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The Eugenics Movement

Free «The Eugenics Movement» Essay Sample

During the first three decades of the 20th century, a new branch of scientific approach to a human being and the existence of humanity appeared. Thus, the social and economic problems that America faced were caused by the Civil War. The fast growth of industry and population of the cities together with the mass immigration from eastern Europe bring changes to national society. Scientists were trying to explain this situation due to the Darwinian approach of the survival of the most adapted species to the environment. The poor working class become organised and extremely fertile. Therefore, government delegated the problem solving to the trained experts in order to manage that class’ issues. They founded genetics as the production of new improved creatures. Finally, eugenics as a social engineering was originated later. They claimed that sterilization of the lowest class will diminish criminality, alcoholism, prostitution, and political radicalism of immigrants. The reduction of birth will save the government’s money for these problems’ managing. Therefore, eugenic scientists wanted to solve social problems in their origin as opposed to dealing with their symptoms by charity and social work.


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Now, the positive eugenics is aimed at increasing child births among the best community members. The negative eugenicists claimed to minimise reproduction among the least adaptive (defective) members. Thus, the USA, Germany, and Scandinavian countries took the last approach into realization. The first sterilization of the ‘degenerates’ was made in 1907 by the amendments in Indiana law. Scientists assumed than human’s, animal’s, or plant’s characteristics caused by the environmental conditions and toxic substances will be harmful. Consequently, betters breeding will produce more fitted persons. Likewise, the agricultural genetics of reducing unsuitable examples was eagerly accepted by negative eugenicists. Furthermore, physicians Ochner and Sharp (Scientific Origins of Eugenics) stated about the medical origin of social problems. However, the results of medical treatment of the retarded, vagrant, or psychotic individuals were minimal, and eugenicists focused then on the preventive measures. In Germany, Rudolf Virchow organized the racial movement which expanded to the US as well. Thus, the sterilization allows mental patients and criminals to participate in society without giving birth to children and reproducing ‘defective’ genes.

Scientists of the new movement took the methods into their practice of Mendel’s inheritance laws. Thus, the dominant trait is inherited by the strongest gene through generations. Therefore, eugenicists were searching big families with peculiar traits and evaluating each member on the presence of these characteristic. However, some traits were hard to be defined or discerned from others because all the research was based on simple genetic templates. There were several research organisations in USA which conducted the studies. For example, the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) made a questionnaire ‘Record of Family Traits’ (Eugenics Research Methods) which was very popular among wealthy families. Likewise, scientists collected their data from insane asylums, orphan houses, or prisons. During World War I, native and foreign recruits were tested on the level of intelligence. Later, the director of ERO presented these data to the Committee of Immigration and Naturalization and showed that natives from southern and eastern European countries were the cause of various defects. Thus, they brought mental illnesses and social problems because of various abuses.

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The scientists (Davenport, etc.) were studying the inheritance of eye colour, hair colour and its texture and skin pigmentation using the genetic laws. However, there were omissions in methodology while collecting accurate data and its analysis. They also studied such physical illnesses as haemophilia, albinism, and some mental disorders – manic depression, schizophrenia, etc. Nevertheless, it was very difficult to study the influence of these defects on the bodily traits. Thus, in ‘The Trait Book’ published by Davenport, the opposite moral traits were presented in pairs (for example, self-sacrifice vs egoism). However, it had not practical use. The spreading of positive traits by suitable marriages was not fast, so the eugenicists had stressed on reducing the negative traits. They defined ‘good blood’ in ancestors of north and western Europe and tried to impact the immigration laws in the 1920s. On the other hand, the scientists had simple claims about the results of their researches. The studies of inheritance had more complex causes than experts tended to believe. And even today, the causes of some illnesses are remained uncovered.

