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The Roaring 20s and the Roots of American Fascism
Part 6: American Eugenics

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There was a more sinister aspect that arosed alongside racism in the early part of the 20th Century, that of eugenics. Eugenics as it was applied in the 1920s can be defined as the creation of the prefect Aryan race and the elimination of all inferior individuals and races. Sometimes preceding racism, and at others lagging, eugenics generally paralleled the development of racism in the 1920s. Both are so intertwined in America that they are impossible to separate. The tentacles of eugenics were spread far and wide in the 1920s and 1930s. IQ tests were developed as an offshoot of the eugenics movement, as was Planned Parenthood. Moreover, eugenic laws passed in the United States served as model laws for the Nazi Nuremberg Laws. Most Americans have little understanding or an incorrect understanding of the eugenics movement. Indeed its association with the Nazis and the Holocaust has distorted the true nature of the movement as surviving groups sought to distance themselves from a movement associated with the Nazis. Almost all Americans incorrectly assume that the movement died beside the Third Reich. Such an assumption is not only wrong ,but also dangerous, as the eugenics movement is still alive and well today.

Author Edwin Black has traced the origins of eugenics back to biblical times and the Judeo-Christian concept of charity. After the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, the Canones Arabicia Nicaeni mandated the expansion of hospitals and other institutions for the needy in 325 A.D. Such institutions were needed in England and the church supplied them. During the early 1500s, agriculture underwent a change in England from small estate farming to large expansive estate farming, idling thousands of small estate farmers and contributing their numbers to the masses of needy. In 1530, King Henry VIII seized church property for the church’s refusal to allow his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Charity had now become a state responsibility. Although tending to the needs of the poor was expensive, the alternative of riots and revolutions was less appealing to the nobility.

By the end of the century, a distinct pauper class had emerged in England. Compulsory poor law taxes were assessed to each community to pay for housing the poor. The pauper class was viewed largely as arrogant and ripe for riots or revolution. The problems of the pauper class were only compounded by the advancing Industrial Revolution. Along with the Industry Revolution, the poor became concentrated in urban slums. Sweatshops sprung up to exploit the cheap area. For three hundred years after King Henry, numerous reforms were made in England’s poor laws. The ruling class became ever more resentful of being taxed to support the poor. By the 1800s, the ruling elite looked down on the poor as subhuman.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus, an English economist, published a watershed theory on the nature of poverty and the social economic system at play. Malthus concluded that while the population was growing at a geometric rate, the food supply was only increasing at a linear rate. As a result of his theory, he called for population control. Malthus continued that charity promoted generation to generation poverty. Many of those that supported Malthus ignored his complaints of an unjust social economic system and instead embraced the rejection of the value in helping the poor.

The same claim has been the mainstay of the Republican Party ever since the 1980s. Throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s there was no shortage of food, coal, or any of the necessities for a normal living standard for everybody. There wasn’t even a money shortage. In short, the depression was the result of an inequitable distribution of wealth with no means of delivering the food to the hungry other than through private charity soup kitchens that were overwhelmed.

In the 1850s, Herbert Spencer published Social Statics. Spencer argued that man and society followed the laws of science and not the laws of a caring God. He popularized the familiar term: "survival of the fittest." He argued that the fittest would continue to prosper while the poor would become more impoverished until they died out naturally. Spencer denounced charity and aid to the poor. In 1859, Charles Darwin published Origin of Species. In 1863, Spencer published Principles of Biology in which he argued that heredity is under the control of physiological units. In 1886, Gregor Mendel published his classic experiments with peas from which he constructed a predictable heredity system.

The basis for eugenics was now firmly established. In 1869, Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, published Hereditary Genius. Galton had never finished his medical studies at London’s King College, but instead had studied mathematics at Cambridge where he became a devotee of the emerging field of statistics. Gallton distinguished himself by recognizing patterns. In his publication Galton had studied the genealogies of eminent scholars, artists and military men. He found that many of them were descendents of the same family and concluded the frequency was too impressive to ignore. Galton then concluded that not only physical characteristics were hereditary, but mental, emotional and creative qualities were also hereditary. Further, Galton reasoned that talent and quality could be sharpened by judicious marriages in a few generations into a race of highly gifted individuals. Galton suggested that by selective breeding of the very best, mankind could evolve into a superlative species. Gallatin hoped to develop a regulated marriage process where members of the finest families were only married to carefully chosen spouses.

Galton had developed a protoscience in search of vindicating data. Galton’s ideas of marriage became known as positive eugenics. However, by the time the 20th Century arrived, a new form of eugenics had developed. Called negative eugenics, it called for the sterilization of the unfit. The spotlight of eugenics was soon to shift from England to the United States, where it immediately took on a racist characteristic.

Breeding humans had been part of America from before colonial days, in the slave trade. Only the strongest could survive the journey from Africa. On their arrival the slaves would be paraded about on the auction block so they could be physically examined. Following the Civil War, America was primed for eugenics. In 1865, in upstate New York the utopian Onedia Community declared in a headline that human breeding should be the foremost question in that age. As news of Galton’s work reached American shores a few years later, the Oneida community began its first human breeding experiment with fifty-three female and thirty-eight male volunteers.


