Eugenics well born
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Eugenics = “well-born”. Coined by Francis Galton 1860s Genetic determinism. Concern about which heritable traits are spreading thru the human population. Cause of social ills is bad heredity. Policies to “rationally” improve biological quality by controlling reproduction.

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Eugenics well born

Eugenics = “well-born”

  • Coined by Francis Galton 1860s

  • Genetic determinism.

    • Concern about which heritable traits are spreading thru the human population.

    • Cause of social ills is bad heredity.

  • Policies to “rationally” improve biological quality by controlling reproduction.

    • Galton: “Science of the improvement of human germ plasm through better breeding.”

    • Fewer offspring from “unfit” people.

    • More from the “fit.”

    • What kinds of people do we want in the world?

How to improve the hereditary make up of the race

How to improve the hereditary make-up of the “race”?

  • Voluntary & coercive policies.

  • Positive eugenics

    • Encourage, educate “fitter” people to have more offspring.

  • Negative eugenics

    • Persuade, pressure, or compel “unfit” people to have no offspring, not pass on their “defective” genes. Compulsory segregation & sterilization.

Positive eugenics better babies fitter families contests

Positive eugenics: Better Babies & Fitter Families Contests

Measuring up to eugenic ideals what criteria

Measuring up to eugenic ideals: what criteria?

  • Health

  • IQ

  • Education, occupation

  • Special talents, tastes

  • Church, politics

  • Clubs, activities

Popularizing hereditarian science for the sake of health

Popularizing hereditarian science: for the sake of “health”

1920s public health poster

1920s publichealth poster

Eugenics movement

Eugenics movement

  • 1900-1940s (and beyond WWII).

  • 30+ countries had their own versions; differing theories and policies.

  • Considered politically progressive.

    • “Improvement” of health & fitness of population.

  • Organizations of social reformers, geneticists, doctors, superintendents.

  • Valid science of human heredity at the time.

Pedigrees supposed scientific evidence that defects are transmitted by genes

Pedigrees = supposed scientific evidence that “defects” are transmitted by genes.

Inherited and congenital defects e g results of conception when the father was intoxicated

Inherited and congenital defects, e.g. “results of conception when the father was intoxicated.”

Social darwinism as human survival of the fittest

Social Darwinism as human survival of the fittest

  • The human species evolved by natural selection.

  • Cruel, rigorous weeding out of the “inferior” individuals and races.

  • “Degeneration” of the species occurs when the “unfit” are permitted to survive and reproduce.

Darwin 1871 descent of man

Darwin (1871) Descent of Man

With savages, the weak in body & mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick…. Thus the weak members of societies propagate their kind….

No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how want of care leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

Who were considered the innately weak or unfit blamed for social problems

Who were considered the innately “weak” or “unfit,” blamed for social problems?

  • Poor people (“social residuum”)

    • Workhouse, prison, drunkards…

  • Disabled people

    • Asylums for insane and feebleminded

  • Investigators claim these groups have excessively large families (differential fertility problem).

  • Degenerate family pedigrees

    • The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease, and Heredity (1877). Found 2800 family members in New York, estimated welfare costs $2 million.

1912 kallikak family discovered by eugenicist henry goddard good bad heredity

1912 “Kallikak” family discovered by eugenicist Henry Goddard (good & bad heredity)

Charles davenport head of eugenics record office

Charles Davenport, head of Eugenics Record Office

  • “It is a reproach to our intelligence that we as a people should have to support about half a million insane, feebleminded, epileptic, blind and deaf; 80,000 prisoners and 100,000 paupers at a cost of over 100 million dollars per year.”

Eugenics well born

COSTS of hospitals, asylums, prisons, feebleminded colonies, poverty, unproductive citizens (State fair exhibits to promote eugenics awareness)

Negative eugenics

Negative eugenics

  • “Voluntary” measures

    • Eugenic education, propaganda aimed at general public, e.g. school textbooks, films.

  • Coercive policies

    • Permanent segregation

    • Sexual sterilization

Alexander graham bell

Alexander Graham Bell

  • 1872 founds deaf school in Boston.

  • Invents devices to aid hearing.

  • Studies heredity in deaf families.

  • 1883: “avoid creating a deaf-mute variety of the human race” by intermarriages.

  • Becomes leader of eugenics movement.

Negative eugenics 30 states had sterilization laws by 1930s

Negative eugenics: 30 states had sterilization laws by 1930s

Why sterilize men women

Why sterilize men & women?

  • Began in 1899, Dr. Harry Sharp at Indiana State Reformatory: “treatment” and punishment for criminals.

  • 1909 WA state law: eugenic purpose?

    • “Whenever a person shall be adjudged guilty of carnal abuse of a female under 10 years old, or of rape, or shall be judged a habitual criminal, the court may direct an operation to be performed for the prevention of procreation.”

