Part Two: The Eugenics Movement

Previous | TOC | Next

The history of the eugenics movement begins with the publication of Charles Darwin's study of human evolution, The Origin of Species in 1859. The idea of evolution, of the development of species over time was transformative but it was the more general idea of the inheritability of human traits that captured the imagination of the earliest writers of what came to be called eugenics. In 1865, as the Civil War in the United States was drawing to an end, independently wealthy Francis Galton published two articles in Macmillan's Magazine that would form the basis of the English eugenics movement; they were jointly called "Hereditary Talent and Character." The essays were expanded into a book published four years later in 1869 and called Hereditary Genius. The central thesis of both the articles and the book was that human traits, and particularly great ability, can be inherited from previous generations. Charles Darwin wrote of his cousin's book, "I do not think I ever in all my life read anything more interesting and original."8

It was not until 1883 that Galton coined the term "eugenics," and it was 1904 before he formulated the classic definition of eugenics as "the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally."9 Galton had a clear eugenical hierarchy from the beginning; for example, he believed that Black people were entirely inferior to the white races and that Jews were capable only of "parasitism" upon the civilized nations.10 In proposing the term "eugenics," Galton wrote, "We greatly want a brief word to express the science of improving the stock...which, especially in the case of man, takes cognizance of all the influences that give the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable than they otherwise would have had."11

Galton's chief disciple, Karl Pearson (a mathematician, lawyer, and socialist) shared his racial and anti-Semitic beliefs. In 1925, Pearson used his "The Problem of Alien Immigration into Great Britain, Illustrated by an examination of Russian and Polish Jewish Children," the lead article in the premier issue of the Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics in the University of London publication, Annals of Eugenics, to argue against the admission of Jewish immigrants into England.12 (A portrait of Thomas Robert Malthus, described as "Strewer of the Seed which reached its Harvest in the Ideas of Charles Darwin and Francis Galton," opened the issue.)

Although Pearson was a socialist and associated with a crowd that was also left politically, including eugenicists George Bernard Shaw and Havelock Ellis, he believed that "such measures as the minimum wage, the eight-hour day, free medical advice, and reductions in infant mortality encouraged an increase in unemployables, degenerates, and physical and mental weaklings."13 Havelock Ellis, known as a sex radical and free thinker, shared Pearson's elitist views, writing in his 1911 book, The Problem of Race Regeneration, "These classes, with their tendency to weak-mindedness, their inborn laziness, lack of vitality, and unfitness for organized activity, contain the people who complain they are starving for want of work, though they will never perform any work that is given them."14 Ellis suggested in the same work that all public relief be denied to second generation paupers unless they "voluntarily consented" to be surgically sterilized.15

In 1900, the genetic research of Austrian monk Gregor Mendel on pea plants in his monastery's garden, first published in 1865 to the Natural Sciences Society of Brunn, was rediscovered by Dutch botanist Hugo De Vries. Mendel's laws of inheritance allowed scientists and others to predict the results of different sorts of matings. For the first ten years of the century, scientists split into two camps on genetic issues: the Mendelians, who were primarily oriented toward experimentation and the biometricians, who took a statistical approach to problems of heredity. Galton and Pearson and most English scientists were biometricians, while most American scientists accepted the general validity of Mendel's laws. It was Davenport's acceptance of Mendelian genetics that led to his estrangement from Karl Pearson. By 1915, most scientists accepted Mendelian notions of inheritance and believed that some traits were the result of the interaction of many genes. In the 1920's, Davenport still clung to the largely abandoned theory that each trait (character) was linked to a single gene (determiner).