As the number of emigrants from eastern and southern Europe increased, as the new century approached, eugenics became more popular as a means to purify American society. However, one would be amiss to blame the rise of eugenics in America solely on the massive immigration during the last half of the 19th Century. Contributing to its rise was a good deal of racism and group hatred. American Indians were being isolated on reservations. Such isolation of groups deemed as unfit became a cornerstone of negative eugenics. In the southwest, a great deal of race hatred stemmed from the Mexican-American war and the absorption of thousands of Mexicans in the territory ceded to the Untied States. On the west coast, the race hatred took the form of the Chinese Exclusion Act barring immigration from China and blocking naturalization of those already here. In the south, race hatred reached a feverish peak, and a network of Jim Crow laws were past to keep society pure.

In 1891, Victoria Woodhull, a leading feminist of the day, published a pamphlet, The Rapid Multiplication of the Unfit. The pamphlet called for both positive and negative eugenics. In 1896, former census director Francis Walker published the article, "Restriction of Immigration" in Atlantic Monthly, calling for restricted immigration before the nation committed racial suicide in response to the rising tide of immigration of non Anglo-Saxons. Roughly eighteen million immigrants arrived between 1890 and 1920.

By the turn of the century, women were still barred from voting. Racial hatred was the norm. Native Americans had been segregated on reservations Blacks and Asians were considered second class citizens and undesirables. Vigilantes often dispensed what passed for justice at the end of a hangman’s rope. From 1889 until 1918, 3,224 people were lynched. More often than not, the victim was black although 702 of the victims were white. Moreover, the hangings were carried out for trivial reasons such as staring at a white girl, offensive language, or other such minor infractions.92

Eugenics would soon become a cure all for society’s problems. Criminal analysis would move racial hatred and criminal behavior into the realm of heredity and eugenic cleaning. Disease and physical afflictions, such as tuberculosis and epilepsy, were also considered hereditary disorders.

One of the first benefactors of eugenics in the United States was the Carnegie Institute. Following an infusion of bonds and other assets totaling $14 million from the founder in 1901, the Institute was rechartered by a special act of congress in 1904. Under the charter, the institute was established to be one of the premier scientific organizations of the world. Twenty-four eminent individuals from science, government and finance were selected as trustees including Elihu Root, Cleveland Dodge, and John Billings. John Merriam was appointed president of the institute. The institute soon added a new science to their principal areas of investigations, negative eugenics.


Charles Davenport would soon emerge as the driving force behind the American eugenics movement. Davenport was a sad character with a Harvard degree in zoology. He came from a long line of Congregational ministers. His father was a real estate man and had founded two churches and was a deacon in one and an elder in the other. He raised his family harshly, forcing family members into long hours of Bible study.

Davenport approached the Carnegie Institute in 1902 to fund a study of evolution at the biological experiment station at Cold Spring Harbor where he worked. In 1903, Davenport approached the American Breeders Association (ABA), a group created by the Association of Agricultural Colleges and Experimental Stations. He was elected to the five-person permanent oversight committee. Davenport was also successive in pushing the ABA into adopting the views of negative eugenics. In 1904, the Carnegie Institute formally inaugurated the evolution center at Cold Spring Harbor with Davenport as director.

Davenport’s work impressed the wealthy elite of New England and soon attracted more funding from the Carnegie Institute and additional funding from Mary Harriman, the widowed heir to the railroad fortune of E.H. Harriman. Others that jumped aboard the movement included Henry Ford, John Kellogg, Clarence Gamble, J.P. Morgan, and E.B Scripps.

Davenport soon enlisted the help of Harry Laughlin, a schoolteacher from Missouri. Laughlin, like Davenport was a minister’s son. Davenport structured the Eugenics Records Office to further enable Laughlin’s career. Laughlin was soon at work at the eugenic records office at Cold Spring Harbor. He first set about to identify the most defective and undesirable Americans, which he estimated to be about ten percent of the population. He toured Sing Sing and obtained the records of the inmates to prove for all times criminal behavior was hereditary. After obtaining the records from Sing Sing, Loughlin proceeded to tour New York’s State Asylum to obtain the records of those committed. He also toured the Connecticut school for the feeble minded for the records of their charges. Laughlin then set about training field workers to generate additional eugenics records. Besides targeting criminals and the feeble-minded, Laughlin targeted epileptics as well.

In early May 1911, the ABA created a special committee to study the best practical means of cutting off the defective germ-plasma of the American population. The stage was now set for removing the undesirables. Laughlin was appointed secretary of the committee. The advisory panel included Dr. Alexis Carrel of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, the chief of the Bureau of Statistics, O. P. Austin, and immigration expert Robert DeCouncy Ward among other prominent advisors.

In mid July 1911, the special committee met in Manhattan and systematically plotted a campaign to purge the blood of American people of the deteriorating influence of these undesirable anti-social classes. Ten classes of the socially unfit were identified. The classes were as follows in the rank given by the committee: feeble minded, pauper, alcoholics, criminals including petty criminals, epileptics, the insane, the constitutionally weak, those predisposed to certain diseases, the deformed, and finally the blind and deaf. Not only did the ABA target the individuals afflicted, but also targeted their extended families as well. The group agreed that sterilization of the extended families was desirable.

