Throughout our research and our discussionsin this seminar we have gathered an understanding of the pseudoscientificsocio-political movements that came to prominence through the creation andapplication of eugenic ideals. Eugenicsmovements around the world began with intensity and fervor, only to later be denouncedby the elite and cast as politically incorrect. What seems so obvious in hindsight was not even considered until measuredand calculated methods of brutality were exerted by a political regime toeliminate groups of people that the state deemed as dysgenic. Even then, eugenics was discredited byacademics and philanthropy, but aspects of its agenda were included andcontinued in social programs all over the world.During its rise in influence, a scholarand social scientist, such as Franz Boas, would have held an opinion of thetime and believed that, “The object of eugenics is the raising of a better raceand to do away with increasing suffering by eliminating those who are byheredity destined to suffer and to cause suffering. The humanitarian idea of the conquest of suffering,and the ideal of raising human efficiency to heights never before reached, makeeugenics particularly attractive.”1 It is particularly important to recognizethat eugenics movements were created with altruism as a core principle in responsibleeugenic application.
The sense ofselflessness that eugenicists and proponents of eugenics associated with theeugenics movements effectively legitimized widespread support for the eugenics movementsfrom the liberal and the elite to actors within the bureaucracy and civilians.This manner of positive eugenicapplication suggested a way for the best think-tanks in humanity to reach towardsimproving the likelihoods of better health and quality of life for thereproductive future of the human race. However, an awareness of how this endeavor was carried out should causehistorians to question the darker implications that exist when we consider whatpowerful actors in history can be compelled to do for the greater good ofsociety and their own benefit. There cannever be a true authority when it comes to determining whether or not anotherhuman being is unfit to reproduce and live an otherwise law-abiding life withtheir progenies within a continually modernizing society.
The reality of the aftermath of eugenicapplication in law and policy tells of a veiled-history riddled with measuredand calculated methods of segregation, of plots for sterilization, and ofimmigration and marriage restriction measures that were designed and sanctionedby self-contained interests to promote selective breeding within the greaterpopulations and disable targeted demographics. These parties were numerous and influential, and they intended toresearch and facilitate the selective breeding of ideal physiological andpsychological traits under a broadly defined goal to improve the humanrace. Philanthropists acquired resourcesto fund the development of the natural sciences in support of the eugenicsmovements agenda. Social sciences like anthropology,criminology, economics, public administration, psychology, and sociologyexamined the conditions that troubled modernizing societies and ultimately gavecredibility to processes of eugenic observation and application.The application of eugenic principleswithin various functions of societies could be seen and measured through biasesthat targeted socioeconomic class, race, gender, and disability.
Populations that fell underneath the umbrellaof prejudice were systemically targeted in an effort to improve the human race. The undesirable populations consisted ofgroups such as the mentally ill, the mentally disabled, the feebleminded, andforeign immigrants amongst others. Peoplewere restricted, segregated, and sterilized in an effort to humanely eliminatethem from society because of their debility and because they belonged tomarginalized groups living on the fringe of modernized societies. The first marginalized group tended to be thementally ill and the mentally disabled because the superiority-complexes ofeugenics proponents led them to want to lower or eliminate the burdens withintheir own race. Some mental illness andmental disability is obvious, like Down Syndrome. Other forms of mental illness and mentaldisability can be subtler or otherwise more difficult to assess, such asschizophrenia or alcohol and drug addiction.
Sometimes, otherwise difficult to manage people were labeled as mentallydeficient in order to segregate them and modify their behavior under conditionsof restriction. Although it is now knownthat lower intelligence did not necessarily indicate mental illness or mentaldisability, Binet-Simon intelligence testing was conducted in order todetermine if the institutionalization of an individual was necessary in orderto protect the interests of society.Therefore, the following dialogue wasdesigned to briefly examine findings that indicate that sterilization programswere carried out on the mentally ill and the mentally disabled withinpsychiatric institutions and facilities. It was more so projected to reveal findings that explore whetherpsychiatry, as a whole, was open to the influence of eugenics movements andpractices in an effort to augment the academic integrity of their work and enhancethe public’s perception of the field during the era of eugenics’ relevance. An attempt at the contextualization and interpretationof the information suggests that the endorsement of eugenics movements bymental healthcare practitioners was an attempt for psychiatrists and psychologiststo collectively gain more mainstream credibility for the field before contemporarystudies disproved theories of genetic determinism and inheritable conditions. An examination as to why psychiatryendorsed the agenda of eugenics movements is worthy of analysis because thefield of social sciences developed exponentially as societies began tomodernize. Since the age of Greekmedicine, the geneses of medicine and understanding the human condition were createdwith good intentions.