Before 1900, most scientists believed in the inheritance of acquired characteristics. This was important because it implied a fluid relationship between heredity and environment. It validated the struggle of social reformers to improve the standards of living and environments of the poor, because those improvements would form the basis for future generations of healthier citizens. Because a belief in the inheritance of acquired characteristics made a rigid separation between environment and heredity untenable, it may have delayed the development of a eugenics movement before 1900, when August Weissman established that acquired characteristics were not inherited. Weissman's theory contributed to the development of a strict hereditarianism mixed with a new sense of pessimism about the limitations of social reform. An increasing number of geneticists turned to the eugenics movement as a result.16

For the most part, the eugenicists trivialized the importance of environment. Stanford University president David Starr Jordan, an important American eugenicist who had defined eugenics more simply as "the art and science of being well-born,"17 was typical in his dismissal of environmental arguments,

No doubt poverty and crime are bad assets in one's early environment. No doubt these elements cause the ruins of thousands who, by heredity, were good material of civilization. But again, poverty, dirt, and crime are the products of those, in general, who are not good material. It is not the strength of the strong, but the weakness of the weak which engenders exploitation and tyranny. The slums are at once symptom, effect, and cause of evil. Every vice stands in this same threefold relation.18

Similarly, Albert Edward Wiggam wrote: classes, therefore, which you seek to abolish by law, are ordained by nature; that it is, in the large statistical run of things, not the slums which make slum people, but slum people who make the slums; that primarily it is not the church which makes people good, but good people who make the Church; that godly people are largely born and not made...19

Henry H. Laughlin, leader of the eugenical sterilization movement, defined eugenics in a way that made its political program clearer: "Practical Eugenics is the application of the demonstrated laws of human heredity, immigration, mate selection, and differential fertility to man's direction of his own evolution."20 More poetically, Wiggam wrote in his 1924 book addressed primarily to women, The Fruit of the Family Tree, "Woman's new promised land, the object of her exodus from political bondage, science has at last discovered for her, and through her, for the race. Its name is Eugenics. It is the land of the well-born. It is for women to decide whether or not the race should enter it."21 He went on to define eugenics by what it was not--"eugenics is not sex-hygiene, public health, prenatal culture, free love, a vice campaign, trial marriage, enforced marriage, not physical culture, not killing off the weaklings, not a scheme for breeding superman, not a plan for scientific love-making, for taking the romance out of love or a scheme for breeding human beings like animals."22

Eugenicists originally believed in the inheritability of all human traits. They also believed that an inherited weakness might manifest itself in the second generation in a different form than it had originally appeared. Parents who drank, for example, might have a son who was a criminal and a daughter who was sexually licentious. Dr. Delia Howe claimed, "I have seen insane offspring result from the union of a woman who was greatly inclined to worry and yield to spells of the 'blues,' with a man who was merely eccentric."23 Charles Davenport's work provided an extensive and typical list of traits thought by eugenicists to be inherited: eye color, hair, skin, stature, weight, special ability in music, drawing, painting, literary composition, calculating, or memorizing, weakness of the mucous membranes, nomadism, general bodily energy, strength, mental ability, epilepsy, shiftlessness, insanity, pauperism, criminality, various forms of nervous disease, defects of speech, sight, hearing, cancer, tuberculosis, pneumonia, skeletal deformities and other traits.24 Davenport is reported to have hypothesized that thalassophilia, love of the sea, was a sex-linked recessive trait because he only encountered it in male naval officers.25

A number of organizations reflecting the intense interest of the late nineteenth century in issues of heredity foreshadowed the development of self-professed eugenics groups. One of these was Alexander Graham Bell's Volta Bureau, organized in 1887 and dedicated to research into the hereditary nature of deafness. Bell went on to become an enthusiastic supporter of the eugenics movement. He was on the consulting committee to the First International Congress on Eugenics in 1911 and served as the honorary president of the Second International Congress of Eugenics in 1921. His photograph was used as the frontispiece for the second volume of published papers from that conference. Another such small organization was the Institute of Heredity in Boston, which was founded in 1880 by Loring Moody. One early practical implementation of eugenicist ideas took place in the Oneida Community, where founder John Humphrey Noyes initiated a ten-year program of human breeding, called stirpiculture, based on the eugenic ideas of Francis Galton. In 1921, Dr. Hilda Herrick Noyes and George Wallingford Noyes presented a paper on this experiment to the Second International Congress of Eugenics.26