The eugenic committee had endorsed a very ambitious plan. The plan prioritized the sterilization of those receiving custodial care, including those in poor houses, insane asylums, prisons, and any others under state care. This group contained approximately one million people. The plan called for the further sterilization of borderline cases of some seven million people deemed by the ABA to be totally unfit to become useful parents or citizens. The estimated eleven million people targeted for the first wave was more than ten percent of the population. After the first wave was completed, the plan called for the sterilization of the extended families of those deemed unfit.

Moreover, the committee sought to bypass the court system in ordering the sterilization. They attempted to define the sterilization as a police function. In their view, once a eugenic board had ordered the sterilization of an individual, the police would simply enforce the decision. Additionally, Laughlin and his committee suggested polygamy and systematic mating to increase the bloodline of the desirables and draconian laws preventing births from any deemed unfit. They called for restrictive marriage laws, forced segregation of undesirables, and compulsory birth control. Nor did they confine their views to just the United States; they envisioned a global movement.

It was only a short step from theory to implementing the plan. The sterilization of undesirables first occurred outside the law and paralleled the development of eugenics. The first cases of sterilization occurred in Kansas, where F. Hoyt Pitcher surgically asexualized fifty-eight children confined in the Kansas Home for the Feebleminded during the 1890s. Kansas’s citizens denounced the doctor, and he was reluctantly removed by the board of trustees. The board staunchly defended Pitcher and defended his work. The doctor did not face any charges.

About the same time, Dr. Harry Clay Sharp was castrating inmates at the Indiana Reformatory to cure convicts of masturbation. Again, the procedure was conducted outside of the law. In 1899 Sharp read an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The article, written by Dr Albert Ochsner advocated the sterilization of all convicts with vasectomies. After reading the article, Sharp performed the procedure on scores of inmates without anesthetics.93

By 1906, Sharp claimed to have performed 206 vasectomies, even though the procedure was still not legal. While Sharp was very influential in the passage of Indiana’s sterilization law, he was by no means alone. Reverend Oscar McCulloch, the pastor of the Indianapolis’s Plymouth Congregational Church, was a leading reformer and advocate of public charity while harboring a deep hate for the poor. Indiana law specified a compulsory servitude for its paupers. They could be farmed out to the highest bidder. MuCulloch performed his own genealogical survey of Indiana’s wandering tribe of paupers called the Tribe of Ishmael. MuCulloch’s survey of the Tribe of Ishmael quickly became a centerpiece of eugenics studies. MuCulloch preached to his congregation that the paupers were parasites and preordained to be nothing more.

The reader maybe wondering about a connection between religion and eugenics as three of the most influential people in the early development of eugenics came from deep religious backgrounds: Laughlin, Davenport, and MuCulloch. While there were a large number of evangelical ministers that served as officers in the eugenic movement, and more were members, the connection seems more informal than formal and dependent solely upon the individual minister involved. At the same time, few ministers spoke out against eugenics and those that did so waited until the 1930s, after eugenics had been discredited and associated with the Nazis. The connection between eugenics, the Klan, and religion is an area open to further research.

David Jordan, president of the University of Indiana, lectured his students that paupers were indeed parasites. In 1902, in his book Blood of a Nation he first proposed the concept of blood as the immutable basis for race. Jordan left Indiana to accept a position as the first president of Stanford University.94

In addition to Jordan and MuCulloch, Indiana’s State Board of Health was headed by Dr. J. N. Hurty, a staunch believer in eugenics. Hurty would later rise to become head of the American Public Health Association. In 1907, at the repeated urging of Sharp and Hurty, Indiana became the first state to pass eugenic laws calling for the sterilization of undesirables. Indiana, however, was not the first state to have had eugenic sterilization laws introduced in the legislator. Sterilization laws were first introduced in the Michigan legislator in 1905, and again in Pennsylvania in 1906. Both measures failed, however, the Indiana law was modeled on the Pennsylvania bill. The bill passed the Indiana House by a margin of 59 to 22 and the Senate by 28 to 16 votes. The vote was proceeded by little debate in both chambers.

In 1909, Oregon’s Governor George Chamberlain vetoed a sterilization bill noting that’s it didn’t require enough safeguards. Moreover, eugenic sterilization laws failed in several other states in 1909, including another attempt in Michigan and a first attempt in Wisconsin. However, sterilization laws did pass in three states in1909. Washington State passed a bill mandating sterilization of habitual criminals and rapists. Connecticut passed a law allowing the medical staff to examine patients of two asylums for the feebleminded and their family trees to determine if the patients should be sterilized. California enacted a bill that allowed castration or sterilization of convicts and residents of the state home for the feebleminded.

In the next two years, additional states passed eugenic sterilization laws. Iowa passed perhaps the most inclusive law, allowing the sterilization of criminals, idiots, feebleminded, imbeciles, drunkards, drug fiends, epileptics, and moral or sexual perverts. Nevada, New Jersey and New York were among the states to pass sterilization laws.

Nonetheless, the American Breeders Association and the Eugenic Record office remained frustrated with the progress of eliminating undesirables from the gene pool. Although several states now had laws allowing for forced sterilization, few people were ever sterilized. Only in California, where more than two hundred were sterilized, had the law been applied to more than a couple individuals. Moreover, public sentiment for the enforcement of the sterilization laws was lacking across the nation.

