Saturday, January 21, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nude Photos Of First Lady, Other Elite In Smithsonian Collection?


NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The Smithsonian Institution has cut off all public access to a collection of nude photos taken of generations of elite college students, including former President Bush and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The pictures at first were taken to study posture. In later years they were taken by a researcher examining the relationship between body shape and intelligence.

All freshmen at at least some of the colleges involved - Ivy League and other prestigious schools - were required to pose in the buff.

It was not immediately known if the photos of Bush and Mrs. Clinton are at the Smithsonian, which has never displayed the pictures.

"There are the rights of the subjects to consider," Ildiko DeAngelis, assistant general counsel at the Smithsonian, said yesterday. "We sealed the entire collection."

Previously, the photos could be seen by students and researchers only, she said. The pictures will be off-limits pending an internal investigation of how the Smithsonian acquired the photos and whether it has rights to them, she said.

The frontal and profile "posture" photos were taken beginning in the early 1900s as part of physical-education classes, because poise and balance were considered an integral part of health.

Later, the photographs were taken by W.H. Sheldon, now deceased, who believed there was a relationship between body shape and intelligence and other traits.

Most scientists have since dismissed Sheldon's work as quackery. But it apparently was respected from the 1940s through the 1960s, because the colleges allowed Sheldon access to their students.

Among others subject to the ritual were ABC's Diane Sawyer and New York Gov. George Pataki.

Much of Sheldon's work was destroyed by various schools years ago.

Officials at Yale, where the photos of Bush and Pataki were taken, thought they had burned all the photos in the 1970s. "Had we been aware that there were photos someplace else, we would have done with them what we did with the others - destroy them," spokesman Gary Fryer said.

It's too early to say whether the pictures will be destroyed, DeAngelis said. One question is whether the photos have historical merit even though the science behind them is no longer considered valid.

"Any kind of historical movement, the history of science itself is educational," DeAngelis said.

George Vogt, a member of the Yale Class of 1966 and director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, said Sheldon's written records of his scientific pursuit, however odd, should be saved but that the photos should be burned.

"Our naked butts are in the Smithsonian," Vogt said. "I can understand why the Smithsonian would want to record the quack science of the time but I cannot understand nor can I accept that they would retain naked photographs of living people."

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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