Request to explain a FB post

Dale wrote:  ‘Larry Larry Larry, get off your sons computer….. but id sure like to see some Credible links to real news items backing this eugenics accusation.”  in response to my statement: “As long as you are willing to talk about George Soros and the other filthy rich leftists who encourage eugenics against minorities in the name of “family planing”

I posted back:

And here I thought I was on the “Old Timers Gardeners Almanac” all this time.  Anyhow, I appreciate your wanting further information on eugenics.  As you can imagine, it is not possible to find out many things by just reading one or two “stories” about something.  One has to do extensive research.  Fortunately, I wrote a thesis for my Philosophy of Science class.  I have done the research for you.   I have removed some of the parts of the paper and left it with the important parts related to the post.  The references are of course at the bottom.

We will cover information in Margaret Sanger’s own personal papers, the interlibrary loan office at Seattle Pacific University, the American Philosophical Society library in Philadelphia, the Eugenics Record Office, and the American Eugenics Society, and the California Institute of Technology, which houses the records of the Human Betterment Foundation archives.  From these and a few other sources we can trace the development and social intertwining of the eugenics movement in American society and its influence abroad.


Darwin’s son George that advocated eugenics[i]. Drawing on the writings of W. R. Greg, Alfred Wallace, and Francis Galton, Darwin layed out a rationale for what would later become known as eugenics, the attempt to improve the human race through breeding.[ii]

Despite continued interest in the biology of criminal behavior, as the twentieth century progressed American criminologists increasingly turned to psychological and sociological approaches to explain crime. This shift away from biology was probably accelerated by the backlash against the horrific eugenics program implemented by Nazi Germany; moreover, as James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein point out, sociological causes of crime were regarded as easier to fix than biological causes.[iii]

Being classified as mentally ill made one a target for forced sterilization and even euthanasia under Germany’s eugenics program[iv].  Reformers were soon pressing for compulsory sterilization of those deemed unfit. The call for surgical sterilization was part of the broader eugenics movement, which was directly inspired by nineteenth-century Darwinian biology. Darwinists emphasized the heritability of a wide array of biological traits, and although it was not until the early twentieth century that they had a better grasp of genetics, the basic idea was clear enough. It was second nature for Darwinists to think that bad behaviors as well as bad physical traits (such as defective eyesight or mental abilities) could be passed down from parents to children.

“Eugenics” was supposed to be the science that would allow man to take control of his own evolution by breeding a better race. In the words of Horatio Hackett Newman, a University of Chicago zoology professor, through eugenics “man might control his own evolution and save himself from racial degeneration[v].” “Positive eugenics” focused on encouraging those deemed the most fit to reproduce more, while “negative eugenics” focused on curtailing reproduction by those deemed  unfit, including mental defectives and criminals.

{I’ll skip the next 4 pages that deal with the individual states laws in regard to eugenics.]

Although eugenics is sometimes regarded as a perversion of Darwinian biology, Charles Darwin himself praised the idea of voluntary eugenic restrictions on marriage in The Descent of Man, and his sons George and Leonard actively promoted the eugenics agenda, with Leonard becoming the president of the Eugenics Education Society, the main eugenics group in Great Britain[vi].

Francis Galton who is justly considered the founder of the modern eugenics crusade. Inspired by The Origin of Species, Galton set about to apply his cousin Charles’s theory to the rise of human genius. After researching the family connections of members of the British elite, Galton announced in articles and then in books that intellectual and artistic talent was largely hereditary[vii].  Thus, if society wanted to guarantee its future improvement, it needed more children from the “fit” and fewer from the “unfit.”

Consequently, “to be permanently rid of deficients, they must be prevented from reproducing their defective kind. Our only hope for racial improvement lies in prohibiting the continual replenishment in frightful numbers of our degenerate and criminal classes.[viii]

The editor of the Journal of Heredity described research showing that “the so-called ‘criminal type’… is merely a type of feeblemindedness … driven into criminality for which he is well fitted by nature[ix].”

New books advocating eugenics were being published, a Broadway play on the subject was in preparation, and professional societies were taking up the topic in earnest.

In Washington, D.C., Dr. Woods Hutchinson of the New York Polyclinic preached eugenics at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association. Hutchinson proposed that all American schoolchildren be given a eugenics inspection by their third year in school. “As soon as the 2 to 3 per cent of all children who are hereditarily defective are determined they should be given such a training as will fit them for the part they are likely to play in life. Then they should either be segregated in open-air farm colonies or sterilized[x].”  Dr. L. F. Barker of Johns Hopkins University lectured the International Hygiene Congress about the importance of “providing for the birth of children endowed with good brains” and “denying, as far as possible, the privilege of parenthood to the manifestly unfit.[xi]

a growing number of national organizations, including the American Breeders Association (established 1903), the Eugenics Record Office (established 1910), the Race Betterment Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan (established 1911), and the American Eugenics Society (established 1923)[xii]. The American Breeders Association (later renamed the American Genetic Association) was organized at the instigation of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson and Assistant Secretary of Agriculture W. Hays[xiii].