The organized American eugenics movement came into being primarily through the efforts of Charles Benedict Davenport, a biologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard University. While at Harvard as an instructor in the 1890's, Davenport became familiar with the writings of Galton and Pearson. In 1902, Davenport was appointed director of the newly-established Carnegie Institution of Washington and began a two-year campaign for the establishment of a laboratory to pursue experimental genetics that resulted in the Station for Experimental Genetics, at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island, New York. Davenport and the experimental laboratory came increasingly to focus on eugenical studies and in 1910, through the philanthropy of Mrs. E. H. Harriman, a companion organization, the Eugenics Record Office, was established, also at Cold Spring Harbor, to distribute blank Records of Family Traits forms and to maintain an archives of the completed family inheritance forms. Davenport was its director and Henry H. Laughlin its superintendent. The Eugenics Record Office and the Station for Experimental Genetics merged in 1921 to become the Department of Genetics of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

The Eugenic Records Office had grown out of the Eugenics Section of the American Breeders' Association (ABA). The ABA (later the American Genetics Association) was founded in 1903 and in 1906, at its second meeting, it established a Eugenics Section (later the Committee on Eugenics), at Davenport's urging. David Starr Jordan chaired the committee and Davenport was its secretary. Other men active in the Committee on Eugenics included Alexander Graham Bell; Edward L. Thorndike; Henry H. Goddard and Walter E. Fernald, who both joined a subcommittee on feeblemindedness; and the founders of the Immigration Restriction League, Robert DeCourcy Ward and Prescott F. Hall. When the Committee on Eugenics solicited the support and membership of prominent citizens, the letter it sent out read, "The time is ripe for a strong public movement to stem the tide of threatened racial degeneracy....America needs to protect herself against indiscriminate immigration, criminal degenerates, and...race suicide." The letter also warned of the impending "complete destruction of the white race."27

In 1913, the Eugenics Research Association was established by the field workers of the Eugenics Record Office; Davenport was its first president and Henry H. Laughlin its secretary. Annual meetings of the ERA were held at Cold Spring Harbor and the organization became the national center for individuals working in the eugenics field. In 1916, the ERA and the Galton Society began to publish jointly the magazine Eugenical News, whose editor, Laughlin, welcomed racist and anti-immigrant articles. The Eugenics Research Association described itself as a scientific rather than political group, but included among the major issues its members addressed "[im]migration, mate selection,...race crossings, and...physical and mental measurement."28

The American Eugenics Society (AES) was visualized as the propaganda or popular education arm of the eugenics movement. The AES grew out of the Second International Eugenics Congress, held in 1921 in New York City. The Society went through a number of name changes in the early years--from the Ad Interim Committee of Eugenics of the United States of America (1921) to the Eugenics Committee of the United States of America (1922) to the Eugenics Society of the United States of America (1922) to the American Eugenics Society, Inc. (1926).29 The American Eugenics Society adopted an "Ultimate Program to Be Developed by the American Eugenics Society" in 1923. The Program sketched out a great number of projects and decided to place "chief emphasis" on three subjects: "1. A brief survey of the eugenics movement up to the present time. 2. Working out and enacting a selective immigration law. 3. Securing segregation of certain classes, such as the criminal defective."30 The American Eugenics Society organized the Fitter Family contests, whose contestants were required to undergo physical, psychological, intelligence, and Wasserman venereal disease testing and to provide a complete family history. By 1929, more than forty Fitter Family contests were being held each year, mostly at state fairs.

