Was George Washington Carver, the scientist, inventor, and educator who was born into slavery castrated as a young boy?
Carver was known to have a high-pitched voice, and he also never married. These two things contributed to rumors and speculation about his sexuality and possible castration as a child. A common sentiment by internet users is that Carver was castrated by his owner, who was worried the young slave would rape his daughter.
What evidence exists to support the claim that George Washington Carver was castrated? Most biographies do not mention the castration rumors at all, but a few authors have delved into the topic over the past few decades.
Linda O. McMurry discussed the castration rumors in her 1981 book George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol (p14). She notes that “there are persistent rumors that he was castrated as a boy. Sometimes kidnappers were blamed for the mutilation, sometimes Moses Carver was named as the villain.” She concludes that these are unlikely explanations because a person castrated before puberty rarely displays “secondary sexual characteristics and seldom grows to normal stature.” Despite Carver’s high-pitched voice, he grew to an average height and also had facial hair. McMurry also points out that Carver had an “affection” for Moses, and continued to visit the Carvers for many years.
McMurry concedes that Carver may have eluded to some sort of event in a 1937 response to a friend regarding his decision to never marry. Carver’s vague response implied an unpleasant event from his past may have prevented his marrying, but he never specified what happened.
1992 Ethics book
The 1992 book African-American Perspectives on Biomedical Ethics by Harley Flack and Edmund D. Pellegrino provides a detailed – and un-sourced- narrative about the castration of George Washington Carver at the age of 11 by a “Dr. Dick.” The authors state that Carver approved of the castration as he would not be seen as a threat by society, but “dedicated to service, and incapable of shaping a personally connected ascension of progeny.” The authors also stated that castration was desirable because Carver’s master “needed a new house servant and companion for his daughter.” Despite uncertainty, it is claimed, Carver consented to the castration due to a desire to “make everyone happy and secure the opportunity for learning.”
We could not find the above claims in other Carver biographies, nor could we locate sources for the assertions made about Carver’s alleged castration at the age of 11.
2010 Peter Burchard on Iowa Public Radio
In a 2010 segment about George Washington Carver, Iowa Public Radio interviewed Carver biographer Peter Burchard, who said Carver believed his high voice was due to a bout of whooping cough as a child. Burchard, however, suggested that castration could have also been a factor. He described a conversation with someone who spoke firsthand with the doctor who examined Carver’s body after death. This person noted that “where there should have been testicles, there was nothing but only scar tissue.” Regarding castration, Burchard said it was “probably to have been the case” but emphasized that it was unclear when it could have happened. Listen to the segment – which includes clips of Carver’s voice – here.
Below is a video of Carver, posted on YouTube by biographer Peter Burchard.
We have reached out to a couple of experts on this topic, and will post their responses if and when they reply.
Concrete evidence is lacking about the alleged castration of George Washington Carver, although at least one prominent biographer has said that it probably happened. The date and events surrounding the possible castration are unknown.
And there is one myth about George Washington Carver than can be debunked: he didn’t invent peanut butter.