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Bentley Glass—Outspoken Geneticist

Ann Reinhardt, a librarian and certified archivist, is part of a team of processors at the APS who make collections...

Bentley Glass (1906-2005, APS 1963), an American geneticist, took on many roles throughout his career: researcher, historian, editor, educator, and social advocate.

As a researcher, Glass was known for his work with Drosophila, human genetics, suppressor genes, and Rh blood types. His Drosophila work included studies of mutagenesis, chromosomal mechanics, radiation genetics, population genetics, and the development problems caused by radiation.


Drosophila research
Drosophila research, 1950-1955, Bentley Glass Papers, APS Library.

But in addition to his research, Glass was deeply concerned with the issues of intellectual freedom. He was a staunch opponent of loyalty oaths, and as a resident of Maryland, particularly outspoken in his criticism of the Maryland Subversives Act, commonly called the Ober Law.


Against the Ober Law
Correspondence regarding Maryland’s Ober law, American Civil Liberties Union, 1950, Bentley Glass Papers, APS Library.

Glass’s work with the American Association of University Professors advanced his personal commitment to preserving the integrity of academics. Many of the educational reforms devised with the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study emphasized laboratory skills rather than recitation of facts, in hope of producing a new generation of flexible-minded scientists. The Cold War specter of nuclear devastation spurred his involvement with peace and disarmament efforts.

Glass was a highly visible public intellectual, active on the lecture circuit as well as in print and other media. He originated the image of the cockroach as the survivor of the nuclear war and popularized the term “test tube baby.”

Correspondence from Jerome Frank, MD, regarding Glass’ remarks in the Baltimore Sun, 1967, Bentley Glass Papers, APS Library.

He received correspondence from many members of the public: students and teachers seeking advice, individuals concerned about the effects of radiation, women seeking genetic counseling, and noted statesmen complimenting his intellectual efforts.


Correspondence from Senator Walter Mondale regarding bio-medical research, 1968, Bentley Glass Papers, APS Library.

These are just some highlights of the Bentley Glass Papers (1930-1995). The 137 boxes, 68.5 linear feet, are divided into twelve series of which there is much to be discovered regarding Drosophila genetics and the social issues of Glass’ time.

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