, 1959 

Berkeley, Cal., A.L.S. 2p. (see Castle papers.) Pertaining to genetics and ideas as to the writing a history of genetics.

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to [Leslie Clarence] Dunn;
June 10, 1961 

A.L.S. 1p. (see Castle papers.) Development of the history of genetics. Shryock offered the APS Library as central repository for materials, and he is willing.

Castle, William E. (William Ernest), 1867-1962.
Letter to Leslie C. Dunn, New York;
June 4, 1962 

Boston, Mass., Typed L.S. 1p.,end. (see Castle papers.) Notifies him of the death of his father

Lerner, I. Michael (Isadore Michael), 1910-1977.
Letter to L[eslie] C[larence] Dunn, New York;
June 14, 1962 

Berkeley, Cal., Typed L.S.: Mike. 1p. (see Castle papers.) Concerning Castle's bibliography.

Castle, William B. (William Bosworth).
Letter to L[eslie] C. Dunn, New York;
July 6, 1962 

Boston, Mass., Typed L.S. 1p.,end. (see Castle papers.) Is delighted that he will do a memoir of his father and will help in any way he can.

Lerner, I. Michael (Isadore Michael), 1910-1977.
Letter to L[eslie] C. Dunn, New York;
July 9, 1962 

Berkeley, Cal., Typed L.S.: Mike. 1p.,end. (see Castle papers.) Concerning gifts of pamphlets, papers, etc. of Dr. Castle to the Library, and the possibility of their being sent to the APS, or loaned to him.

Castle, William B. (William Bosworth).
Letter to L[eslie] C. Dunn, New York;
July 23, 1962 

Boston, Mass., Typed L.S.: Bill. 1p.,end. (see Castle papers.) Forwards photographs of his father and wants them returned.

Epperly, Walter
1959-19621 folder
Garber, E. D.
19521 folder
Genetics
1951-19521 folder
Genetics, Inc.
1951-19521 folder
Girardin, Ernest
19521 folder
Gillette, Mrs. Ben A., Jr.
 1 folder
Goethe, C. M.
1951-19531 folder
Greene, Ivan B.
19521 folder
Gregory, P. W. (Paul Wallace)
1950-19521 folder

Subject(s): Publication -- The California Horseman; Genetics Society of America; Genetics -- Cattle; Genetics -- Horses

Guilliams, Louis
1960-19611 folder
Hallonquist, Harriet
19471 folder
Harnly, Ann
19611 folder
Heerman Bloodstock Agency
19611 folder
House of Hartz
1957-19581 folder
Howell, C. E.
19531 folder
Hutt, F. B.
19581 folder
King, Frank L.
19531 folder
King, Frank L.: Photographs of mares and colts
19501 folder
Loewus, Julian S.
19571 folder
McDaniel, Elizabeth H.
19601 folder
McDaniel, Mrs. Joseph Whiton
19621 folder
MacDowell, E. C.
19362 items
Marks' Palomino Pony Ranch
1958-19591 folder
Michigan Pony Club
19531 folder
National Geographic
19532 folders
Norman, John W.
19511 folder
Odriozola, Antonio
19511 folder
Odriozola, Miguel
1951-19611 folder

Subject(s): Publication -- Journal of Heredity; Genetics -- Pigs; Requests for reprints; Singleton, Willard Ralph; Genetics -- Horses

Palomino Horse Breeders of America
1951-19541 folder
Plank, Robert N.
19601 folder
Quarter Horse Journal
19611 folder
Shetland Acres -- Albino horse
19511 folder
Shetland Pony Ranch
 1 folder
Singleton, W. Ralph (Willard Ralph)
1958-19628 folders

Subject(s): Biographical and personal data; Mouse genetics; Publication -- Journal of Heredity; Human genetics; International Congress of Genetics -- Tenth Congress; Unpublished manuscripts, notes, etc.; Publication; Photographs; Genetics -- Nomenclature; Genetics -- Horses

Folder #1
1958 
Folder #2
1959 March-June 
Folder #3
1959 July-December 
Folder #4
1960 February-June 
Folder #5
1960 July-December 
Folder #6
1961 January-June 
Folder #7
1961 July-1962 
Photographs
1960 
Smith, Frank H.
1953-19581 folder
Steele, Dewey G. (Dewey George)
1960-19612 folders

Subject(s): Photographs; Genetics -- Horses; Travel -- Guatemala; Unpublished manuscripts, notes, etc.; Zoology -- Animal behavior; Publication

University of Kentucky
19601 folder
Unidentified -- horse lineages
n.d.1 folder
Vencill, Robert
19581 folder
Welsh Pony Society of America
1951-19535 folders

Subject(s): Genetics -- Horses; Unpublished manuscripts, notes, etc.; Smith, Frank H.; Genetics; Editorial matters; Photographs

Wentworth, Edward N.
19581 folder
Western Livestock Journal
19511 folder
Wilmot Stock Farms
1951-19541 folder