You Were Once Forced To Pose Nude To Attend Harvard

“Example has more followers than reason.” —Christian Nestell Bovee, Intuitions and Summaries of Thought

In A Nutshell

For decades, several Ivy League schools, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, subjected incoming freshmen to participate in a bizarre nude photo shoot. Precisely what the purpose of these photos was is unconfirmed. Some believe they were used to study the occurrence of bone disorders like rickets and scoliosis. Another purpose could have been for a quack medical experiment that aimed to develop a correlation between body shape and personality.

The Whole Bushel

Between the 1940s and the 1960s (and even in some instances well into the ’70s), many Ivy League schools (including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton) held mandatory nude photo shoots for incoming freshmen. These were also performed at the Sister schools for women, such as Radcliffe and Wellesley. Thousands and thousands of students were photographed during this period. At first glance, it would appear that the pictures were taken to study the incidence of skeletal disorders such as rickets and scoliosis—students reported having pins taped against their spines and being posed into various “postures” by men in lab coats.

Article Continued Below

However, rumors have leaked out that the real purpose of the nude photos was for use in a quack medical study by two researchers, E.A. Hooton from Harvard and W.H. Sheldon from Columbia. Hooton and Sheldon aimed to discern a link between physiology and less tangible aspects of the personality, like intelligence and morals. Allegedly, the study went nowhere, and after Sheldon died in 1977, many of the research materials were donated by an assistant to the Smithsonian Institute. Most of them have since been destroyed, and the records that remain have been sealed.

This scandal is made all the more profound when one considers all of the powerful and influential people who would have passed through these universities at the time these pictures were taken, including former President George Bush, Hilary Rodham Clinton, author Nora Ephron, and actress Meryl Streep, among countless others.

Show Me The Proof

NYT: The Great Ivy League Nude Posture Photo Scandal
NYT: Nude Photos of Yale Graduates Are Shredded