Eugenics Movement

Eugenics is the use of controlled selective breeding techniques to attempt to improve the human race. Coined in 1883 by Sir Francis Galton, the word "eugenics" means "good birth" in Greek. The Platonic model of society contemplates a cultural cleansing of humanity through compulsory education and government abrogation of parental rights. Cultural cleansing culminates in a genetic cleansing of society through eugenics, infanticide, forcible sterilization, and forcible euthanasia.

As discussed elsewhere, Massachusetts and Ivy League intellectuals have long been the most ardent and innovative American proponents of the Platonic model. Although their enthusiasm for cultural cleansing is now relatively well-known, it is important to understand that they have also embraced the genetic cleansing component of Plato's vision. Just as individuals who disseminate unauthorized ideas must be suppressed under the Platonic model, persons with inferior genes must be contained, sterilized, or eliminated.

Rise of Eugenics Movement

The core ideas of the eugenic ethic have been around at least as early as Plato's Republic, implicitly embodied in such concepts as royal blood and the Divine Right of Kings.

Starting about 1713, King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, "the Soldier King," assembled he "Potsdam Giants." The Potsdam Giants were a Prussian infantry regiment composed of the tallest, fittest men Wilhelm could find from throughout Europe. Wilhelm accepted gifts of tall men from Russia, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire. He abducted tall men who were unwilling to join his Potsdam Giants voluntarily, and kept his prized unit isolated and carefully controlled. Wilhem also forced tall women to reproduce with his Giants in order to breed more stock. Wilhelm's approach to governance left a permanent mark on the history of modern Germany.

However, the modern eugenics movement originated with Thomas Robert Malthus, an English clergyman and economist. Malthus' Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), postulated that unmanaged human populations will increase exponentially until the food supply is outstripped, thereby compelling war or famine to intervene until equilibrium is restored. Sir Charles Darwin built upon Malthus' ideas with the theory of evolution and natural selection, as set forth in The Origin of Species (1859), and The Descent of Man (1871).

Darwin's theory contemplated the operation of natural selection processes for the improvement of genetic code. In 1864, however, a man named A.R. Wallace argued that social cooperation and division of labor operated to insulate humans from the processes of natural selection which apply to animals. W.R. Greg made a similar argument in 1875 in conjunction with his belief that the Irish were inferior. Wallace and Greg helped popularize the idea that human-managed genetic selection ought to serve as a substitute for natural selection.

In 1904, Sir Francis Galton, cousin of Sir Charles Darwin, began a research program in eugenics at University College, London University. In Germany in 1905, Dr. Alfred Ploetz and Dr. Ernst Rüdin founded the the Society of Race-Hygiene. In 1907, the Eugenic Education Society (now know as the Eugenics Society) was founded in England. Harvard professor Charles B. Davenport, who wrote Heredity in Relation to Eugenics (1911), led efforts by eugenicists in Massachusetts and the Ivy League during the early 1900’s. Harvard was at the epicenter of the academic effort to popularize eugenics. Eugenics ideology and legislation spread throughout the United States and around the world.

The most extreme manifestation of the eugenics movement was achieved during the era of National Socialism in Germany, when Adolph Hitler systematically bred selectively-chosen parents in an attempt to create a generation of genetically-superior Aryan children. For his part, Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin engaged Ilya Ivanov, a top Russian biologist, to direct a 1920s project designed to produce human-ape hybrids for the Soviet military. As Stalin told the newspapers at the time, "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat." Ivanov's efforts prior to Stalin's involvement had taken place with the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, and in French Guiana. With Stalin's sponsorship, Ivanov worked in Georgia (Soviet Union) and Africa, attempting to impregnate chimpanzees with human sperm, and humans with the sperm of chimpanzees. When Ivanov's expensive project eventually failed, Stalin sent him to prison. Ivanov died in exile.

The eugenics movement peaked in the United States during the 1920’s and 1930’s. By 1935, sterilization laws or practices had been implemented in twenty-seven of the fifty American states and non-Catholic countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. The American movement garnered Adolph Hitler’s enthusiastic support, but lost momentum as the fortunes of Germany faltered during World War II. By the 1960’s, eugenic ideology had faded out of political vogue in the United States. Decisions such as In re Gault (1967) and Parham v. J.R. (1979) began to significantly curtail the most egregious eugenics practices in the United States. As late as 1979, states such as Virginia still persisted in imposing forcible sterilization.

