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Category: Mac Brown

The Pseudoscience of Eugenics


The once prominent  pseudoscience of Eugenics has had a lingering impact on all parts of society through its rise and fall in history the push to normalize it in society and among social and cultural ideologies. This image depicts the essence of the movement with the medical tools that were used to prevent practices such as biracial births, and the notion of the “perfect baby.”


The pseudoscience of Eugenics has been often forgotten in American history. While it has been a detrimental part of society that has hurt a lot of individuals, it is glazed over and tucked under other forms of segregation. This suppressed part in American history was probably one of the most hurtful aspects of our society. The diminished pseudoscience of eugenics has impacted all parts of society by pushing to popularize to the point where it was the norm.

Eugenics and the notions of race that it included declared a way of “scientific” thinking that led people to believe not everyone was equal. At the beginning of the 20th century a new type of pseudoscience emerged called eugenics. By factoring aspects such as race and class, eugenicists tried to create a purebred race by selective breeding and sterilization of those whom the scientist believed to be “unfit”. The eugenic movement continued to grow until it peaked and died shortly after World War II. The movement itself was very visible in various public spheres that included advertisements, fairs, “better baby” contests, “fitter family” contests and even compulsory sterilization. Eugenics was an idea that circled many areas of the globe such as Germany, UK and even Canada. It became so much of an influence in society that laws had to be instituted revolving around issues such as sterilization, prisoner release for participation and income listings.

Eugenics emerged also as a form of birth control in the eyes of many female advocates at the time. This can be seen in the writing of Meehan and Sanger, whom essentially explain the support many women gave to eugenics. Lack of eugenics also supposedly posed a threat to the domestic life of normalized American culture. Due to this many advocates stepped up in order to prevent this change from occurring. Eugenics was a promise that appealed to the ears of white Americans throughout the early twentieth century.

While many people remember, and discuss the long-lasting effects of racism and the Jim Crow era, it seems like there has been a lot less discussion of all the destructive and dehumanizing lengths that were taken to “purify” the race. Due to many of these harmful procedures, miscegenation and multi-racial relationships and families were not allowed to coexist freely. Eugenics has been more popularly discussed in discourse surrounding Europe and the Nazi movement, but many forget about its own impact in America.

Eugenic practice is crucial to observe because it is an idea that can very easily lead to genocide. As history has seen in other parts of the world. Acts like forcing certain people that society deems “unfit” to sterilize and prevent free will and possibility of having children, using science to find a partner and emphasizing the importance of staying within one race, are just a few actions of the eugenics movement that could have led to extremely different contemporary situations.  This project will examine some of the factors that were all around society that contributed to the growth of eugenics amongst the pubic. This project also examines through newspapers, speeches, and letters, and other forms of propaganda, how people received, discussed and felt about the eugenic movement that was seemingly everywhere they looked.

Starting in the early 1900s, as the eugenic movement became established within the minds of many prominent and influential thinkers at the time. This is the time, which is demonstrated throughout the sources that I analyzed. These people such as Major Leonard Darwin established some legitimacy to the movement which ultimately attributes to the gross. As the public began to latch onto the sentiments of eugenics, social functions begin to include aspects of such like competitions. The idea of using science to perfect the future appealed to many, after the misconceptions were cleared up. While this is a false belief, those who were not on board with other races mixing with each other, they created laws and other biases to hinder these relationships from happening. We can see this with the Loving case and other cases such as Japanese women married with their American husbands, and didn’t have much rights until alter in American history. Eugenics has had many long lasting effects in different parts of the world and sentiments in which society has been affected, therefore this project topic was compelling to me because it is often suppressed and not discussed, but definitely hut a lot of individuals and society as a whole.




Media Advertising

This media propaganda  demonstrates the ideals that eugenicists were pushing upon the public. This advertisement shows a happy couple with  title,“’Watch Us! ’Says Eugenic Couple who Married to Lead Perfect Life”. This couple, both white individuals who are being described as a perfect pair, advertises  to normalize same race marriage. Miscegenation was illegal during this period and based on the cultural norms of eugenics within society, propaganda tried to reinforce the notions of ” the fittest family. The media intends this ad to be the perfect example and the benefit of eugenics within marriage and long lasting benefits in society.

The “Importance”

This newspaper clipping highlights some of the issues that those who favor eugenics are talking about. Firstly, it highlights the importance of following the movement and what the benefits would be: not allowing for “degenerates” to mate. In other words, this clipping speaks on the anti-miscegenation sentiments in society  at the time. The article further develops the factor that outside of strictly hereditary, genetic aspects, that there are also intelligence/mental deviation pieces that go into eugenics matching, and clarifies on what it entails.