Understanding andtreating difficult mental illness and mental disability is an importantundertaking. It would not be inhumanefor experts to have a desire to lessen the burden of these conditions. These conditions leave afflicted populationsand their families burdened with hardship. Populations afflicted with managing these conditions of severity oftenneed the involvement and the support of programs and institutions withinmodernized societies to receive professionally-administered care and guidancefor a reasonable quality of life.Thus, it can be seen that mental healthcarehas developed as a reaction to this need within society.
Eugenics influenced the public administrationof law and policy from the early 1900s to the 1960s. Psychiatry evolved during the development ofthe eugenics movements and was influenced by the body of work that was withinthe field like many other social sciences. Mental healthcare professionals and figures within public administrationhave historically segregated the mentally disabled from the rest of societythrough institutionalization within asylums, living colonies, prisons, and trainingschools. Mental healthcare professionalshave historically also held prejudices towards the effects that immigration wouldhave on the population.2 Most alarming were the compulsory sterilizationlaws adopted by some 30 states that led to more than 60,000 sterilizations ofdisabled individuals.3 Ultimately, a thought to consider why this isimportant is that, “sterilization was the ultimate weapon in the arsenal of theeugenicists” because “sterilization laws marked the triumph of eugenic ideasamong a considerable sector of the American people.”4Sterilization programs withininstitutions began in the early 1900s.
Sterilizationlaws were adopted exclusively at the state level and were primarily intendedfor implementation within state-run institutions.5 These programs increased after Harry Laughlincrafted the “Model Eugenical Sterilization Law” as a guide for statelegislators and designed the safeguards that were upheld in the United StatesSupreme Court’s ruling of Buck v. Bell in1927, in which Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “accepted the argumentthat compulsory sterilization was no more severe a public health measure thancompulsory vaccination.
“6 Between 1909 and the early 1950s, the stateof California sterilized over twenty thousand patients in governmentinstitutions for the mentally ill and mentally deficient.7 Notably, the first section of the revised Californiacompulsory sterilization statute in 1913 indicated that the patient must be “afflictedwith hereditary insanity or incurable chronic mania or dementia,” whichintroduced “heredity into the determination for the first time…thus providing concrete evidence thateugenics was a consideration.”8Many sterilizations were also occurring in thirty other states includingVirginia and North Carolina.9 Eugenics started to lose its once credible scientificstance after the Second World War.
It isimportant to realize that, “Nazi medicine was the most scientifically advancedmedicine of any country in the world. Atthe same time the atrocities committed by German psychiatrists, in the name ofmedical care, were unprecedented in the history of Medicine. Although their acts were monstrous, Germanpsychiatrists were not monsters but more like psychiatrists in other Westerncountries than not.”10 In fact, it should be noted that, “the Nazisfamously pointed to California’s success when embarking on their own masssterilization programs.”11Any modernized citizen throughout theworld can recognize that any sterilization and euthanasia program isunacceptable.
But the Nazis were notunlike other eugenicists throughout the world, and like many sectors of publicadministration that were influenced by eugenic application in law and policy, Germanpsychiatrists actively engaged in the forced sterilization and killing ofmentally ill and mentally disabled children and adult patients.12 Incredibly, eugenics proponents did not wantthese atrocities to hinder their ability to maintain discretion towards responsibleeugenic application in law and policy. Athought to consider in contextualizing this in the aftermath of the SecondWorld War is that, “The experience with Nazism radically reduced theattractiveness of eugenic policies. Nonetheless, there was no sudden abandonment of eugenics after World WarII. Moderate non-racist versionscontinued in some contexts.