In 1904, John Harvey Kellogg endowed and established the Race Betterment Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. The well-funded Foundation held several national conferences on Race Betterment, and after the Second National Conference on Race Betterment in 1915, the Eugenics Registry, designed to serve as a national depository for genealogical, eugenical family records, was established. Officers of the Race Betterment Conference held January 1-6, 1914 included Charles Davenport, Yale Professor Irving Fisher, Progressive Senator from Oklahoma Robert Dale Owen, settlement worker and writer Jacob A. Riis (who complained in his speech, "The Bad Boy," "We have heard friends here talk about heredity. The word has rung in my ears until I am sick of it.") and Charles Eliot, president emeritus of Harvard.31 The Conference heard Charles Davenport warn of the rapid increase in race degeneracy, demonstrated by the "alarming increase of the insane and other mental defectives, who now constitute one per cent of the whole population of the United States."

One poster display at the conference listed the types of defectives who were increasing: idiots, imbeciles, morons, criminals, inebriates, and paupers; another condemned such causes of race degeneracy as city life, unsanitary conditions, unwholesome industries, and the use of racial poisons like alcohol, tobacco, and opium. C.W. Saleeby presented a paper on "The Methods of Race Regeneration;" Henry H. Laughlin spoke on "Calculations on the Working Out of a Proposed Program of Sterilization;" Robert DeC. Ward spoke on immigration and race betterment; Prof. Sidney Gulick spoke on "America's Oriental Problem," and Booker T. Washington presented a talk on "The Negro Race." It was clear that the speakers represented a social elite--of the 114 speakers identified by name, 78 were listed as doctors, reverends, deans, or professors.32

At the Second National Conference on Race Betterment, held the following year in San Francisco in connection with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, J. H. Kellogg warned, "We promote race degeneracy by our neglect, by creating a new and horribly depreciated species of humankind, physical and moral monsters who are corrupting the blood of the race and threatening its very extinction."33 In the same vein, Frederick L. Hoffman mentioned in his speech, "The Statistics of Race Betterment," "I endorse the Southern attitude, that marriage between whites and negroes should not be permitted. The inhibition against it was one of the most salutary laws ever placed on the statute books of that section of the country, for we, who are of the white race, have no right to play high and low in reckless experiments in race amalgamation."34 Prominent eugenicist Paul Popenoe spoke on natural selection in man; David Starr Jordan's address was on the dysgenic aspects of war; and Irving Fisher returned to deliver a lecture on "Eugenics--the Foremost Plan of Human Redemption." Six years later, at the Second International Congress of Eugenics, a representative of the Race Betterment Foundation, Dr. Wilhelmine E. Key would present a paper on "Heritable Factors in Human Fitness and their Social Control" that argued, "The foundations of national power are, in the last analysis, biological."35

In 1918, Davenport and his fellow eugenicist and virulent racist and anti-immigration activist Madison Grant (author of The Passing of the Great Race) set up the Galton Society, a eugenical organization intended as a rival to the increasingly anti-eugenicist and non-racist American Anthropological Association. (One of the AAA's past presidents was anthropologist Franz Boas, an early critic of the eugenics movement responsible for preventing the wholesale involvement of anthropologists in the eugenics movement.36) Another motive for the formation of the Society was what Grant and Davenport both saw as the suspect, communistic politics of some members of the AAA.

The independently wealthy Grant wrote to the other organizers, "My proposal is the organization of an anthropological society...confined to native Americans, who are anthropologically, socially, and politically sound, no Bolsheviki need apply."37 Other prestigious members included Henry Fairfield Osborn (who wrote the introduction to Grant's book) and Grant's friend and protege, Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color. Anthropologist Ellsworth Huntington, author of The Character of Races and Tomorrow's Children: The Goal of Eugenics was also a member. Like his friend Grant, Stoddard was a strong anticommunist. His book, The Rising Tide of Color, argued that bolshevism was a dangerous theory because it advocated universal equality rather than white supremacy.38