Following the death of Galton in 1911, the First Eugenic Conference was organized to be held in London. Winston Churchill was scheduled to introduce the king at the conference and was reportedly concerned about the rising number of people judged to be mental defects. The organizers wanted the Secretary of State, P.C. Knox to send an official delegation. However, the state department could not comply because the conference was a non-governmental meeting. However, Knox did send official invitations to prominent American leaders on official letterhead. Knox, who had been a former lawyer for Carnegie Steel, effectively used the state department as the eugenics post office. American racial theories dominated the conference held at the University of London.

The next big stride forward for the American eugenic movement came with the US entry into WWI. Officials struggled with the task of classifying the three million draftees. Robert Yerkes, president of the American Psychological Association, gathered other eugenic activists around him and pleaded for intelligence testing of the new draftees. They developed two tests for the army, the beta test for those that could read and write English, and a pictorial alpha test for those that could not read. The questions centered largely on pop culture. Hence, urbanites could pass the exam easily, while draftees coming from rural population, and isolated from theaters and large cities with the newest consumer items, failed the test miserably. Even the questions in the pictorial tests were drawn from the latest pop culture. In the pictorial test, the subject was to draw in what was missing. One such question featured a picture of a bowling lane and the subject was expected to pencil in the missing bowling ball. America was still largely rural with many areas almost isolated as the only means of transportation at the time depended upon the railroads and horses. With such questions, one can easily see why a large number of rural recruits failed the exam. Predictably, the results were dismal: 47 percent of all whites failed and 89 percent of all Blacks failed. However, Yerkes claimed that feeblemindedness was the lowest in the following Anglo groups: 0.1 percent in the Dutch, 0.2 percent in Germans and less than 0.05 percent in Swedes.95


The war years proved fruitful for eugenics. During those years, eugenic groups proliferated in America. The Race Betterment Foundation, founded by Dr. John Kellogg, was organized in 1914. Kellogg was a member of the state board of health. The newly founded group attracted some of the most radical elements in the eugenic movement.

The next big advance for eugenics came on May 2, 1927, in a Supreme Court ruling of Buck v Bell. The case revolved around Carrie Buck and the sterilization law of Virginia.

Previously, Carrie’s mother, Emma had been confined to the home for the feebleminded shortly after WWI. After the war, Virginia had a well establish program of sweeping social outcasts into homes for the feebleminded. Carrie’s mother was a widow. She also was destitute and had been convicted of prostitution, making her an ideal candidate for the home of the feebleminded. She would remain in the home for the rest of her life.

Carrie had been her only child while she was married and was placed in another family. Her school records showed she was a good student. The Dobbses family, with whom she was living, withdrew her from school when she reached sixth grade. In 1923, Carrie became pregnant. She claimed it was rape, but the Dobbses would not listen to her explanations and filed commitment papers, declaring Carrie to be feebleminded.

In 1924, Virginia passed a sterilization law for the feebleminded. The case attracted the attention of Laughlin and other prominent individuals from the eugenic movement. To further their efforts and strengthen their court case, they had Carrie’s child declared feebleminded at the age of three. Eventually, the case reached the Supreme Court with the Chief Justice being William Howard Taft. Only one justice ruled against sterilizing Carrie, Justice Pierce Butler. The opinion written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. concluded with words that still echo throughout time; "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."96

With the sterilization of Carrie Buck and the Supreme Court ruling upholding the decision, the eugenics movement had surpassed a milestone. From the passage of Indiana’s sterilization law until the Buck ruling, many states that had passed sterilization laws refrained from using it. Of the twenty-three states that had passed sterilization laws, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, South Dakota and Utah had recorded no sterilizations. Idaho and Washington State had recorded just one each. Delaware recorded five cases. Kansas had recorded 335, Nebraska 262, Oregon 313 and Wisconsin 144. California, however, recorded 4636 cases.

Many states had simply been waiting for the ruling in the Buck case before proceeding with sterilizations. From 1907 until 1940, the totals increased at a horrific rate. In North Carolina 1017 cases of forced sterilization were recorded. Michigan recorded 2145, Virginia recorded 3924, and California recorded 14568. In total, no less than 35878 people were sterilized, most of them after the 1927 court ruling.97

Throughout the 1920s the eugenics movement attracted people from diverse causes. The leading proponent of birth control, Marget Sanger, was committed to social darwinism and eugenics. Through her efforts, she turned her noble movement into a tool for the eugenic movement. Through her radical oratory and her publication, Birth Control Review, she help to legitimize the appeal of eugenics.

Another leading figure of the time, Lucien Howe, a pioneering ophthalmologist, was also attracted to the eugenic movement. Howe was one of the leading experts in blindness and was well aware that hereditary blindness was rare and not a leading cause of blindness. However, Howe advocated the sterilization of the blind and the banning of marriage of anyone blind. Moreover, Howe also lead the charge that the sterilizations should not be confined to just the blind person, but extended to their relatives.

With the gathering strength of the eugenic movement, Harry Laughlin sought to integrate the movement inside various government agencies. One long-standing target for Laughlin was the Census Bureau. The Bureau, however, would not cooperate with the eugenic movement. In the 1920s the bureau turned a blind eye towards Laughlin’s suggestion that each person should be classified by race, such as German Jew or Dutch Jew. However, the Census Bureau did allow Laughlin to conduct a survey of those in state custodial and charitable facilities, as well as jails.

