A great documentary was playing on one of the public T.V. stations recently, and it should have been watched by all Americans. The documentary was about the history of eugenics in America and how the movement was devoted to improving the human species by controlling heredity. The term was coined by Francis Galton in 1883. The concept predates this coinage, Plato suggesting applying the principles of selective breeding to humans around 400 BCE. In 1937 an article by Frederick Osborn framed it as a social philosophy, a philosophy with implications for social order.
The movement took root in the United States in the early 1900’s grew to encompass many learned people in academia, churches, and government. It was believed if dogs and horses could be bred to produce superior traits, humans could be bred through heredity to produce geniuses and super humans. A eugenics office was founded to collect data on family pedigrees, depicting the inheritance of physical, mental, and moral traits. These people were particularly interested in the inheritance of undesirable traits, such as pauperism, mental disability, dwarfism, promiscuity; and criminality. The United States was so deep into eugenics, Hitler’s government studied the practice and incorporated the laws we used to prevent the reproduction of the “unfit.”
feeble-mindedness, low IQ’s, perverts, and rapist in the family was marked for Sterilization so that the human race would not be bothered with them in the next generation. This was the concept a famous Supreme Court Justice, opined, “It is better for the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes)
This decision legitimized the various sterilization laws in the United States. California’s program was so robust that the Nazi’s turned to California for advice in perfecting their own efforts. (The Horrifying American Roots of Nazi Eugenics By Edwin Black)
Over 60,000 sterilizations took place during America’s acceptance of eugenics. The United State’s eugenics movement began to lose power in the 1940’s mostly due to the horrors of Nazi Germany. It is important to keep the American history of eugenics in mind so that we don’t repeat this horror.