Papers, 1840-1972, of and relating to Karl Pearson, comprising personal and family papers, 1844-1937; lectures and lecture notes, 1874-1972; papers relating to literary and scientific work -1936; papers relating to the history of the Department of Applied Statistics, University College London, 1895-1936; papers relating to the work of the Department of Statistics and of Pearson's colleagues, 1895-1962; papers relating to the journal 'Biometrika', 1900-1954; papers relating to Pearson's 'The life, letters and labours of Francis Galton', 1840-1931; papers relating to Pearson's wartime research (1914-1918), 1905-1923; acquired papers, 1842-1923; general correspondence [1843-1972]. The collection also includes papers of Walter Frank Raphael Weldon (Jodrell Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at University College London), 1860-1935.
Karl Pearson Papers
- This material is held at
- ReferenceGB 103 PEARSON
- Dates of Creation1840-1972
- Name of Creator
- Language of MaterialEnglish
- Physical Description238 boxes, 1 outsize box, 3 volumes, 2 rolls, 1 folder
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Karl Pearson [formerly Carl] was born in London on 27th March 1857, the second of three children of William Pearson, a barrister, and his wife Fanny (née Smith). He had an older brother, Arthur, and a younger sister, Amy. Karl was educated at University College School from 1866-1873 and gained a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge, in 1875. He graduated from Cambridge as Third Wrangler in the Mathematics Tripos in 1879.
Pearson was awarded a Fellowship from King's which allowed him to study mathematics, philosophy and German literature at Berlin and Heidelberg Universities between 1879 and 1880. It was in Germany that he first began to use the name 'Karl', rather than 'Carl'; the origin of this has been attributed to a spelling mistake when he enrolled at the University of Heidelberg in 1880. On his return to England he followed in his father's footsteps by entering Lincoln's Inn to read law. He was called to the Bar in 1881 but did not continue his legal career. Instead, Pearson began to lecture on mathematics at King's College, London and University College, London and in 1884 he was appointed Goldsmid professor of applied mathematics and mechanics at UCL.
Pearson is best known for his work on statistics, and his interest in this subject was encouraged by Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) and Walter Frank Raphael Weldon (1860-1906). He collaborated with Weldon to co-found the discipline of biometry, or the application of mathematics to biological sciences. His other key area of research was correlation theory, and he used his statistical methods to continue Galton's studies into variation, heredity and eugenics. With Weldon he founded the journal "Biometrika" in 1901 as an outlet to publish work on biometrics and mathematics. In 1901 a grant from the Worshipful Company of Drapers also enabled him to found a biometrics laboratory at UCL.
In 1907 Pearson took over the Directorship of the Eugenics Record Office at UCL at the request of the office's founder, Francis Galton, and changed the name of the institution to the Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics. Following Galton's death in 1911 he was appointed the first Galton Professor of Eugenics. Under his direction the eugenics and biometrics laboratories were amalgamated into the Department of Applied Statistics, and remained joined until Pearson's retirement in 1933 when his son, E S Pearson, became Professor of Statistics and R A Fisher succeeded to the Galton Chair of Eugenics. In 1925 he founded the journal "Annals of Eugenics" (from 1954 published as "Annals of Human Genetics").
In 1885 Karl Pearson co-founded the Men and Women's Club to discuss equality between the sexes; on 30 June 1890 he married the Club's secretary, Maria Sharpe (fifth daughter and sixth child of William Sharpe, a solicitor). They had three children: Sigrid Loetitia Pearson, Egon Sharpe Pearson, and Helga Sharpe Pearson (later Helga Hacker). Following Maria's death in 1928 Karl Pearson married Margaret Victoria Child, a co-worker in the Biometrics Laboratory, on 22 March 1929.
Pearson was appointed Professor of Geometry at Gresham College in 1891 and elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1896, receiving the Society's Darwin Medal in 1898. He was awarded the Huxley medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1903 and in 1932 was awarded the Rudolf Virchow medal by the Anthropological Society of Berlin. In addition to an honorary degree from the University of St Andrews and a DSc from the University of London he received honorary fellowships from King's College, Cambridge, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and University College, London. He refused an OBE in 1920 and a knighthood in 1935.
Karl Pearson died suddenly at his holiday cottage in Coldharbour, Surrey, on 27 April 1936. He had retired from the Galton Laboratory three years earlier at the age of seventy-six. He was survived by his second wife, Margaret, and his three children.
Karl Pearson's many publications include: "Treasury of Human Inheritance", ed., (1909–33); "Grammar of Science" (1892); "The New Werther" (1880); "Ethic of Freethought" (1888); "Chances of Death, and other Studies in Evolution" (2 vols., 1897); "History of the Theory of Elasticity", ed., (2 vols., 1886–93); "The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton" (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1914).
Arranged in 11 sections
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The papers were presented to University College London Library between 1967 and 1980 by Karl Pearson's son and youngest daughter, Egon Sharpe Pearson and Helga Sharpe Hacker.
Other Finding Aids
A full, detailed catalogue is available on the online catalogue. This electronic catalogue supercedes the published catalogue "A list of the papers and correspondence of Karl Pearson (1857-1936) held in the Manuscripts Room, University College London Library" compiled by M Merrington, B Blundell, S Burrough, J Golden, J Hogarth (University College London, 1983), and the old card index of correspondence.
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