The History of Eugenics in America

By Dr. Christina Sisti

Photo by Gabriel Barletta on Unsplash

No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them. Elie Wiesel

The father of the Eugenic Movement, Francis Galton, believed one should reproduce if one carried desirable traits.1 Galton spent a lifetime researching and investigating human heredity and ways to “improve” it, and in this, he coined the term we know today as eugenics. 
He believed in building a society based on positive eugenics or traits which he felt were desirable. Positive eugenics, which encouraged people of above average intelligence to bear more children with the idea of building a perfect human race. Positive measures included encouraging those with “good” stock to marry and procreate while negative measures included laws denying some the right to marry and procreate. 
People who were deemed unfit to procreate were often found to be those with mental or physical disabilities. Though some could rightfully argue he placed value judgments upon what was and wasn’t of value, it was only later the term eugenics became known as a negative term due to both the United States and Nazi Germany’s belief in race degeneration. While there are those who could argue the two forms of eugenics are quite different, they do have one similarity: what are and what are not desirable traits for humans.
The center of the eugenics movement in the United States was the Eugenics Record Office (ERO). Biologist Charles Davenport established the ERO and later was later by Harry H. Laughlin. In 1914 Laughlin attended the first Race Betterment Conference, sponsored by J.H. Kellogg.1 
Later that year Laughlin penned the Model Sterilization Law in which he declared the “socially inadequate” should be sterilized. 1 Proponents of eugenics advocated for the theory of a better race through selective breeding. For those who were concerned about the degradation of their race and culture, the scientific concept of eugenics was used to justify categorizing those in marginalized social groups as less worthy.  
What is troublesome is not only the vagueness of feeble-mindedness but the rationalization of using ambiguous terms such as hypersexuality. To then apply hypersexuality to a race is morally unsound. How does one race supersede another in sexuality? The logic and justification behind the eugenic sterilization movement are fuzzy, to say the least. The history of racial superiority and sexuality may be found in the preceding century.
Genetic determinism states that human character and behavior are shaped by the genes that compromise the individual’s genotype rather than by culture, environment and individual choice.2 
I do not hold to this theory. I believe a person is identified by not only their DNA but by all our dimensions. We risk losing our humanity if we view the person and their worth by DNA alone.  

Origins of Eugenics: From Sir Francis Galton to Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (2004).  Historical Collections of the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library: University of Virginia.
Genetic Determinism. (2015).  Biomedical EthicsReference.MD.

This article is extracted from the Research paper titled 'America's Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations'  in Chapter 4 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Outreach Foundation 'Safety First for Girls'.

The Safety Report by SAFIGI is a two-fold Open research on 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The first part of the Safety Report is a Research Paper. The second part is a detailed Data Analysis. 

The Safety Report Research paper is titled: 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The paper starts with an abstract before focusing on subjects in the key regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. A total of 7 Research papers make up the safety Report (sans the introduction and conclusion), including:

  1. The psychological effect of mass sexual harassment on girls in Egypt (P.24) by Heba Elasiouty.
  2. Safety concerns in relation to social media: Growing up female in an increasingly digital world (P.45) by Karin Temperley.
  3. Psychosocial challenges faced by parents raising children with physical disabilities in Oshana region (P.68) by Misumbi Shikaputo.
  4. Gender-based violence and subsequent safety challenges experienced by Rohingya women (P.119) by Shucheesmita Simonti.
  5. LGBT policies and overall safety in Brazil (P.141) by Alinne Lopes Gomes.
  6. Silent voices‘: Violence against the female body as consequence of machismo culture (P.177)  by Steffica Warwick.
  7. America‘s Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations (P.208) by Dr. Christina Sisti.

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.

This study is as a result of collaborative effort pursued in the spirit of volunteerism via UN Online Volunteers.


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