William Herbert Sheldon

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William Herbert Sheldon
BornNovember 19, 1898
Warwick, Rhode Island, United States
DiedSeptember 17, 1977 (1977-09-18) (aged 78)
Alma materBrown University (BSc)
University of Colorado (MSc)
University of Chicago (Ph.D & M.D)
Occupation(s)Psychologist and eugenicist
Employer(s)Harvard University (Formerly)
Columbia University (Formerly)
University of Chicago

William Herbert Sheldon, Jr. (November 19, 1898 – September 17, 1977) was an American psychologist, numismatist, and eugenicist. He created the field of somatotype and constitutional psychology that correlate body types with temperament, illustrated by his Ivy League nude posture photos.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Sheldon was born in Pawtuxet, Rhode Island, on November 19, 1898, to William Herbert Sheldon, Sr., a naturalist and animal breeder, and Mary Abby Greene, a village midwife. His godfather was the noted psychologist and philosopher, William James. He graduated from Warwick Veterans Memorial High School in 1915 and attended Brown University. After graduating, he worked in a range of fields before studying for his master's degree at the University of Colorado. Sheldon attended the University of Chicago and earned his Ph.D. in 1925. He taught psychology at the University of Chicago and at the University of Wisconsin. He attended the University of Chicago Medical Center, receiving his M.D. in 1933.[3][4]

Gaining a two-year fellowship in Europe allowed him to study under Carl Jung, and visit Sigmund Freud and Ernst Kretschmer. After Europe, he moved to Harvard University in 1938. He served in the Army Medical Corps at lieutenant colonel rank in the Second World War.[4]

From 1947 to 1959 he was Director of the Constitutional Laboratory at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He became a professor of medicine at the University of Oregon Medical School in 1951.[4][5]


Somatotype classification

In psychology, he developed a new version of somatotypology by classifying people into endomorphic, mesomorphic, and ectomorphic types, based on many photographs and measurements of nude figures at Ivy League schools.[4] Ron Rosenbaum writes: "He believed that every individual harbored within him different degrees of each of the three character components. By using body measurements and ratios derived from nude photographs, Sheldon believed he could assign every individual a three-digit number representing the three components, components that Sheldon believed were inborn -- genetic -- and remained unwavering determinants of character regardless of transitory weight change. In other words, physique equals destiny."[1]

Sheldon also argued that physique was closely correlated with temperamental viscerotonic patterns that powerfully influenced attitudes to food, comfort and luxury, ceremoniousness, sociability, nostalgia, pain, and a great variety of other aspects of human experience. Aldous Huxley took a considerable interest in and popularized knowledge of Sheldon's work, writing that "Sheldon has worked out what is, without question, the best and most adequate classification of human differences," [6] and Sheldon's concepts influenced Huxley's understanding of himself, friends and family, characters in his own work and the work of others, various historical figures, and even entire schools of philosophy and religions.[7]

In numismatics, William Sheldon authored Early American Cents and later revised that work within Penny Whimsy (these were the most exhaustive catalogues of the varieties of early American large cents at that time). The Sheldon variety list for Early American Cents is still in use today. He also developed the "Sheldon scale" that graded coins on a numeric basis from 1 to 70, which is still standard among American numismatists.[8]

Allegations of theft, and posthumous suits[edit]

William Herbert Sheldon was also a specialist in United States cents. After his death, he was accused by the American Numismatic Society (ANS) of substitution of lower grade examples of his cent coins with high grade examples from the cabinets of the ANS.[9][10]


Sheldon died in his office at the Biological Humanics Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 17, 1977.[5]


  • — (1936). Psychology and the Promethean Will. Harper & Brothers.
  • — (1940). The Varieties of Human Physique (An Introduction to Constitutional Psychology). Harper & Brothers.
  • — (1942). The Varieties of Temperament (A Psychology of Constitutional Differences). Harper & Brothers.
  • — (1949). Varieties of Delinquent Youth (An Introduction to Constitutional Psychiatry). Harper & Brothers.
  • — (1949). Early American Cents, 1793–1814. Harper & Brothers.
  • — (1954). Atlas of Men. Harper & Brothers.
  • — (1958). Penny Whimsy. Harper & Row.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ron Rosenbaum (1995-01-15). "The Great Ivy League Nude Posture Photo Scandal". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2007-03-11. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  2. ^ "Nude Photos Are Sealed At Smithsonian". New York Times. January 21, 1995. Archived from the original on May 6, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2011. Later, other photographs were taken by W. H. Sheldon, a researcher who believed that there was a relationship between body shape and Temperament traits. Mr. Sheldon has since died.
  3. ^ Margaret Alic (6 April 2001), "Sheldon, William Herbert (1898-1977)", Encyclopedia of Psychology, archived from the original on 4 January 2010, retrieved 12 December 2011
  4. ^ a b c d Richard N. Walker (1978). "W. H. Sheldon" (PDF). Nature in Psychiatric Bulletin. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-01-26. Retrieved 2011-12-07.
  5. ^ a b "William H. Sheldon, 78. Correlated Physiques and Traits of Behavior. Headed Research Center". The New York Times. September 18, 1977. Archived from the original on 2017-10-17. Retrieved 2007-07-21.
  6. ^ Aldous Huxley, The Perennnial Philosophy (New York: Harper & Row/Harper Colophon, 1970; originally published 1945), p. 149; see also essays collected in Themes and Variations (1950).
  7. ^ Philip Thody, Aldous Huxley: A Biographical Introduction (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973), pp. 98-99.
  8. ^ "Grading Coins". Archived from the original on 2006-02-04. Retrieved 2009-09-30.
  9. ^ ANS search for 129 missing cents becomes legal battle: Society attorney names late William Sheldon as suspect," by Bill Gibbs, Coin World Aug. 23, 1993; ANS Magazine, vol. 3. no. 2, Summer 2004, by ANS curator Robert W. Hoge
  10. ^ "More on Collector Ted Naftzger and the Switched Large Cents," by John Kleeberg, The E-sylum, Vol. 11, No. 24, June 15, 2008, Article 17.

Further reading[edit]