It had beenclear by the 1930s that simple hereditary models, such as identifying onerecessive gene as the cause of a wide range of mental retardation, wereuntenable. But some moderate eugenicists…still argued that sterilization of thementally retarded could have significant eugenic effect.”13 Psychiatrists therefore, “continued topromote eugenic sterilization of the mentally retarded as late as the1950s. Within the medical profession,psychiatrists in particular held on to a strong genetic determinism.
But around 1960 the rapid development of humangenetics, in particular cytogenetics, made this view scientifically obsolete.”14 The field of psychiatry held on to beliefs ofgenetic determinism when much was not understood about these conditions andused the clout of the eugenics movements to support the stances within theirown field when it was academically acceptable to do so. When new discoveries were made in the 1960s,psychiatry was able to adjust its position and apply these new insights tocontinue modernizing the field.Naturally, a historian should questionwhy sterilization was thought to be a viable method in ameliorating thesymptoms of mental abnormality. According to Alex Wellerstein in the chapter “States of Eugenics:Institutions and Practices of Compulsory Sterilization in California,” inSheila Jasanoff’s book Reframing Rights:Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age, “‘Whenever in the opinion’ is thecrucial phrase that defines the character of sterilization…operations were ordered at the discretion of hospitalsuperintendents. Though the laws wouldchange, this fundamental delegation of judgment would not.”15 Dr.
Fred P. Clark directed the Stocktoninstitution in California from 1906 until 1929. Clark stated that, “Many of the results claimed by others, in the past,for such operations were evidently due to suggestion.
However, since beginning these sterilizationoperations, we are led to believe that by the improvement in mental and generalhealth that there is a definite beneficial effect from vasectomy and may leadto important findings as an organo therapeutic agent.16Yet, a brutal thought to consider isthat, “As a disciplinary practice of sorts, sterilization complemented otherharsh measures taken to control the behavior and the lives of the institution’sresidents. As a so-called protectivemeasure, it ensured the childlessness of individuals thought to be incapable ofhandling the burdens of parenthood, and it continued a long tradition oftreating those with mental retardation as helpless children themselves. There was simply no conception within theinstitutional framework that individuals with mental retardation had a right toself-determination, especially in major life choices such as whether to havechildren.”17 The brutality of sterilization crushes the altruisticsensitivity that positive eugenic application hoped for, as, “The eugenicsmovement, advocating the sterilization of insane, defective, and criminalpersons in order to improve the race, represented the Progressive attempt todeal with that part of man which was not malleable. Many psychiatrists supported the efforts ofthe prohibitionists to remove from commerce what they regarded as socialpoison”18 Because of views that were held like this, “Thesemass sterilizations have generally been taken as the most tangible andpermanent of all of the American forays into eugenics, and its closest link tothe genocidal policies practiced by National Socialist Germany.
“19America’s involvement in eugenicsmovements created platforms around the world. The educated and socially-liberalProgressives that supported the eugenics movements agenda did so in both theoryand practice. Psychiatrists andpsychologists wanted to receive academic recognition and funding from influentialphilanthropists that came with the momentum of the eugenics movements beforeits eventual failure. Academia andphilanthropy accelerated the credibility and application of eugenic ideals inmodernized societies. The acceptance ofeugenics within these socio-political dimensions demonstrated the importance ofthose forces in the eugenics movements agenda.
Acceptance within these groups ensured the continuity of any researchassociated with the field for decades because eugenics was considered a legitimateand renowned scientific discipline that supported a growing socio-political movement. Science has been instrumental in theprocesses of modernization, making eugenics particularly worthy ofphilanthropists’ attention. Philanthropists and foundations devoted resources not only to theresearch behind the movement, but also to lobbying for government adoption ofeugenic policies. At the federal level, lobbyingto restrict immigration of the “unfit”; at the state level, by means of institutionalizationand compulsory sterilization.20 Ultimately, there are astounding truthsthat come with the realization of the complicity of psychiatry in perpetuatingthe eugenics movements agenda. Yet, itseems that psychiatry itself was not directly responsible foraccelerating the implementation of eugenic policies on mental illness andmental disability.