State Fair Competitions

This source is an ad that shows a state fair schedule.It  is titled:

“Program of state fair is greatest ever given here”

and  lists the events of the upcoming fair’s activities. Amongst the events are several lectures on eugenics, the eugenic competition where babies were inspected, and one baby was eventually selected as the winner. This was known as the eugenic baby competition.

Winner of “eugenic baby” contest

 This is a photo that shows the winner of a ‘eugenic baby contest’ that occurred throughout the time period, especially in state fairs. This contest aimed to prove the “look” that was expected from those who were promoting the eugenics movement. Similarly to that of Germany’s movement, it showed that the influences stuck in cross cultural relations. This mentality stuck in America and the eugenics movement took off.


The “Fittest Family”

This photo depicts the winning family of the Eugenics Fitter Family contest that took place at the state fair. The winning family entailed having no people of color within their unit, or other attributes that was looked down upon. Having any of the traits that eugenicists deemed “undesirable,”  could have affected their chances of winning.

Supporting of the Movement


Major Leonard Darwin ( right ), son of the great
Charles Darwin , and Dr. H. F. Osborn greeting
each other during the Second International
Congress of Eugenics in New York.


This image depicts Mendel’s Law of Heredity
This drawing will accompanies the explanation given by Major Darwin

This speech revolves around Major Leonard Darwin, of London, — son of Charles Darwin and the talk he gave around the scientific movement of eugenics. It addresses some of the false beliefs revolving around eugenics and then describes its goal. With that goal, it goes to speak on the benefits of such. Comparing the benefits to that of a Demigod.


Illustration shows a well-dressed old man wearing a top hat and spats, lying on his back, bouncing the earth on his feet; there is a doctor’s bag with various instruments in the foreground (he may have given himself an injection), and on the left, is a weeping cherub, his bowstring is broken and his arrows have fallen on the ground. This image really plays into the line of thinking many had revolving eugenics. With a crying broken cherub on the side, and a Uncle Sam looking doctor, this contrast highlights how cupids ways of love matching making are gone. The scientific eugenic inspired matchmaking has taken over. Early supports from Women’s group emerged as eugenics became a controversial topic.

This is revolving around women and the role eugenics play in their life and what they think about it. Headlined by “Women Deny That Romance of Marriage Is Destroyed by Eugenics.” The paper goes to talk about why eugenics should be continued and points out a myth that scared some white folks. It is important to point out here how they only are addressing this for a white audience rather than the group dealing with most of it.


Sterilization Practices

This flyer details the effects of eugenic sterilization as practiced in California. This was published by the Human Betterment foundation in Pasadena, California. The first effect that it lists, and the goal of sterilization in general, is the prevention of parenthood. : California has had in effect since 1909, a sterilization law applying only to inmates of state institutions. Up to January 1, 1937, the state had sterilized under this law, 11,484 patients (5933 men, and 5551 women).” It then goes to list the “good” effects of this such as “It prevents the birth of children who would probably have a bad heredity, who could not be cared for properly, by their parents, and who would be likely to become state charges.


Entering the Public Sphere

Integrating the idea of Eugenics:

This article explains Francis Galton process of integrating eugenics into the public sphere. Published in the American Journal of Sociology and read at the University of London. This highlights the first few steps toward the mountain eugenics became as it encompassed different corners of society.

Resistance to Eugenics:

Here it is when eugenics begins to be contested and argued about its validity, effectiveness and whether or not it should continue. In this article, the head of the American Eugenic Record, is going to get accused of leading all those who follow him to the “death of Eugenics”.


Secondary Sources:

BBC. “A Fatal Impact: Eugenics, Social Darwinism, and Genocide.” Films On Demand, 2007.

Ginsberg, Morris. Economica, no. 19 (1927): 104-07. doi:10.2307/2548361.

Meehan, Mary. 1998. “How Eugenics Birthed Population Control.” The Human Life Review 24 (4): 76–89.

Nies, Betsy L. 2002. Eugenic Fantasies : Racial Ideology in the Literature and Popular Culture of the 1920’s. Literary Criticism and Cultural Theory. New York: Routledge.

Ordover, Nancy. 2003. American Eugenics : Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, ©2003.

Paul, Diane, 2016. “Reflections on the Historiography of American Eugenics: Trends, Fractures, Tensions.” Journal of the History of Biology 49 (4): 641–58. doi:10.1007/s10739-016-9442-y.

Sanger, Alexander. 2007. “Eugenics, Race, and Margaret Sanger Revisited: Reproductive Freedom for All?” Hypatia 22 (2): 210–17.

Stubblefield, Anna. “‘Beyond the Pale’: Tainted Whiteness, Cognitive Disability, and Eugenic Sterilization.” Hypatia 22, no. 2 (April 1, 2007): 162–81.


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