Huntington wrote in 1935 that compulsory "sterilization does for nature what nature alone would do in a cruel way. Religion, philanthropy, and modern medicine do not permit weak types of people to die of hunger, pestilence, and disease in the old heartless fashion. Thus, along with the great benefits these agencies bring grave dangers, against which sterilization seems to be the best protection." Another member, Columbia Teachers College Psychology Department Chairman Edward L. Thorndike was also a diehard supporter of eugenical sterilization. In 1940, he could still argue that "the argument for sterilizing anybody near the low end of the scale in intellect and morals whenever it can be done legally is very strong."39 According to the American Eugenics Society, the Galton Society was established for "the promotion of study of racial anthropology"; the AES also noted that "[im]migration restriction has been a subject of much interest...."40

To achieve its stated goal of race betterment, the eugenics movement advocated both positive and negative eugenics, which referred to attempts to increase reproduction by fit stocks and to decrease reproduction by those who were constitutionally unfit. Positive eugenics included eugenic education and tax preferences and other financial support for eugenically fit large families. The educational effort included classroom instruction as well as activities like the Fitter Family contests.

Negative eugenics for the mainstream eugenicist did not usually encompass the murder of the genetically unfit by the state, although this idea was put forth by enough radical eugenicists that C.W. Saleeby, a prominent English eugenicist who was also widely published in the U.S., felt it necessary to state clearly that eugenics rejected the lethal gas chamber, interference with ante-natal life, and "all other synonyms for murder." One of the best-known advocates of eugenic murder was W. D. McKim. A contemporary described his proposal,

An extreme example of such writings is W. D. McKim's Heredity and Human Progress, the author of which, satisfied "that heredity is the fundamental cause of human wretchedness," and without faith in the adequacy of systematic segregation to root out the evils he describes, argues for nature's method of elimination by means of a "gentle, painless death," from carbonic acid asphyxiation, "restricting the plan, however, to the very weak and very vicious,"--idiots, imbeciles, most epileptics, insane or incorrigible criminals and others who for one grave cause or another are now supported or detained by the State.41

Plans of eugenic murder, although not commonplace, did on occasion creep into the writings of eugenicists who were not seen as extremists. David Starr Jordan, for example, then president of Stanford University, wrote in 1911, "Dr. Amos G. Warner has well said that the 'true function of charity is to restore to usefulness those who are temporarily unfit, and to allow those unfit from heredity to become extinct with as little pain as possible.' Sooner or later the last duty will not be less important or pressing than the first."42

Virtually all eugenicists supported compulsory sterilization for the unfit; some supported castration. By 1937, when expert medical panels in both England and the U.S. finally condemned eugenical sterilization, more than twenty thousand forced sterilizations had been performed, mostly on poor people (and disproportionately on Black people) confined to state-run mental hospitals and residential facilities for the mentally retarded. Almost five hundred men and women had died from the surgery. The American Eugenics Society had hoped, in time, to sterilize millions of Americans. Hitler's eugenical sterilization program, modeled on the U.S. system, sterilized 225,000 people in less than three years.

The eugenics movement was an immensely popular movement during its heyday from 1910 to 1930. When the first international congress on eugenics was held in London in 1912, its honorary officers included such prominent public figures as Winston Churchill, former Harvard president Charles Eliot, and Stanford University president David Starr Jordan. The conference was attended by representatives from the United States, from virtually all of the European and Scandinavian countries, and from a number of other countries including Japan, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, India, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand (then Siam), and Uruguay. At the Second International Congress in 1921, exhibitors included the American Geographical Society, Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of the Interior, Harvard University Press, Women's Bureau, Voluntary Parenthood League, Harper and Bros., Dodd, Mead & Co., Harcourt Brace & Co, Metropolitan Life Insurance, and Prudential Insurance Co., among others. Among the five classifications of exhibits was one section devoted to "The Factor of Race."43

