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Cynthia Eagle Russett

American historian

Cynthia Eagle Russett (Feb. 1, 1937 - Dec. 5, 2013) was an American historian, noted for her studies of 19th century American intellectual history, and women and gender.


  • One scarcely knows whether to laugh or cry. The spectacle presented, in Cynthia Russett's splendid book, of nineteenth-century white male scientists and thinkers earnestly trying to prove women inferior to men--thereby providing, along with "savages" and "idiots," an evolutionary buffer between men and animals--is by turns appalling, amusing, and saddening. Surveying the work of real scientists as well as the products of more dubious minds, Russett has produced a learned yet immensely enjoyable chapter in the annals of human folly.
At the turn of the century science was successfully challenging the social authority of religion; scientists wielded a power no other group commanded. Unfortunately, as Russett demonstrates, in Victorian sexual science, empiricism tangled with prior belief, and scientists' delineation of the mental and physical differences between men and women was directed to show how and why women were inferior to men. These men were not necessarily misogynists. This was an unsettling time, when the social order was threatened by wars, fierce economic competition, racial and industrial conflict, and the failure of society to ameliorate poverty, vice, crime, illnesses. Just when men needed the psychic lift an adoring dependent woman could give, she was demanding the vote, higher education, and the opportunity to become a wage earner!
  • Cynthia Eagle Russett. Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood. Harvard University Press, 2009. Abstract

Darwin in America: The Intellectual Response 1865/1912, 1976Edit

Cynthia Eagle Russett, (1976) Darwin in America: The Intellectual Response 1865/1912, San Francisco, CA, W. H. Freeman.

  • If Veblen failed to develop an evolutionary methodology, he also failed to develop a comprehensive evolutionary theory to explain in detail how institutions evolve in the cultural environment and what sorts of interaction occur between economic activity and institutional structures. Veblen was something of an intellectual butterfly, and he often lacked the patience to elaborate his ideas into a coherent system. But he teemed with fragmentary insights, and these can be pieced together to suggest the outlines of a Veblenian scheme of cultural evolution - what might be called a ‘pre-theory’ of cultural change.
    • p. 153; As cited in Geoffrey M. Hodgson, "Veblen and darwinism." International review of sociology 14.3 (2004). p. 357

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