Unable to gain further inroads into the Census Bureau, Laughlin turned to other government agencies. He found ready acceptance in Virginia, largely due to Walter Plecker, the registrar of vital statistics. Plecker was an extreme racist. Plecker would soon use his hatred of race mixing, or mongrelization, of the white race by lesser races into one of the nation’s most restrictive marriage laws. With the help of Anglo-Saxon clubs, the 1924 Virginia legislator passed the Racial Integrity Act, declaring anyone having blood that was more than one-sixteenth non-white as a non white. Originally, the act called for one sixty-fourth, but was amended in the legislator because too many of the leading families of Virginia boasted of having Indian blood. The penalty for falsely registering one’s race was a year in jail.

Plecker was particularly incensed by the reduction of Indian blood. His fury was further inflamed when Congress granted citizenship to all Indians not already naturalized less than two weeks from the passage of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Plecker believed that the problem stemmed from Indians mixing with both whites and blacks and that under the act, they could then claim exemption based on their Indian blood. Most of Virginia’s Indian population were poor and lived in rural areas, making them an easy target for reclassification as Negroid, despite vigorous protest. In one case, Plecker ruled that if a comb passed through the hair of an individual, that person would be classified as Indian if not as Negroid. The comb test was perhaps as good as any other method Plecker used in reclassifying Virginia’s native Americans. He used his racist tactics to expunge the Indian as a racial classification in Virginia.

While for the most part the eugenic movement was unable to penetrate the federal government and affect policy decision, the most notable exception was the immigration law. Since 1890, the American eugenicists considered the immigrants arriving from Europe to be genetically inferior. Their fears were enhanced by the mass number of the people fleeing Europe. More than eight million immigrants arrived between 1900 and 1909. The newly arrived came mostly from southern and eastern Europe. A large number of them were Catholic and Jewish. The influx of immigrants contributed to the urbanization of the country. The 1920 census revealed for the first time that more people lived in urban rather than rural areas. The resulting reapportionment of the legislator would be hard fought. The House increased the number of representatives to 415 to preserve as much as possible the old districts and power structure. The Red Scare and the rise of the Klan added further fuel to the fury.

A key figure in the success of the eugenicists in changing immigration policy was Albert Johnson. Johnson had been raised at the northern edge of the Mason Dixon line in Illinois during the turbulent Reconstruction period. He later became a big city newspaperman before moving to the small town of Hoquiam, Washington. It was from here that Johnson ran for congress and was elected to the House in 1912. Johnson was a fanatic racist and eugenicist. In 1919, he began a twelve-year tenure as chairman of the Immigration and Naturalization subcommittee in the House.

While there had been restrictions in immigration prior to Johnson’s chairmanship, the restrictions were reactionary in nature and not eugenically motivated. Johnson viewed any immigration as a negative factor. One of his first actions was to appoint Laughlin as his eugenic expert before his committee. Laughlin and other eugenicists had long urged the classification of immigrants along strict biological and racial lines, as well as advocating intelligence testing of immigrants before they left Europe. Their goal was to restrict immigration based on quotas before the mass arrivals started in 1890.

Laughlin’s inflammatory rhetoric helped along by funding from the Carnegie Institute, began producing results in congress. Due to the political explosiveness of the issue, congress wavered back and forth. In 1923, Labor Secretary James Davis signaled a willingness to cooperate in setting up an overseas eugenic network. Laughlin then toured Europe as a special immigration agent. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Immigration Act of 1924. The act called for vast changes in immigration. For instance, the Italian quota had been cut from 42,000 per year to just 4,000. The act limited immigration to just two percent of the reported national origin of the 1890s census. Thus the eugenicists were successful in rolling back immigration to the 1890. However, the act produced a firestorm in congress, as many argued the validity of the data used to set the quotas. Thus the act required that the Census Bureau report to a quota board their methodology in establishing the base figures. The quota board was made up of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and Secretary of Labor, James Davis. In 1927, the quota board submitted a letter to President Coolidge, cautioning that the figures were not entirely satisfactory.

Laughlin was only partially successful in setting up his European testing centers. The system was installed in Belgium, England, Ireland, Holland, Poland, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. The system, on average, eugenically inspected roughly eighty percent of would-be immigrants from those countries and rejected about 88 applicants out of every 1000 as mentally or physically defective. However, Laughlin’s inspections were short lived due to a shortage of funding and governmental objections from Europe.

Nevertheless, Laughlin’s major achievement in establishing eugenics as part of immigration was the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act and the establishment of quotas. Both stood as national policy until 1952.98

The American Breeders and the Eugenic Society were not content with just sterilization and segregation methods as a means to eliminate the defective. By 1910, they were also proposing euthanasia using a lethal chamber. The so-called lethal chamber was the forerunner of the modern gas chamber and was believed to be humane. Euthanasia was listed as the eighth of nine methods of eliminating the defectives from society. While many prominent, professional people in both medicine and psychology came to advocate euthanasia, one noted exception was Margaret Sanger. Others within her birth control movement however, were advocates.

On November 12, 1915, euthanasia and eugenics became front-page news across the country. Dr. Harry Haiselden had refused to provide treatment for a newborn baby suffering from extreme intestinal and rectal abnormalities. There was a question if the baby could be saved. Nonetheless, the Dr. withheld treatment. Emboldened by some favorable press coverage, the Dr. admitted to previously to euthanizing others. Haiselden later brought to light the case of the Illinois Institution for the Feebleminded in Lincoln. Patients were fed milk from Lincoln’s own herd of cows that were known to be harboring tuberculosis. Eugenicists believed death from tuberculosis was the result of defective genes.