Issues of race were so omnipresent at the Second Congress that Charles Davenport commented in his preface to the second volume of papers from the Congress, "This section of the Congress resolved itself into a veritable scientific race-congress."44 Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the Second Congress, explained to the delegates in his "Address of Welcome", "In the United States we are slowly awakening to the consciousness that education and environment do not fundamentally alter racial values."45

Several representatives of the older scientific racist tradition of craniometry (the measurement of skull size and shape) were also present at the conference. Dr. Georges Vacher de Lapouge, a craniologist who said in 1887, "I am convinced that in the next century millions will cut each other's throats because of 1 or 2 degrees more or less of cephalic index,"46 spoke in French on the concept of race in multi-racial populations. Robert Bennett Bean, who in 1906 published a series of technical and popular articles claiming that measurements of the corpus callosum of Black and white brains revealed that Blacks are located midway "between man and the ourang-outang," presented a lecture on "Notes on the Body Form of Man."47 Jon Alfred Mjoen presented "Harmonic and Disharmonic Race-Crossings," a lecture using the craniometric cephalic index to demonstrate the dangers of race-mixing, which included the greater prevalence of "prostitutes and the 'unwilling to work'" among racially impure groups.48

Prof. Ernest A. Hooton of Harvard University, a modern practitioner of head measurement, also spoke at the Second Congress, on "Observations and Queries as to the Effect of Race Mixture on Certain Physical Characteristics." Hooton's 1939 book, The American Criminal, reported the results of his measurements of head circumferences, and claimed a correlation between head size and occupation: laborers and tradesmen had much smaller heads than professional and semi-professional workers.49 Like many eugenicists, Hooton often expressed simultaneously a racialist belief and the absence of any evidence to substantiate the belief. For example, he argued,

The writer is not familiar with many features of dentition which exhibit clear racial differences....I am under the impression that Negroid teeth are characterized by a certain quality of the enamel, which usually gives them a bluish or yellowish tinge that is recognizable, in conjunction with certain peculiarities of form which are very hard to describe. I believe also that these negroid features persist in negro-white mixtures, but I cannot adduce any satisfactory body of evidence to substantiate this belief.50

Frederick L. Hoffman updated his 1915 Race Betterment Conference speech and argued in "The Problem of Negro-White Intermixture and Intermarriage," "I have never found an intermixed or intermarried white-negro couple where the stamp of social inferiority was not plainly traceable in the result....Intermarriages between whites and blacks...are essentially anti-social tendencies and therefore opposed to the teachings of sound eugenics in the light of the best knowledge available..."51 Stewart Paton warned of the connections between mental illness and "delirious outbursts of Bolshevism."52 William McDougall, the head of psychology at Harvard, argued that new evidence indicated that there was a correlation between innate ability and social class. He pointed out, "Eugenicists have very commonly assumed or alleged the reality of such a correlation. But the lack of empirical proof of it has been a principal ground of many criticisms adverse to their propaganda."53

The involvement of the organized American eugenics movement as immigration restriction advocates was deep and long-standing. The organized anti-immigrant movement was founded in 1894 in Boston by a small group of Harvard-educated lawyers and academics. Prescott Hall and Robert DeCourcy Ward were the driving forces behind the League, which focused initially on a campaign to establish a literacy test for foreigners. One benefit of such a test, they made clear, was that it would bar most southern and eastern Europeans. The measure was approved by Congress but was vetoed by President Grover Cleveland. In the first decade of the century, the men of the Immigration Restriction League discovered the eugenicist arguments being used by members of the Eugenics Section of the American Breeders' Association, and became active members of that and other eugenics organizations, focusing their attention primarily on immigration issues. The connection was so compatible that the Immigration Restriction League almost changed their name to the Eugenic Immigration League. Hall and Ward even had sample stationery drawn up with the new name, but found the board of Directors was unwilling to adopt the name of a movement younger than itself. Ward summed up the philosophy of the Immigration Restriction League when he wrote "the question [of immigration] is a race question, pure and simple....It is fundamentally a question as to what kind of babies shall be born; it is a question as to what races shall dominate in this country."54

