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Harvard and Yale took Naked Photos of all their Freshmen Students

(Messy Nessy)  Somewhere out there is a naked photograph of Hillary Clinton.

Between the 1940s and the 1970s, several ivy league colleges had a very strange requirement for all their incoming freshmen students. Harvard, Yale, Wellesley College, Vassar as well as Brown University, were among the elite American colleges that asked all the young men and women enrolled in their first year, to pose nude. Thousands and thousands of pictures were taken of students, including such notable names such as George Bush, Diane Sawyer, Meryl Streep and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

For those of you who don’t remember or didn’t catch the scandal back in 1995, a New York Times reporter and Yale graduate Ron Rosenbaum broke the story. He wrote:

One fall afternoon in the mid-60’s, shortly after I arrived in New Haven to begin my freshman year at Yale, I was summoned to that sooty Gothic shrine to muscular virtue known as Payne Whitney Gym. I reported to a windowless room on an upper floor, where men dressed in crisp white garments instructed me to remove all of my clothes. And then — and this is the part I still have trouble believing — they attached metal pins to my spine. There was no actual piercing of skin, only of dignity, as four-inch metal pins were affixed with adhesive to my vertebrae at regular intervals from my neck down. I was positioned against a wall; a floodlight illuminated my pin-spiked profile and a camera captured it. The procedure did seem strangeBut I soon learned that it was a long-established custom at most Ivy League and Seven Sisters schools … All of them — whole generations of the cultural elite — were asked to pose.

The unusual photo sessions were part of a larger project run by a scientist of psychology, William Herbert Sheldon, who conducted them in co-operation with the universities. While the general idea was that the photos were meant for the use of studying scoliosis, rickets and other posture-related deficiencies, it’s believed they were actually being used to research something rather more sinister. Strong evidence in Sheldon’s classified written material has shown that the researcher was using Ivy League freshmen students to study the correlation between a person’s body shape and their intelligence. The Nazis compiled similar archives analysing photos of body types to support their theories on race and social hierarchy.

No written permission of any kind was ever given by the students.


An example of the type of photographs taken, known as ‘somatotype’ photographs, after Sheldon’s theories (this image doesn’t preview on Facebook, so it’s censor-free for your enjoyment!)

And then the were the rumours of break-ins at the university photo labs that housed piles and piles of photographs of young naked men and women. Many supposedly went on sale on the ‘Ivy League black market’ or ended up being flogged in the red light district, while others were given as gifts to newly recruited members of secret societies such as Skull and Bones.

“You always thought when you did it that one day they’d come back to haunt you. That 25 years later, when your husband was running for President, they’d show up in Penthouse,” confessed Sally Quinn who graduated from a Seven Sisters college, Smith in 1963.

So where are these lost nude photos today?

Image (c) Alannah Grace

At Yale, ‘an enormous cache of nude photographs’ was discovered in a locked room by an unsuspecting university staff member many years later. Those ones were promptly burned. Another large collection was found “gathering dust in ‘dead storage’ in a Goodwill warehouse in Boston”. Those photos made their way to the Smithsonian, which gave New York Times reporter Ron Rosenbaum access to in 1995. A decision they probably regretted later.

“Down a dimly lit back corridor of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, far from the dinosaur displays, is a branch of the Smithsonian not well known to the public: the National Anthropological Archives.”

So that’s where they are, possibly along with a nude snap of Hillary.

When the New York Times broke the story, calling it The Great Ivy League Nude Posture Photo Scandal, Yale University immediately requested all photos of their students be shredded. The Smithsonian complied and offered to do the same for any of the other universities that requested it. The clandestine museum branch is not open to the public, only to researchers, and to this date, it has not been revealed how many, or if any photographs still remain in existence.

A somatotype-esque photograph found in a flea market, via Erika Gentry.

But if you ever see a black and white nude photograph like this floating around at a flea market, you know what to do.

Read the New York Times Article published nearly twenty years ago.