Psychiatry was drawnto any platform that could advance credible positions within the field, thoughit also had some concerns that, “association with such an operation riskedfurther stigmatizing the field.”21 Acknowledging that sterilization programs were carried outwithin institutions across the country creates questions on where ethicalconsiderations stand in the present with the implementation of treatmentprograms exploring experimental drug therapies. Ill-intentioned or not, these methods wereinvasions of autonomy that were performed with the intention to modify behaviorand finally render these afflicted populations as incapable to reproduce theirdefective conditions into subsequent generations. The history of eugenics takes historians backto a not so distant past.
The history ofeugenics remains largely unspoken of under the guise of a continuallymodernizing cultural amnesia. Theoutlook on fundamental human rights has changed so much that embracing eugenicswould destroy the credibility of any professional now, but the “us” versus”them” temperament felt within the period of the eugenics movements agendastill permeates through the socio-political coded language we see in variousforms of media. A covert multi-faceted agendafunded by the elite that has been designed to focus on systemically isolatingand oppressing targeted segments of the population would not surprise me in theslightest after our research in this seminar.
The only thing that still surprises me is the way people can treat eachother.1Franz Boas. “Eugenics.” TheScientific Monthly 3, no. 5 (1916): 477.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/6055.2Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine, TheOxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 2012), 120.3Alex Wellerstein. “States of Eugenics: Institutions and Practices of CompulsorySterilization in California,” in Sheila Jasanoff, ed., Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) 30.
4Rudolph J. Vecoli. “Sterilization: A Progressive Measure?” TheWisconsin Magazine of History 43, no. 3 (1960): 196. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4633515.
5Alex Wellerstein. “States of Eugenics: Institutions and Practices of CompulsorySterilization in California,” in Sheila Jasanoff, ed., Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) 32.6Alex Wellerstein. “States of Eugenics: Institutions and Practices of CompulsorySterilization in California,” in Sheila Jasanoff, ed., Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) 32.7Alex Wellerstein. “States of Eugenics: Institutions and Practices of CompulsorySterilization in California,” in Sheila Jasanoff, ed., Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) 29.8Alex Wellerstein.
“States of Eugenics: Institutions and Practices of CompulsorySterilization in California,” in Sheila Jasanoff, ed., Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) 34.9Alex Wellerstein. “States of Eugenics: Institutions and Practices of CompulsorySterilization in California,” in Sheila Jasanoff, ed.
, Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) 30.10Irwin N. Hassenfeld “Doctor–Patient Relations in Nazi Germany and the Fateof Psychiatric Patients,” PsychiatricQuarterly 73, no.
3 (2002) 184, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost(accessed December 2, 2017).11Alex Wellerstein. “States of Eugenics: Institutions and Practices of CompulsorySterilization in California,” in Sheila Jasanoff, ed., Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) 30.12Irwin N. Hassenfeld “Doctor–Patient Relations in Nazi Germany and the Fateof Psychiatric Patients,” PsychiatricQuarterly 73, no. 3 (2002) 183, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost(accessed December 2, 2017).
13Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine, TheOxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 2012), 91.14Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine, TheOxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 2012), 91.15Alex Wellerstein. “States of Eugenics: Institutions and Practices of CompulsorySterilization in California,” in Sheila Jasanoff, ed., Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) 34.16Alex Wellerstein.
“States of Eugenics: Institutions and Practices of CompulsorySterilization in California,” in Sheila Jasanoff, ed., Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) 39.17Katherine Castles. “Quiet Eugenics: Sterilization in North Carolina’sInstitutions for the Mentally Retarded, 1945-1965.” The Journal of Southern History 68, no.
4 (2002): 853.doi:10.2307/3069776.
18John Chynoweth Burnham, “Psychiatry, Psychology and the ProgressiveMovement,” American Quarterly12, no. 4 (1960): 460, doi:10.2307/271032819Alex Wellerstein.
“States of Eugenics: Institutions and Practices of CompulsorySterilization in California,” in Sheila Jasanoff, ed., Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) 29.20William A. Schambra, “Philanthropy’s Original Sin,” By William A.Schambra, accessed December 2, 2017, https://www.hudson.org/research/9747-philanthropy-s-original-sin.21Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine, TheOxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 2012), 128.