The Smithsonian Institution has cut off all public access to a collection of nude photos taken of generations of elite college students, some of whom went on to become leaders in U.S. culture and government.
The pictures at first were taken to study posture. Later they were made by a researcher examining the relationship between body shape and intelligence.
All freshmen at at least some of the colleges involved - Ivy League and other prestigious schools - were required to pose in the buff.
Among those who would have been subject to the ritual were former President Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton, but it was not immediately known if their photos are at the Smithsonian, which has never displayed the pictures.
“There are the rights of the subjects to consider,” Ildiko P. DeAngelis, assistant general counsel at the Smithsonian, said Friday.
Previously, the photos could be seen by students and researchers only, she said. The pictures will be off limits pending an internal investigation of how the Smithsonian acquired the photos and whether it has rights to them, she said.
The frontal and profile “posture” photos were taken beginning in the early 1900s as part of physical education classes, because poise and balance were considered an integral part of health. Later, the photographs were taken by W.H. Sheldon, who believed there was a relationship between body shape and intelligence and other traits.
Sheldon’s work has since been dismissed by most scientists as quackery. But it apparently was respected from the 1940s through the 1960s, because the colleges allowed Sheldon access to their students. Sheldon is now dead.
Much of Sheldon’s work was destroyed by various schools years ago. An article in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday disclosed that the Smithsonian still had a collection.