A great novel will draw you in with its pages of characters and story capturing you. They carry you to the edge of what is real and what is imaginary, fading the lines in between. We can usually assume the story is fictional if not deemed with historical reference. I assumed just that with a novel I read many summers ago until, I was half way through the book. The novel is set in the 1920’s around a family and their community with a strong emphasis of the social and political ways of that era. My curiosity was sparked with the major role the American Eugenics Movement played in the novel. I had never heard of them before. I wondered if the movement had really existed in the US. I began researching for any information and found plenty. Right before WWII, there was an American Eugenics Movement active in the US. They were trying to play God here too.
One way or another there has always been people trying to play God. One group believing they are superior over another group. This attitude of superiority has followed humans through time from the pages of the past into groups of today. A group well known for their attitude of superiority and their use with Eugenics is the Nazis. Eugenics is the study of methods of improving genetic qualities by selective breeding and sterilization; especially, applied to human mating. They advocate the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of humans. Their idea of what makes a better human.
Winners of Fitter Family contest
In 1922, the American Eugenics Society (AES) was established to promote eugenics in the US. The AES believe in the racial superiority of “old stock,” a form of white supremacy. They encourage the reproduction of people with what they deem "good" genes and discourage those with "bad" genes. During the passing of the Immigration Act of 1924, the AES had an “important role in the Congressional debate as expert advisors on the threat of "inferior stock" from eastern and southern Europe.” Their involvement with the act strengthened existing laws prohibiting race- mixing and justified the continuation of many racial segregation laws. Eugenics was considered a method of establishing order and uniformity in the population in the 1920’s.
By the early 1920’s thirty-three states had enacted sterilization laws. By 1924 at least 3000 people had underwent sterilization involuntarily. Over half were in California.
"THIS LIGHT FLASHES EVERY 31 SECONDS. Every 31 seconds, State taxpayers paid $100 for maintenance only of Insane, Feebleminded, Epileptic, Blind and Deaf, in State Institutions, Only in 1927." From the Third International Eugenics Congress
Eugenics supporters hold signs criticizing various "genetically inferior" groups. Wall Street, New York, circa 1915. Wikisourcehas original text related to this article:
In 1907 Indiana became the first state to adopt legislation aimed at compulsory sterilization of certain individuals.
The people targeted with the eugenic procedure of sterilization were the poor and minorities labeled the socially inadequate and feebleminded. A socially inadequate person would be “supported in any form of institution or maintained wholly or in part by public expense.” Examples are individuals incarcerated to people of various handicaps. The feebleminded refers to all people who “are incapable of adapting to their environment and living up to the conventions of society or acting sensibly.” The States could word the second half of feebleminded to be used against anyone. It was measured by their standards. In addition, there were times Native American and African American women were sterilized without their knowledge while they were in a hospital for other reasons (e.g. childbirth)
It is the patriotic duty of every normal couple to have children in sufficient number to keep up to par the good old Vermont stock." Vermont Commission on Country Life, Committee on the Human Factor, "The People of Vermont: A Program for the Future, 1931
U.S. eugenics poster advocating for the removal of genetic "defectives" such the insane, "feeble-minded" and criminals, and supporting the selective breeding of "high-grade" individuals, circa 1926.
The eugenics movement was a social war of race and class. Well over 65,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the US by the end of the sterilization era. In 1974, Virginia was the last state to repeal their sterilization laws. In 1979, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 aka Sterilization Act was repealed finally. Currently, the eugenics movement in the US has been hushed, although, they are still active.
Buried deep in the roots of eugenic philosophy is this attitude of superiority. History has shown people globally have a strong tendency to succumb to the attitude individually, by group, or country. Today, groups and movements formed by the eugenic philosophy vary in strength and intensity. They are still imposing their rules and procedures upon people by fear and force. For instance, on a large scale the Congo in Africa and an example of a smaller group is gangs. The AES and other eugenic groups worldwide are focusing their attentions on the Human Genome Project(HGP). The HGP is an international research project to identify and map the genes of the Human Genome from a physical and functional standpoint. The project is located in Cold Springs Harbor, NY. AES and the other eugenic groups involved have their eyes set on the Human Genome Projectfor the possibility of human cloning. The ultimate game move in trying to play the Game of God.
I am disappointed I never learned about the AES and America’s involvements with Eugenics during the many years I was in school as an American. It is sad to say but it does not surprise me. It is not the first time I have learned about the secrets of my country and I am sure it will not be the last. Now that I am aware of the AES and the history of eugenic philosophy, I see it as a responsibility of mine to fight the efforts of people doing wrong to others for their gain.
A related poem ~ The Game of God
*This article barely touches the history and information about the eugenics movement in the US let alone eugenics around the world.
links for more information:
*There was not the room to dive into the connections of US eugenics and the Nazis eugenic policies and the United States’ involvement before and after WWII .
The links above should have information and here are a few more:
A recent Times article
Article from the April 2011 Rivers Runinations
A quarterly column bound to spark thinking of all kinds.