Timeline 1900 – 2017

Rachel Fleming’s anthropometric study

In 1924, the Secretary of the Eugenics Society wrote to Professor Herber Fleure at University College, Aberystwyth, to enquire if he would be interested in investigating ‘families of mated Chinese and English (or Irish)’ in Liverpool. Fleure’s assistant, Rachel Fleming, undertook the ‘race crossing’ project, studying children of Chinese and white and black and white families in Liverpool, Cardiff and East London.

Fleming focused on measurements of the children’s heads, faces and bodies, a genre of physical anthropology (termed anthropometry) popular at the time. Though her 1927 paper in the Eugenics Review mainly discussed the children’s appearances, particularly their ability or not to ‘pass’ as white – she also raised the issue of their social status, stating that those with white mothers and black fathers were more disadvantaged than ‘Anglo-Chinese’ children. Fleming’s paper concludes by drawing attention to ‘the great difficulty of the half-caste girl’ (Bland 2005).

Fleming’s work would be highly influential in the creation of the Liverpool Association for the Welfare of Half-Caste children and the notorious ‘Fletcher report’ of 1930 which greatly stigmatised mixed race people and families. Yet Fleming herself did not believe that racial mixing was inherently problematic; rather, it was wider social attitudes that caused issues. In 1932, the Daily Express reported that Fleming had given a speech ‘warmly defending marriages between negroes and whites’.