Thus, there were flaws in the eugenicists studies during exploring mental and behavioral traits. The difficulty in the traits’ definition and the tendency to evaluate complex characteristics only form one cause. Likewise, simple and subjective methods of surveys and poor statistics make the data collection and its evaluation become the basis of non-objective statements. Additionally, the mistaken quantification, untrained administrators, discords in national peculiarities gave false results which caused the unjustified issues to respondents. Moreover, the society and environment can have much more influence on the traits’ origin than it was assumed. Therefore, the data which was collected due to these flaws lost its practical value, and ERO was abolished in 1939.

Eugenic movement was very popular within the American society during 1920s and 1930s. Children were watching thematic films and were taught to select best partners for marriages. Mass media popularised racial segregation, sterilization, and restriction for immigrants. In eugenics, the role of nature was more important to human development than breeding. The studies were financed mainly by American organisations and individuals. Leading eugenicists and racist authors organized scientists and philanthropists for the movement popularization. The American Eugenics Society (AES) spreaded their theory into masses through the press, congresses, and committees. The main idea of the exhibitions in many American states (Kansas, Massachusetts, etc.) was the increasing of the national qualities by controlling and reducing the defective members of the society. Later, the courses of eugenics were offered to some leading universities. By the end of 1920s, nearly 20,000 students were acquainted with the basics of eugenics (Eugenics Popularization). However, being non-objective teaching, this study retains its social influence even nowadays. Therefore, in order to get rid of some mistakes of the past based on the unjustified results of eugenic researches, it is needed to introduce more intelligent studies.

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To avoid the racial mixture, the scientists suggested biological consequences of such unions. Thus, it could lead to the racial and social crimes that jeopardizes white nation existence. For example, Grant assumed that the interferences of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ types of races will be harmful for the first one. That is why, eugenicists were aimed at proposing more restrictions of the law level (for example, Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, 1924) for marriages. Later, similar laws prohibiting any marriages between different ethnic groups were published. However, in 1958, a black woman and a white man got married and violated the law. They were put into prison for a year and were sentenced to 25 years of separation. Only in 1967, the Court called off the Racial Integrity Act and other related laws. Hence, the right to marry without any classifications is the constitutional freedom of a person and, therefore, it cannot be prohibited.

Euthanasia, genocide, and sterilization were the most radical eugenic methods of the social control. Firstly approved in Indiana in 1907, it did not widely spread until the end of 1920s. ERO recommended this procedure for patients of mental asylums, prisoners, orphans, deaf and blind people, homeless, and substance abused individuals. By the middle of 1920s, nearly 3,000 people became infertile. The Eugenic Sterilization Act attended to save tax money for the maintenance of these ‘defective’ members of the society. The first sterilized person was the 17-year-old girl from Charlottesville, Virginia, Carrie Buck. She shared feeble mindedness with her mother and lived in the Virginia Colony for the Epileptic. These people assumed as the worthless and put the white nation on the South into danger. They were forced to have no possibility to produce the same offspring. Later, it was found that Buck’s diagnosis was mistaken and her mother’s grade report was deliberately understated. However, it did not stop further and broader sterilization. Moreover, thirteen states approved this method to the criminals as well. 


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The restrictions for immigrants were another side of eugenic movement. Thus, the laws of the late 18th century prohibited the entrance to the USA of whose being unable to maintain themselves and bringing additional government expenses. Consequently, the deport was built in New York Harbour. There, everyone was inspected on trachoma, typhus, and cholera. When the number of immigrants mainly from southern and eastern Europe arose to 1,3 million, eugenicists were tending to seek for the biological arguments of the newcomers’ decreasing. In that case, ERO recommended the survey which would reveal the connection of various social hereditary disorders with nationality. The Public Health Service became closely connected with ERO and conducted researches together. Their surveys were the basis of the immigration restriction bill towards mainly Italians and European Jews. The 1924 Act declared the quota of newly arrived from 45 % to 15 %. Thus, twenty years passed, and this act was replaced by Nationality Act with getting rid of any national prohibitions.

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Consequently, the eugenic movement had a significant impact on the societies in America and Germany. However, in spite of different flaws and subjective decisions, it supported the reduce of the thousands of immigrants within the USA.


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