However, the real story behind the gates of this home for the feebleminded was euthanasia by neglect and was repeated across the nation in hundreds of other such homes. The real story lies hidden in the records of Lincoln’s staggering death rates. Between 1904 and 1909 the death rate of residents was as high as 12 percent. Often after being admitted as many as 30 percent of the epileptic children died within eighteen months. A large number of the residents of Lincoln died before reaching the age of ten. In 1930, the life expectancy of those judged to be feebleminded was just 18.5 years; today the rate for those that are mentally retarded is 66.2 years.100

This method of euthanasia through benign neglect was all too common throughout America during the 1920s and 1930s. In fact, it is still commonplace in America today

where adequate health care has now became a luxury only affordable by the wealthy. An excellent example exists in the case of Legionnaires disease. The discovery of the disease occurred in 1976, when an outbreak of the disease occurred among the attendees of an American Legion celebration of the bicentennial. The outbreak caused numerous deaths and a near panic. It took researchers over six months to determine the bacteria responsible for the outbreak. Nevertheless, further investigation of blood samples saved from other deaths by the researchers showed that a previous outbreak of the disease had occurred in 1965 at St Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital in Washington when fourteen patients died.

The St Elizabeth’s case and the Legionnaires convention in Philadelphia reveal what is all too commonplace throughout America, both in the past and present. The poor and weak are widely regarded as expendable. The Legionnaires were upright citizens and voters, while the residents of St Elizabeth were viewed as expendable. Thus, the deaths of the Legionnaires demanded an investigation, while the deaths at St Elizabeth were checked off as routine.99

While the deaths at St Elizabeth were not the result of a conscious decision to eliminate the inferior, the benign neglect present in today’s society that is prevalent among the right-wing in America towards the poor and weak. It serves the same purpose as the eugenic euthanasia ideas of bygone days. Further, it provides society with a guiltless solution and the excuse of not being aware of what was going on, just like the German citizens living next to a concentration camp.

As mentioned earlier, the American eugenic movement began to attract global attention at the First Eugenic Conference in London. In fact, the conference was dominated by the American views of race and eugenics. Plans for further conferences had been made there. The second conference was held in Paris. Again, plans were made for another conference, but World War I interfered and the conference was postponed.

Following the war, Germany would not cooperate with the International Federation of Eugenic Organization because of bitter animosity remaining between Germany and England, France, and Belgium. However, German eugenicists' bonds with Davenport remained firm, due largely to the generous funding of German eugenic research by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Institute. Both organizations lavished ample funds on the German eugenicists while Americans stood in bread lines. American laws soon became inspiration for the German racists. One of the German racist hate mongers that took note of the American laws was Adolf Hitler. While confined in prison for the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler studiously read eugenic textbooks that quoted Davenport and other American eugenicists. Hitler’s publisher was Germany’s most prominent eugenic publisher. The president of the American Eugenic Society received a letter from Hitler praising the publishing of The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant. The book called for eliminating the unfit. In the letter, Hitler described the book as his Bible.101

While it would be unwise to attribute Hitler’s extreme racist view towards Jews to the American eugenic movement, nonetheless by cloaking his racism under the disguise of science, Hitler was able to attract additional followers that would have otherwise remained neutral. The intellectual view of eugenics that Hitler adopted was strictly from the American eugenic movement. One of the books that Hitler studied was Foundation of Human Heredity and Race Hygiene, written by three American eugenicists. In Germany, the book was published by Julius Lehmann. Lehmann was at Hitler’s side during the Beer Hall Putsch. It was also Lehmann’s villa where Bavarian officials were held hostage in the immediate aftermath of the failed coup.

The influence of the American eugenic movement on Hitler can be seen in several quotes from Mein Kampf.

"The demand that defective people be prevented from propagating equally defective offspring is a demand of the clearest reason and if systematically executed, represents the most humane act of mankind."

"It must see to it that only the healthy beget children…."

"The prevention of procreative faculty in suffers from syphilis, tuberculosis, hereditary diseases, cripples, and cretins is a crime…A prevention of the faculty and opportunity to procreate on the part of the physically degenerate and mentally sick, over a period of only six hundred years, would not only free humanity from an immeasurable misfortune, but would lead to a recovery which today seems scarcely conceivable... The result will be a race which at least will have eliminated the germs of our present physical and hence spiritual decay."

"Speaking English wearing good clothes and going to school and to church do not transform a Negro into a white man. Nor was a Syrian or Egyptian freedman transformed into a Roman by wearing a toga and applauding his favorite gladiator in the amphitheater."

"since it restores that free play of forces which must lead to a continuous mutual higher breeding until at last the best of humanity, having achieved possession of this earth, will have a free path for activity in domains which lie partly above it and partly outside of it."

"that the state represents no end, but a means. It is, to be sure, the premise for the formation of a higher human culture, but not its cause, which lies exclusively in the existence of a race capable of culture."

"Every racial crossing leads inevitably sooner or later to the decline of the hybrid product as long as the higher element of this crossing is still existent in any kind of racial unity."102+

The first quote from Mein Kampf is an eerie echo of Justice Holmes majority opinion in the Buck.