Although the organized anti-immigrant movement predated the eugenical organizations by a few years, immigration restriction was from the beginning a key component of the eugenics program. The American Eugenics Society published a wide variety of materials on immigration restriction and the 1923 "Original Ultimate Program to be Developed by the American Eugenics Society" listed immigration restriction as one of the top three goals of the society.55 The Galton Publishing Co., controlled by the American Eugenics Society, published works on immigration, including The Alien in Our Midst, edited by Madison Grant and Charles Davison.56

H.H. Laughlin, who was appointed on April 17, 1920 the Expert Eugenics Agent for the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization by Congressman Albert Johnson, who headed the House Committee, produced many pamphlets on immigration. The pamphlets, including "Biological Aspects of Immigration," "Analysis of America's Melting Pot," "Europe as an Emigrant-Exporting Continent," "The Eugenics Aspects of Deportation," and "American History in Terms of Human Migration," were published by the Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C.57 Johnson, a confirmed eugenicist, would assume in 1923 the presidency of the Eugenics Research Association, a post held before him by Madison Grant. In 1922, Laughlin was appointed the Eugenics Associate of the Psychopathic Laboratory of the Municipal Court of Chicago, which published his 500 page book on eugenical sterilization.58

The immigration restrictionists were motivated by a desire to maintain the white Christian dominance of the United States. A year after the eugenicists' victory in securing passage of the 1924 Immigration Restriction Act, which established entry quotas that slashed the "new immigration" of Jews, Slavs, and southern Europeans, Davenport wrote to Grant, "Our ancestors drove Baptists from Massachusetts Bay into Rhode Island but we have no place to drive the Jews to. Also they burned the witches but it seems to be against the mores to burn any considerable part of our population. Meanwhile we have somewhat diminished the immigration of these people."59 In 1927, Grant, Robert DeC. Ward, Edward East, Edward Ross, Robert Yerkes, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and other eugenicists signed a "Memorial on Immigration Quotas," urging the President and Congress to extend "the quota system to all countries of North and South which the population is not predominantly of the white race."60

Yale Professor Irving Fisher provided one of the best explanations of the eugenicist attitude toward immigration. In 1921, he wrote:

The core of the problem of immigration of race and eugenics....The problem of Oriental immigration has a somewhat special character. It involves race prejudice and the impossibility of assimilation, socially and racially....Under unrestricted immigration, within a century a majority of this country might become Oriental, especially if we commit race suicide....What has been said is from the point of view of our own white race and American nationality. Theoretically and academically, it may be that true eugenics for the human race as a whole may favor some other race than ours, and that, say, yellow domination rather than white domination may, in some distant future, be the ideal domination. But we cannot be expected, especially in the absence of any proof that we are an inferior race, to act on that assumption and quietly lie down and let some other race run over us.61

In some ways, the eugenics movement endured a precipitous decline in the 1930's. By 1931, at the third international conference on eugenics, fewer than one hundred people were in attendance. In 1936, the American Neurological Association's Committee for the Investigation of Eugenical Sterilization, while still supporting voluntary sterilizations, condemned mandatory sterilization statutes, argued that there was no evidence of either a "biological deterioration of the race" or a rapid increase in the unfit, and stated that the "reportedly high fecundity of the mentally defective" was simply not true.62 The following year, the American Medical Association stated that "there appears to be very little scientific basis to justify limitation of conception for eugenic reasons."63

Previous | TOC | Next

Online Articles:

Spotlight On

Browse Topics | Site Guide | Multimedia Bookstore | Magazine | Publications | Activists Resources

Political Research Associates

Copyright Information, Terms, and Conditions

Please read our Terms and Conditions for copyright information regarding downloading, copying, printing, and linking material on this site; our disclaimer about links present on this website; and our privacy policy.

Updates and Corrections