“…in 1926 the forward thinkers of America were preoccupied by the imagined genetic threat of feeblemindedness, a capaciously defined condition that was diagnosed using often flawed intelligence tests and by identifying symptoms such as moral degeneracy, an overactive sex drive, and other traits liberally ascribed to poor people (especially poor women) who were seen as having stepped out of line...
"A sloppy reading of Gregor Mendel’s pea pods and Charles Darwin’s theories gave a scientific veneer to the conclusion that many social ills were caused by the proliferation of the wrong sort of people and that they could be neatly nipped in the bud with the intervention of eugenics—a term coined, in 1883, by Darwin’s half-cousin Francis Galton, who declared it “a virile creed, full of hopefulness.” Soon, the United States, along with Germany, was at the forefront of the movement to improve the human species through breeding. Scientific American ran articles on the subject, and the American Museum of Natural History hosted conferences.
Theodore Roosevelt, Alexander Graham Bell, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and many other prominent citizens were outspoken supporters. Eugenics was taught in schools, celebrated in exhibits at the World’s Fair, and even preached from pulpits. The human race, one prominent advocate declared in 1909, was poised “to dry up the springs that feed the torrent of defective and degenerate protoplasm.”
Excerpt from New Yorker. For a discussion of a new book on the topic:
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