Bostonian jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, who opposed the holding for parental liberty in Meyer v. Nebraska (1923), used his position on the United States Supreme Court to confer legal legitimacy upon the eugenics movement:

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 the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 , 25 S. Ct. 358, 3 Ann. Cas. 765. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200, 207 (1927). The New Hampshire Supreme Court followed Holmes’ lead in State v. Hoyt, 146 A. 170 (N.H. 1929).

Other supporters of the ideology included Harvard anthropologist Earnest Hooton, Robert DeCourcey Ward of Harvard, Prescott Hall of Harvard, New York lawyer and Yale University graduate Madison Grant, Boston University president Daniel Marsh, faculty at Smith College, faculty at Massachusetts Agricultural College (UMass Amherst), the Rockefeller family, theRockefeller Foundation, and Amherst College president George Olds.

Methodology of the Eugenics Movement

Academics propounded the notion that genetics was the primary explanation for a host of social ills, including criminal behavior, immigration conflict, poverty, immorality, mental disorders, medical illnesses, unwed mothers, and interracial reproduction. Charitable acts, public assistance, and medical treatment were thought to undermine the de-selection of inferior genes. Opinion leaders decided to give de-selection some extra help along the way.

Researchers and medical professionals attempted to implement the abstract theoretical principles of eugenics into an applied methodology. They developed various studies and screening methods to categorize people based upon physical appearance, behavior observation, peer input, and intelligence tests. Many individuals were identified as “idiots,” “imbeciles,” “morons,” and “feeble-minded,” even though those individuals had not engaged in dangerous or illegal behavior and had not sought out diagnosis or treatment.

Unfortunately, eugenics not only posed considerable, inherent ethical and moral dilemmas, it also proved to be a pseudoscience based upon methodological suppositions now known to be scientifically invalid. Political, racial, religious, ideological, and economic agendas tended to taint the diagnosis efforts. Biodiversity is complex, and no test currently known can assess the presence, nature, or potential value of different dimensions of human talent and mental ability. Many innocent adults and children were labeled inaccurately because of a failure to observe minimum standards of adequate legal protection.

Especially in Massachusetts, but also in other states, eugenics methodology was implemented by state and local government officials, legal professionals, educators, social workers, law enforcement officers, and medical practitioners. Courts, prisons, mental hospitals, orphanages, schools, and other social institutions were structured to segregate, confine, and manage individuals thought to be inferior. Often individuals caught up in the system were unable to extricate themselves, notwithstanding a lack of evidence that they had committed a crime, suffered from unfitness, or endangered the wellbeing of any person.

Fernald School in Waltham, Massachusetts

As a result of the eugenics movement, thousands of children were confined for most of their lives. Many of them were poor, socially disconnected, or uneducated, but not mentally disabled.

The Walter E. Fernald School in Waltham, Massachusetts (originally called the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded), which held 2,500 children at any given time, was the oldest and most notorious example of the hundreds of institutions where the practice of applied eugenics flourished. For all practical purposes, the Fernald School was a prison.

Fernald children were told that they were feeble-minded and would stay at the school for the rest of their lives, with no opportunity to gain release. They lived in crowded conditions with no individualized attention and little instruction. At night, thirty to forty children would sleep closely together in each room. During the day, children would experience the same first-grade level of instruction year after year, because the school was designed to contain the children rather than educate them.

Fernald School utilized a great deal of regimentation. Children were forced to perform the manual labor needed to keep the school operating. They tended gardens from morning to night, manufactured brooms, and sewed their clothes. Some performed tasks which often required a normal or near-normal level of intelligence to perform (some researchers now believe thirty to fifty percent of the children were normal).

Physical and sexual abuse was rampant. Many attendants were sadistic or disturbed. Children were routinely stripped naked in front of other children and beaten with tree branches to accomplish ritualistic forms of humiliation. Children who rebelled or attempted escape were stripped naked and put into solitary confinement.

Children were also used in scientific experiments. Some children were forced to take the cadaver brains of other Fernald children who had died and slice the brain tissues into samples for further study. Other children were fed radioactive oatmeal to facilitate an experiment conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Quaker Oats (some of the oatmeal victims each won $60,000 in compensation from MIT, Quaker Oats, and government entities in a class-action legal demand filed decades later).

