C.M. Goethe: His Life & Eugenic Vision - an exhibit
By Chole Burke, Dept of History

On Tuesday, October 12, a reception was held in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives for the opening of the exhibit C. M. Goethe: His Life & Eugenic Vision. Most of the material for this exhibit came from the Charles M. Goethe Papers, which is housed in SCUA. Additional material came from the Warner L. Marsh Papers, also in SCUA.

Charles Matthias Goethe (1875-1966) was a prosperous local Sacramento businessman and a highly influential public figure in California and nationally over much of the twentieth century. While he is most frequently remembered for his dedication to nature conservation, Goethe was also a significant proponent of eugenics. Recent attention to Goethe by Sacramento State professor Tony Platt and University of Michigan historian Alexandra Minna Stern has revealed the complexity and importance of his relationship to the development of Sacramento State and to the history of eugenics.

Inspired by recent scholarship, C. M. Goethe: His Life & Eugenic Vision continues this investigation of the Goethe legacy. In addition to documenting Goethe’s place in Sacramento history and his relationship with Sacramento State, the exhibit is designed to encourage contemplation of Goethe’s eugenic vision according to the mantras he coined as a young man and which he believed were equally important to “human betterment”: “learn to read the trailside as a book” and “reduce biological illiteracy.”

C. M. Goethe died in Sacramento on July 10, 1966. Recognizing a “great loss to California and the nation,” Governor Edmund G. Brown eulogized: “This marvelous man dedicated most of the waking moments of his life to the betterment of mankind. The results of his efforts are evident throughout the length and breadth of mankind.”

Although Sacramento State was the largest beneficiary of Goethe’s estate, how best to remember and address the complex legacy of Charles M. Goethe at Sacramento State remains an unresolved issue. The mutually supportive relationship between Goethe and Sacramento State was contested even before his death. In the late 1960s, student and faculty protests blocked proposed plans to name the campus's new science building in Goethe's honor. Until recently, the C. M. Goethe Arboretum (since renamed the University Arboretum) was the last physical marker of Goethe’s influence on campus. This exhibit is motivated by the belief that a thorough and honest examination of Goethe’s eugenic vision, as well as his contributions to Sacramento State and conservation, will lead the campus to an appropriate reckoning with the Goethe legacy. The exhibit runs through the end of the Fall semester.

Exhibit Reception at SCUA. Photo by Payne Vang