"It is better for all the world if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough."103

There is no difference in substance in the two quotes. Hitler merely adopted the policies of the American eugenicists. In fact, Hitler was acutely aware of the progress of eugenics in the Untied States, as evident in Mein Kampf where he notes the passage of eugenic quotas for immigration. Hitler attributed the superior culture of the United States compared to South America to a large Germanic population who, unlike the Spanish in South America failed to interbreed with the lesser, native population. Throughout the pages of Mein Kampf one can note the similarity of Hitler’s rantings to the policies of the American eugenicists. Perhaps the best means of summarizing Hitler’s views comes from Mein Kampf when he states "The Germanic inhabitant of the American continent, who has remained racially pure and unmixed, rose to be master of the continent; he will remain the master as long as he does not fall victim to defilement of the blood."104

During the first two decades of the 20th Century, American eugenicists led the way. However, with the rise of Hitler in Europe, German eugenicists became a co-partner in eugenic research. Nevertheless, it was American money that kept eugenic research and German science alive during the hyperinflation of the early 1920s. One noted beneficiary of Rockefeller Foundation money was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for eugenic research. In all, three separate institutes of Kaiser Wilhelm fell under the eugenic classification: psychiatry, anthropology, and brain research. All of which owed their founding and good fortune to the Rockefeller Foundation.

Throughout the 1920s, German eugenicists continued to gain stature in the global eugenic movement. On January 30, 1933, Germany assumed the leading role in the eugenic movement with the rise to power of Hitler. It did not take Hitler long to implement his eugenic views. On July 14, 1933, Hitler issued the Reich Statute Part 1 No.86, the Law for the Prevention of Defective Progeny. The law called for compulsory sterilization of defectives. The nine categories listed were headed by feebleminded, schizophrenia, manic-depressive, Huntington’s cholera, epilepsy, hereditary body deformities, deafness and hereditary blindness. Alcoholism, the last category on the list, was optional to avoid the confusion with ordinary drunkenness.

The Nazis announced that 400,000 Germans would be subjected to the law immediately. The program was to begin on January 1, 1934. A massive sterilization infrastructure was created to put the new law into effect. Over 205 local eugenic courts were created. In addition, twenty-six special eugenic appellate courts were also created. Physicians were required by law to report suspected patients and to provide their confidential patient records.105

The law was essentially the same law Davenport and Laughlin proposed for the United States and passed in the majority of states. While the rest of the world reacted in shock and horror of the inhumane regime of the Nazis, American eugenicists covered the eugenic developments in Germany with fascination and joy. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported on the Nazi law as if it were a routine health measure like vaccines. Money from the Rockefeller Foundation continued to finance additional Nazi eugenic studies. In fact, the foundation would continue to fund Nazi eugenic research up until the outbreak of war in Europe.

In 1933, after an aggressive campaign to secure a contract with Nazi Germany IBM designed the first Nazi census. It was the technology from IBM that aided the Nazis in carrying out the Holocaust. Without the use of IBM machines, the Nazis would have been forced to painstakingly analyze the genetic records of Europeans by hand, one at a time. It would have taken an army of workers years to sort through all the records by hand, but with the IBM’s Hollerith machines the same task could be completed in minutes and hours.


In 1935, after the passage of the Nueremberg Laws, the Nazis awarded Laughlin a special recognition for his contribution to the Reich’s policy. Laughlin received an honorary degree from the University of Heidleberg.

It wasn’t until 1936 that the eugenic movement would experience a decline due to the Nazi threat in Europe. By then Germany was considered a threat to the peace in Europe. Refugees from Germany were flooding the world.

Central to eugenic studies was research on twins. British and Americans long recognized the need for eugenic research studies on twins. Several small studies on twins were conducted in both England and the United States. However, with the rise of the Nazis, the lead in twin research would pass to Germany, just as the forefront of eugenic research did. Nevertheless, the seed money for German research on twins came from the Rockefeller Foundation, as the following telegram of May 13, 1932, from the Rockefeller Foundation’s headquarters to its Paris office reveals.


The chief beneficiary of the Rockefeller seed money was Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer. Verschuer was a violent anti-Semitic and German Nationalist. He had participated in the Kapp Putsch in 1920.In 1922, he outlined his nationalistic eugenic position in a student article entitled Genetics and Race Science as the basis for Vokische. By the time of the Beer Hall Putsch, Verschuer was lecturing that fighting the Jews was integral to Germany’s eugenic battle. In 1935, he left the Institute of Anthropology to found Frankfurt University’s new Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene. By 1937, Verschuer had gained the trust of the Nazis and by 1939, Verschuer was describing his role as pivotal to Nazi supremacy.

Nevertheless, even after the Nazis seized power, the American eugenicists and medical media still praised Verschuer’s work. His research was cited in such prestigious American medical journals as the Journal Of The American Medical Association. Moreover, Rockefeller money continued to flow to Verschuer. It wasn’t until 1936, after Raymond Fosdick assumed the presidency of the Rockefeller Foundation, that funding for German eugenic research slowed. However, the funds were readily available if the research omitted the word eugenics and repackaged the research as genetics, brain research, serology, etc. In June 1939, the Rockefeller Foundation tried to deny that it was funding Nazi science. Such denials were lies, as the Rockefeller trust was now sending money through the Emergency Fund for German Science. Such sleight of hand of course provided the foundation with a window of deniability.