Eugenicist harry laughlin s model sterilization law 1922

Eugenicist Harry Laughlin’s model sterilization law (1922)

  • AN ACT to prevent the procreation of persons socially inadequate from defective inheritance, by authorizing and providing for the eugenical sterilization of certain potential parents carrying degenerate hereditary qualities.

  • Persons Subject. All persons in the State who, because of degenerate or defective hereditary qualities are potential parents of socially inadequate offspring, regardless of whether such persons be in the population at large or inmates of custodial institutions, regardless also of the personality, sex, age, marital condition, race, or possessions of such person.

  • State's Motive. Purely eugenic, that is, to prevent certain degenerate human stock from reproducing its kind. Absolutely no punitive element.

Is forced sterilization constitional

Is forced sterilization Constitional?

  • 1. Cruel and unusual punishment (8th Amendment)

  • 2. Equal Protection Clause (14th Amendment)

  • 3.Due Process Clause

Supreme court ruling buck v bell 1927 three generations of imbeciles are enough

Supreme Court ruling, Buck v. Bell 1927“Three generations of imbeciles are enough”

Carrie Buck and her mother

Oliver wendell holmes decision 1927

Oliver Wendell Holmes decision 1927

“There can be no doubt that so far as procedure is concerned the rights of the patient are most carefully considered. We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the state for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”

60 000 legally sterilized 1907 1970s

60,000 legally sterilized 1907-1970s

Eugenics well born

  • Superintendent Walter Fernald (1893): “The brighter class of the feebleminded, with their weak will-power and deficient judgment, are easily influenced for evil, and are prone to become vagrants, drunkards, and thieves…. It is better and cheaper for the community to assume the permanent care of this class before they have carried out a long career of expensive crime.”



  • Immorality worst in the feebleminded woman: “She has not sense enough to protect herself from the perils to which women are subjected. Often bright and attractive, if at large they either marry and bring forth in geometrical ratio a new generation of defectives and dependants, or become irresponsible sources of corruption and debauchery in the communities where they live.”

Gender bias 2 3 of sterilization victims were women

Gender bias? 2/3 of sterilization victims were women.

Iq testing

IQ testing

  • 1905 invented by Alfred Binet.

    • “abnormal” children can be educated.

  • 1910s US psychologists corrupt this goal.

    • Intelligence is hereditary, unchangeable.

    • Measure & label & institutionalize.

  • “Menace” to society.

    • Moron – imbecile – idiot scale.

    • By 1900, 328 institutions, with 200,000 people labeled mentally ill or mentally deficient.

Eugenics well born

  • 1918 IQ tests

  • US Army

  • For recruits who were non-English speaking or illiterate.

  • Complete the picture.

  • 40% found to be FM.

Actual test questions army alpha

Actual Test Questions, Army Alpha

SAMPLE People hear with their eyes\ears\nose\mouth

1. Pinochle is played with


2. Habeus corpus is a term used in


3. Bud Fisher is a famous


4. Velvet Joe appears in ads for

tooth powder\soap\dry goods\tobacco

5. The number of a Kaffir’s legs is . . . 2\4\6\8

Eugenics well born

1913 Ellis Island mental testing“moron detectors”80% immigrants scored feeblemindedDeportation rate increased

Wwi army mental tests racial rankings

WWI Army Mental Tests: Racial Rankings

Eugenics well born

  • Eugenicists’ expert testimony on race & IQ led to the 1924 Immigration Restriction Act (quotas).

  • Disability justified discriminatory policies since 1882, excluded undesirable “lunatics,” “idiots,” “likely to become a public charge.”

Most extreme eugenics in nazi germany 1933 45

Most extreme: eugenics in Nazi Germany, 1933-45

  • Forced sterilization law for “hereditary defectives.” (400,000+)

  • “Lives not worth living,” “useless eaters”


    Killing programs (“euthanasia”)

    • 200,000+ adults and children with disabilities.

    • Final Solution against the Jewish people.

Us eugenic euthanasia and disability

US Eugenic “Euthanasia” and Disability

Eugenics well born

1917 eugenic film The Black Stork: “There are times when saving a life is a greater crime than taking one.”

Retitled are you fit to marry

Retitled “Are You Fit to Marry?”

Eugenics well born

Eugenics Image Archive, hosted by the HGP Cold Spring

Harbor Laboratory, formerly Eugenics Record Office:

Eugenics well born

Disability Studies analysis of eugenics

History of people with disabilities, esp institutionalized.

Eugenics was based on medical model of disability:

individual is genetically flawed.

We will argue for the social model of disability:

scientific knowledge claims, ableist attitudes, and racist/sexist ideologies label people “unfit.”

Overlap between disability and other human differences.

Legacy today in pre-natal genetic testing.

Subjectivity of “well-born” and “improvement”

Medical fix, eliminate people

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