So, via BoingBoing, I came across this story from the New York Times Archive. The story is from 1995 and it concerns the absolutely bizarre practice of Ivy League schools from the 40’s to 60’s taking nude photographs of all incoming freshmen. Metal spikes were placed at regular intervals along their spines and front, side, and rear photographs were taken.
The procedure did seem strange. But I soon learned that it was a long-established custom at most Ivy League and Seven Sisters schools. George Bush, George Pataki, Brandon Tartikoff and Bob Woodward were required to do it at Yale. At Vassar, Meryl Streep; at Mount Holyoke, Wendy Wasserstein; at Wellesley, Hillary Rodham and Diane Sawyer. All of them — whole generations of the cultural elite — were asked to pose. But however much the colleges tried to make this bizarre procedure seem routine, its undeniable strangeness engendered a scurrilous strain of folklore.
As truly creepy as the practice seems, it turns out that the real mystery is not the who or the when, but the why. The leader of the study was a racist, and rumors of Nazi-esque eugenics projects still surround the study.
The article is an excellent read, and was written by someone who himself had had his photo taken as part of the study. Most of the photographs have been burned, but the Smithsonian still has thousands of negatives.