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Eugenics Movement

Woodrow Wilson

Eugenics Movement: Woodrow Wilson was the 28th American President who served in office from March 4, 1913 to March 4, 1921. One of the important events during his presidency was growth in popularity of the Eugenics Movement.

Definition and Summary of the Eugenics Movement
Summary and definition:
The Eugenics Movement in America was established in 1903 and popularized the ideas of selective breeding of 'superior stock' and the biological threat of "inferior types." Eugenics was a pseudo-science that gained support from highly prominent and influential people.

The ideals of the movement were well publicized and fueled anti-immigrant and racist beliefs that resulted in stringent US laws being passed to restrict immigration.

Eugenics Movement Facts: Fast Fact Sheet
Fast, fun facts and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) about the Eugenics.

What does Eugenics mean?
The term "Eugenics' was coined by Francis Galton in 1883 from the Greek word 'eugenes' meaning "well-born, of good stock, of noble race" and from 'eu' meaning "good"and 'genos' meaning "birth".

What are Eugenics? Eugenics is the doctrine of progress in evolution of the human race and race-culture involving the investigation of the conditions under which men of a 'high type' are produced.

When did the Eugenics Movement begin in America?
The Movement began in America in 1903. The second International Eugenics Congress was held in New York in 1921

Negative Eugenics and Positive Eugenics
Definition: Negative Eugenics discouraged reproduction by people who have genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits. Positive Eugenics encouraged reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits.

Facts about Eugenics Movement
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Eugenics Movement.

Eugenics was introduced to Europe in the 1880s by English scientist and biologist  Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) a cousin of Charles Darwin. The principles were described in his 1869 book 'Hereditary Genius'. Sir Francis Galton founded the Eugenics Education Society in 1901 which was based in the Statistics Department at the University College of London.

The Galton Society, named after Eugenicist Sir Francis Galton, was established by a group of socially prominent and highly influential men and publicized the movement through the Eugenical News

In 1912 the first International Eugenics Congress in 1912 was held in London and presided over by Major Leonard Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin. Winston Churchill was one of the prominent people to attend the Congress. and the ideas spread to America in the early 1900's and the American Eugenics movement began in 1903.

Definition: Sir Francis Galton defined eugenics as "the study of all agencies under human control which can improve or impair the racial quality of future generations". The idea arose out of the Darwinian theory of evolution and attempted to apply that theory to mankind.

The ideas spread to America in the early 1900's and the American Eugenics movement began in 1903. The next facts explain why the movement gained so much support in the United States.

A Pseudo-Scientific form of Racism - Eugenics was a phenomena which claimed to be scientific, but was not in fact supported by a valid scientific method, reliable evidence and could not be tested. In other words it was pseudoscience. Eugenics is a pseudo-science, or false science, that deals with improving hereditary traits and led to Pseudo-Scientific form of Racism. The Movement was fueled by a resurgence of Nativism and xenophobia in America during the 1920's.

Rise of Nativism and Immigration in America: The Eugenics Movement gained momentum by a burst of Nativism in America during the 1920's. Nativism refers to the preference for established US residents, as opposed to foreigners, and the vehement opposition to immigration. The belief in Nativism was based on the origin, race, ethnic background or religion of a person.

Old Immigrants vs New Immigrants: Between 1901 - 1920 over 14 million immigrants had arrived in America and the debate raged over Old Immigrants vs New Immigrants. The majority of new arrivals to America were classified as 'New Immigrants' from countries such as Italy, Greece, Russia and Poland.

The movement was 'Legitimized' by the 1911 Dillingham Commission Report - The belief in Nativism and the emergence of the Eugenics Movement was given credibility by the official Dillingham Commission Report that had concluded that the 'New Immigrants' were "inferior, uneducated and posed a serious threat to American society".

The ideals of the movement added to the widespread attitude that rejected immigrants,  xenophobia, the anti-immigration hysteria of the Red Scare and would result in new, stringent US laws being passed to restrict immigration.

In 1903 Willet M. Hays founded the American Breeders' Association (ABA), later known as the American Genetic Association (AGA). The ABA focused on the presumed hereditary differences between human races an popularized the ideas of selective breeding of superior stock and the biological threat of "inferior types".

The first Eugenics Movement included many of the most famous scientists, biologists and geneticists in the country who were based at prominent educational institutions such as Stanford University, Harvard University and the University of Chicago.

One of the most prominent eugenicists in America was Charles Benedict Davenport (1866 – 1944), a Harvard Ph.D, who went on to found the International Federation of Eugenics Organizations (IFEO) in 1925

A wide variety of other prominent people supported the movement including Alexander Graham Bell, Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, H. G. Wells, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes and John Harvey Kellogg. These famous people gave huge credibility to the movement.

Critics of the movement included Lester Frank Ward, G. K. Chesterton, Franz Boas and Halliday Sutherland

In 1906 John Harvey Kellogg provided financial support for the movement and created the Race Betterment Foundation  located at Battle, Creek Michigan

In 1907, Indiana passed the first eugenics-based compulsory sterilization law in the world. Over thirty more U.S. states would soon follow their lead.

In 1910, the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), headed by Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin, Mrs. E. H. Harriman, the widow of railroad magnate E.H Harriman, provided financial support for a nationwide publicity campaign that propagandized eugenics.

The second International Eugenics Congress was held in 1921 at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. The 2nd Eugenics Congress was presided over by Henry Fairfield Osborn with Alexander Graham Bell as its honorary president.

In 1926 the American Eugenics Society (AES), financed by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, was established in America by Madison Grant, Harry H. Laughlin, Henry Crampton, Irving Fisher, and Henry F. Osborn to promote eugenic education programs for the US public with exhibits at State Fairs. Financial contributions were made by George Eastman and John D. Rockefeller Jr.

In the 1920's the National Education Association's Committee on Racial Well-Being sponsored programs to help college teachers integrate eugenic content in their courses. Universities such as Harvard, Brown, Columbia and Cornell were amongst the first to list courses.

By 1928, eugenic courses were listed in 376 separate college courses, attended by approximately 20,000 students.

After WW2 and the Holocaust, the American eugenics movement was widely condemned. Nazism made the subject synonymous with racism and genocide. But sterilization programs continued in many states until the early970s. Between 1927 and the 1970s, there were more than 60,000 compulsory sterilizations performed in 33 states in the United States

US American History
1913-1928: WW1 & Prohibition

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