Verschuer received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation in 19335, 1936 and 1937 for his research on twins. In fact, the funds to Verschuer continued right on through the war years, funding a number of concentration camp experiments. In 1943, he received funding from the German Research Society for experiments packaged under the label of serology. The experiments would require large volumes of blood. The blood would come from twins at Auschwitz.107

In one of the quirks of fate in history, most readers have probably never heard of Verschuer. Yet everyone would be aware of the horrendous and hideous experiments carried out on Auschwitz prisoners at his beckoning. The experiments were carried out by a former Ph.D. candidate of Verschuer who remained a collaborator with him throughout the war. That former student would provide the blood samples in the study mentioned above. His name was Dr. Joseph Mengele, the Angel of Death. Hence, the trail of Rockefeller money leads directly to the gates of Auschwitz and some of the most gruesome experiments ever carried out on humans.108

While Mengele escaped to South America to avoid war crimes charges and a sure date with the hangman, Verschuer was never charged with any war crimes. However, in 1946, the Die News Zeitung published an article listing all the doctors that had fled Germany. On May 3, the paper followed up the article with accusations made against Verschuer by Robert Havemann, a communist and chemist who had resisted the Nazis. He openly accused Verschuer of using Mengele to obtain eyeballs and blood from those murdered at Auschwitz. Verschuer dictated a sworn statement to the occupation appointed administrator of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute that he had always opposed racial concepts. He further swore that Mengele had been transferred to Auschwitz against his will. Mengele couldn’t wait to get involved in the war and enlisted.

Havemann organized a committee of scientists at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute to examine the evidence against Vershchuer. The committee concluded that Verschuer had engaged in despicable acts in concert with Mengele. The report was sealed for the next fifteen years. A second board found Verschuer innocent of committing any crimes or transgressions against inmates of Auschwitz. Verschuer’s record was expunged of any transgressions and he soon became a respectable scientist in Germany and the Untied States. In 1949, he became a member of the newly created American Society of Human Genetics, created by eugenicists. The first president of the new society was Hermann Muller of Texas, a former Rockefeller fellow who had worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in 1932. In 1960, under international pressure to continue the hunt for Nazis, an investigation opened to examine the connection between Verschuer and Mengele. The investigation concluded there was no connection between the two. Verschuer’s record like so many other Nazis had been completely whitewashed. In 1969, Verschuer was killed in a car accident; he never faced justice for his crimes.109

It wasn’t until 1940 that the Carnegie Institute stopped funding Laughlin and the Cold Harbor center. In 1947, a Carnegie administrator overseeing the dismantling of Cold Spring contacted the Dight Institute, a independent eugenic research organization at the

University of Minnesota. In 1948, the Dight Institute agreed to take the record concerning individual trait and family documents if Carnegie defrayed the shipping cost. Six months later the Minnesota Historical Society agreed to take a half-ton of books and family genealogical books. The New York Public Library took in an additional 1000 volumes of family genealogical books.

In December 1946, the United Nations passed Resolution 96 (I), which embedded genocide into international law. The resolution reads as follows. "Genocide is a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human beings, such denial of the right of existence shocks the conscience of mankind, results in great losses to humanity in the form of cultural and other contributions represented by these human groups and is contrary to moral law and the spirit and aims of the United Nations."

Shortly after the passage of Resolution 96 the Treaty Against Genocide was ratified. The treaty delineated five categories of genocide as listed below.

    1. Killing members of the group.
    2. Causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group.
    3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
    4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
    5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.110

Under the categories listed above aspects of the past and present policy of the United States and Canada towards the Native Americans is considered genocide under the international treaty. Also the policies of many international companies especially those engaged in oil exploration and mining are equally guilty of genocide in the remote areas of South America, Asia and Africa. However, the UN has failed to pursue a single case of genocide against any corporation.

Eugenics, like fascism, didn’t die with the end of WWII. Rather, during the war it began to morph into more socially acceptable forms. In fact, one of the largest sterilization campaigns in the United States didn’t take place until 1946-1947, in the Winston Salem school district in North Carolina. The sterilization program evolved out of the Wake Forest Medical School. In 1941, the American Eugenic Society helped establish a Department of Medical Genetics at Wake Forest from money received from the Carnegie Institute. The eugenics Research Association’s vice president, William Allan, chaired the new department. Following Allan’s death in 1943, Dr. C. Nash Herndon took over the department. Herndon was an advocate of forced sterilization. By 1943, Herndon claimed to have sterilized about thirty individuals, mostly blacks.

In 1946, Gordon Gray founded the Bowman Gray (Memorial) Medical School in Winston Salem. The school maintained extensive eugenic records of children with diseases believed to be inherited, which included low IQ children.

Herndon and Gray, with the help of Dr. Clarence Gamble, heir to the Proctor and Gamble soap fortune, began a program to administer an IQ test to all Winston Salem school children. Below some arbitrary cut off point in the test scores, the child was selected for sterilization. The program was extended to nearby Orange County with money from James Gordon Hanes, a trustee of Bowman Gray Medical School and underwear mogul. Hundreds of children in North Carolina were sterilized in the program. Wake Forest is still uncovering its past association with the eugenics movement