Eugenics and Genetics Emergence (09:50)
Biologist Charles Davenport studied Francis Galton and Gregor Mendel's hereditary and genetics research, establishing Cold Spring Harbor in 1903. His use of Mendelian Ratio of Traits gained attention, and in 1909, he shifted focus to humans, believing he could improve society through selective breeding.
Saving Society (08:27)
The Industrial Age made America wealthy and influential, while triggering urbanization and mass migration. In 1909, Davenport requested hereditary information from New Jersey's Vineland Training School for the Feebleminded; Director Henry Goddard theorized most social problems resulting from defective ancestry, coining mental deficiency diagnostic terms.
Converting Sponsors (04:00)
Davenport believed certain human traits predictably passed down and society could be improved by controlling reproduction. He convinced altruistic Mary Harriman that eugenics would solve poverty and criminality issues, and that behaviors were inherited, triggering her support of his new institution.
Inferior Germ Plasm Dangers (08:42)
Davenport established Eugenics Records Office in 1910; directed by Harry Laughlin, it launched academic programs, employing graduates to gather family and characteristic data from public institutions and marginalized groups. They issued an official report in 1913, convincing many Americans that degenerates should not reproduce.
Conflicting Studies (04:48)
Mendel's Laws of Inheritance assumed each trait governed by one gene. Thomas Hunt Morgan's fruit fly research revealed heredity complexities; experiments did not prove selective breeding could eliminate negative behaviors. He withdrew from the Eugenics Records Office board; Davenport dismissed his findings.
Movement Progression (06:29)
Eighteen million people attended Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915; John Harvey Kellogg constructed the Race Betterment Exhibit, outlining how eugenics could improve humanity. He and Davenport organized a conference with various lectures with topics such as sterilization; it drew 10,000 attendees and media attention.
Eugenics Craze (07:31)
Henry Goddard's 1912 Kallikak Family study warned Americans of feebleminded menaces, urging caution regarding mate choices. He popularized intelligence tests as diagnostic tools after administering to 3,000,000 World War I draftees, and concluding half were "morons," a term evolving to include anyone outside social norms.
Preserving Demographics (06:42)
Davenport aspired to halt early 20th century migrants, believing they diluted American Protestant stock. Madison Grant published "The Passing of the Great Race," claiming primitive races would overwhelm superior but fragile Nordic genes. They appealed to Albert Johnson, who enlisted Laughlin to testify before Congress on biological aspects of immigration.
Capitol Hill Campaign (05:28)
Laughlin and anti-immigration activists pressured Congress into passing the Emergency Quota Act. Many politicians converted to the eugenics cause, but Jewish house members objected to methodologies determining superiority and intelligence. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge signed the Restriction Act into law, cutting migrants by 97 percent.
Concept Goes Mainstream (09:45)
American Birth Control League founder, Margaret Sanger, was denounced for her activism until linking with eugenics, remerchandising contraception as race betterment. The subject was taught in colleges; human stock contests drew crowds at state fairs and William Du Bois encouraged the advancement of the most talented black people.
Carrie Buck (09:22)
A diagnosed "morally delinquent" inmate at Virginia Colony for the Epileptic and Feebleminded was used by Laughlin to pass national laws permitting forced sterilization of the institutionalized. In 1927, the Supreme Court upheld his appeals; by 1933, rates of operations doubled, performed on marginalized citizens.
Movement Detractors (08:52)
Geneticist Hermann Muller irradiated fruit flies, creating mutations, and proving genes could be altered; he cast doubts on eugenics, asserting social factors contribute to human characteristics. Goddard disavowed earlier conclusions. The Great Depression impacted white upper class Americans; by 1932, the cause lost scientific backing.
Nazis and Social Perceptions (06:13)
Adolf Hitler incorporated eugenics in state policy, mandating sterilization of citizens with inheritable conditions, basing laws on Laughlin's models. Operations peaked in America; the Great Depression led to more institutionalizations. Hollywood and scientists questioned methods used to determine those sterilized.
Ann Cooper Hewitt (07:14)
An heiress sued her mother and surgeons after her fallopian tubes were removed during an appendectomy. Maryon Hewitt reasoned her daughter was feebleminded. The case was dismissed, but triggered public fears regarding eugenics applications; by 1940, 30,000 Americans were sterilized.
Stigmatized Crusade (05:10)
Buchenwald and Dachau Liberations revealed eugenics policies carried to genocidal extremes, embarrassing American proponents. The movement faded during the 1940s, but laws preventing immigration, interracial marriage, and permitting sterilization of the institutionalized stayed until the 1970s. Scientists now debate technology's role in bettering humanity.
Credits: The Eugenics Crusade (01:04)
Credits: The Eugenics Crusade
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