Other institutions utilized similar approaches. In 1922, for example, the Massachusetts Department for Defective Delinquents opened at the Bridgewater State Farm. Hundreds of innocent people were sent there, ranging from ages 13 to 76. The males were assigned to “squads” and “platoons,” forced to wear blue military-style uniforms, and compelled to perform manual farm labor in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. The program continued until the "defective delinquent" law was overturned in 1970. In 1968, there were still around 100 "defective delinquents" still at Bridgewater, predominantly aging men who had been admitted as youths.

Other Techniques

Officials at Fernald asked doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital to help sterilize Fernald wards and other residents of Massachusetts. Fernald himself told the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1912 that "The only way to reduce the number of the feeble-minded is to prevent their birth," and "High-grade female imbeciles . . . are certain to become sexual offenders and to spread venereal disease or to give birth to degenerate children."

In another incident, a state-run hospital sterilized twenty-six patients. Most were 14 to 15-year-old boys, who were emasculated because they were thought to be epileptics, kleptomaniacs, or of "poor moral condition."

At state fairs, prizes and exhibitions were sponsored by academics and government officials to praise the “best” human stock, similar to the surrounding promotions for the best farm livestock. Winners were awarded medals signifying that they had the physical and mental characteristics making them fit to marry and reproduce, and registered at the Davenport Eugenics Records Office in Long Island, New York. Exhibits had a red light that blinked every 15 seconds to show that another $100 of tax money had gone to take care of "a person with bad heredity," and another red light flashing every 50 seconds to symbolize a new unfit person who had just been sent to jail.

Professors at Smith College and the Massachusetts Agricultural College (UMass Amherst) assisted Leon Whitney's secret 1928 Shutesbury Eugenics Study. The study was managed from New Haven and conducted ninety miles west of Boston. Fieldworkers used census data to assist in the task of combing the landscape with door-to-door investigations. Fieldworkers recorded age, height, eye color, temperament, habits, and apparent "defects." They contacted local informants who could comment upon the characters of their fellow neighbors, including financial and sexual activities. They collected a history settlement, industry, and agriculture. They covertly assembled residents' test scores, church attendance, tax records, medical files, school records, school intelligence tests, and family histories. They compiled pedigree charts designed to expose networks of inferior genetic stock.

Leon Whitney himself was a dog breeder who praised German scientists for their “courageous” and “admirable” sterilization policies. Using the Shutesbury Eugenics Study, he wrote The Case for Sterilization (1934). "Cut off the useless classes by preventing their reproduction, and increase the better," he urged, admonishing "careful consideration of the kind of people we want to have forming the race of the future." Shutesbury itself was identified by Whitney as an example of a "Cellar Hole." Adolph Hitler studied the eugenics campaign in Massachusetts and wrote a personal letter to Whitney praising him for his book. Earlier Hitler had also sent a letter to eugenicist Madison Grant, indicating that Grant's The Passing of the Great Race (1916) "is my Bible." Hitler implemented similar ideas in Germany, building upon eugenics efforts in Germany and Europe that had been funded by the Rockefeller Foundation during the 1920's.

Massachusetts legislators authorized surreptitious, indefinite imprisonment of individuals considered to be "defective delinquents." Many simply disappeared off the streets and vanished from public consciousness. People were sterilized, often without consent. Many sterilized women were told they had undergone appendectomies. As Massachusetts techniques spread, 40,000 Americans in thirty states were sterilized, and at least 100,000 people were forcibly sterilized by eugenicists around the world.

Continued Friction

Not surprisingly, the historic opinion leaders of the Ivy League, Massachusetts, Germany, New England, and Waltham, Massachusetts, have led the effort against alternative education. Home education and alternative education were viewed by eugenicists as a potential refuge for students who were genetically, culturally, racially, intellectually, or socially inferior. Home education interfered with compulsory school attendance, compulsory vaccination, compulsory medical treatment, compulsory sterilization, regimentation of the legal profession, centralized gathering of citizen lifestyle information, and other tactics designed to maintain a Platonic social caste system. Home education disrupted the efforts of Ivy-League graduates to superintend the lives of the people, prevent incompetent citizenship, and ensure proper socialization.

In most cases, great friction persists to the present day between home educators and officials from locales with deep ties to the eugenics movement. Home educators in places such as Germany and Massachusetts are still targeted for imprisonment, custody termination, monitoring, and coordinated harassment.

This page borrows heavily and directly from accounts and reporting narrative contained in the following works:

Michael D'Antonio, The State Boys Rebellion (2004).
America's Deep, Dark Secret, May 2, 2004, at
Welling Savo, The Master Race, at

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