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Living with a Shrouded Legacy: The History of the American Eugenics Movement. Greta Bauer, MPH Division of Epidemiology, University of Minnesota. Science of Eugenics .

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living with a shrouded legacy the history of the american eugenics movement

Living with a Shrouded Legacy: The History of the American Eugenics Movement

Greta Bauer, MPH

Division of Epidemiology,

University of Minnesota

science of eugenics
Science of Eugenics
  • “the study of agencies under social control, that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally”

Sir Francis Galton

origins of eugenics
Origins of Eugenics
  • Late 19th Century Great Britain
  • Sir Francis Galton (18??-1911)
  • Reframing of Darwinian evolution to consider who should survive and reproduce
  • Consideration of policies to control the birth rate
  • Endowed Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics at University College London
two directions of eugenics
Two Directions of Eugenics
  • Positive Eugenics
    • Goal: Increase birthrate among the “fit”
  • Negative Eugenics
    • Goal: Decrease the proportion of “unfit” members of a population
positive eugenics
Positive Eugenics
  • Encouraged by:
    • Reproduction viewed as a contribution or detriment to national strength
    • Higher birthrates of recent US immigrants
    • Declining birthrates among middle- and upper-class American-born white women
    • The latter was viewed as “race suicide”
two directions of eugenics6
Two Directions of Eugenics
  • Positive Eugenics
    • Goal: Increase birthrate among the “fit”
  • Negative Eugenics
    • Goal: Decrease the proportion of “unfit” members of a population
negative eugenics
Negative Eugenics
  • Policies included:
    • Segregation or sterilization of defective persons
    • Denying marriages between first cousins and across races
    • Differential immigration quotas
  • Eugenic programs overshadowed poverty programs
who is unfit
Who is “unfit?”
  • Popenoe and Johnson of the Human Betterment Foundation
    • Blind, deaf, insane, feeble-minded, paupers, criminals, epileptics, tramps, prostitutes, and beggars
  • Also frequently included
    • Sexually promiscuous, alcoholics, persons with syphilis or tuberculosis
strength of eugenic policies
Strength of Eugenic Policies
  • 30 of the 48 states had sterilization laws (voluntary or involuntary) for the feeble-minded
  • Over 63,000 Americans were sterilized prior to 1964
  • Supreme Court justified forcible sterilization on the same grounds as compulsory vaccination laws (1927)
  • Marriage requirement laws
  • Differential immigration quotas
proliferation of eugenic ideals
Proliferation of Eugenic Ideals
  • National- and state-level laws
  • Research centers and institutes in universities
  • Academic eugenics journals
  • Inclusion in academic work across disciplines
  • Foundations and societies, conferences
  • Common topic of articles in popular press
  • Sex-education books for children and parents
  • “Fit family” and “perfect baby” contests
eugenics and birth control
Eugenics and Birth Control
  • Eugenic debates framed early 20th c. birth control arguments
  • Would birth control reduce births by women who “ought” to have children?
  • Is birth control another eugenic tool for reducing “undesirable” births?
  • Many black Americans held great distrust for the white birth control advocates
eugenics legacy
Eugenics Legacy
  • By 1950, formal eugenics lost popularity due to Nazi atrocities and more complex genetic theory, but ideas were integrated beyond this
  • 1970’s court cases on coerced sterilization
  • Distrust around reproductive health practices
  • Provided basis for current racial research
  • Current genetic science leading to discussion of “the new eugenics”
eugenics demands careful scrutiny of our own research arguments political and programmatic policy
Eugenics demands careful scrutiny of our own research, arguments, political and programmatic policy.