Besides publishing an influential periodical eventually titled the Journal of Heredity, the association helped create the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. The goal of the ERO was to collect comprehensive eugenics information on “a large portion of the families of America,” records which would be stored permanently in the group’s fireproof vaults and could be consulted by those who wanted to ensure that their prospective mates were eugenically fit[xiv].

In July of that year American eugenists played a starring role in the first International Eugenics Congress held in London.[xv] At that event, Professor G. Ruggeri from Italy publicly recognized the American contribution to eugenics, declaring that “thanks to recent researches in the United States, it was now certain that the races of man acted in exactly the same way as the races of animals[xvi].”

Bleecker Van Wagenen of the American Breeders Association opened the discussion by outlining “The Eugenic Problem,” describing the increasing burden on American society caused by hundreds of thousands of defectives, including the blind, the deaf, the feeble-minded, the insane, paupers, criminals, and juvenile delinquents. “It is impossible to measure the industrial and social handicap caused by these individuals,” said Van Wagenen, “but just as the great leaders of successful human endeavor exert an influence altogether incommensurate with their number, so, doubtless, these classes constitute a correspondingly heavy drag upon society.[xvii]

[There were about 5 more pages of various statements of eugenicists’, but I will skip them for now.  We shoud get into the political ramifications.)

Darwin’s materialistic theory was also praised by socialists for banishing purpose from nature. According to Marx, “despite all shortcomings, it is here [in Darwin’s work] that, for the first time, ‘teleology’ in natural science is not only dealt a mortal blow but its rational meaning is empirically explained[xviii].”  Engels agreed. Before Darwin, he wrote, “there was one aspect of teleology that had yet to be demolished, and that has now been done[xix].”

some on the left thought that Darwin’s theory of natural selection provided a biological foundation for the class struggle in human society. “Although it is developed in the crude English fashion,” The Origin of Species “is the book which, in the field of natural history, provides the basis for our views,” Karl Marx wrote Frederick Engels in 1860[xx]. “Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle,” he added to another correspondent in 1861[xxi]. While Marx ultimately expressed ambivalence about the relevance of Darwin’s theory to human affairs, he was not above invoking natural selection to help explain specific economic struggles in Das Kapital (1867). 101  “Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle,” he added to another correspondent in 1861.100 While Marx ultimately expressed ambivalence about the relevance of Darwin’s theory to human affairs, he was not above invoking natural selection to help explain specific economic struggles in Das Kapital (1867)[xxii].

{Planned Parenthood]

In a letter to the Human Betterment Federation of Des Moines in 1951, Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood urged that the unfit be sterilized, because their “children form our army of delinquents and become social burdens, ending their lives in institutions, such as reform schools and penitenturies [sic][xxiii].”

Eugenists in the 1920s marketed sterilization as the cure to what they depicted as a looming welfare crisis. In a 1926 speech at Vassar College promoting sterilization, Margaret Sanger spoke in near-apocalpytic terms about the ruinous costs to taxpayers of welfare spending to care for defectives. “In 1923 over nine billions of dollars were spent on state and federal charities for the care and maintenance and perpetuation of these undesirables,” she complained. “Year by year their numbers are mounting. Year by year their cost is increasing. Huge sums— yes, vast fortunes— are expended on these, while the normal parents and their children are compelled to shift for themselves and compete with each other.”  She added that “the American public is taxed, heavily taxed, to maintain an increasing race of morons, which threatens the very foundations of our civilization.[xxiv]

In her bestselling book The Pivot of Civilization (1922), Sanger likewise tried to alert Americans to alarming expenditures on social-welfare programs for the mentally defective, urging readers that “our eyes should be opened to the terrific cost to the community of this dead weight of human waste[xxv].”

Margaret Sanger warned of the “dangers inherent in the very idea of humanitarianism and altruism, dangers which have today produced their full harvest of human waste, of inequality and inefficiency[xxvi].”  Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood still championed sterilization of the unfit in the 1950s, although she lamented that because of the Nazi program, “the word has acquired some unpleasant connotations which it does not deserve[xxvii].” She told the Planned Parenthood Federation in 1950: “Human beings are herded into concentration camps, into vast slave labor prisons. Whole nations are made homeless and displaced. These manifestations are symptoms of a complete lack of population policies and of political foresight as to the value and meaning of dignified human living on this earth[xxviii].” That is, the Nazis had sterilized too few people.


West, John G.. Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science (Kindle Locations 3563-3566). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.

It was only a matter of time before someone resurrected an explicitly Darwinian defense of family planning, and in 2004, Alexander Sanger— Margaret Sanger’s grandson— did precisely that. Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council, Sanger published a provocative book arguing that the opponents of abortion ignored the facts of evolutionary biology, because they fail to recognize that human beings have evolved through natural selection the capacity to control their own reproduction. In his words, “humanity has evolved to take conscious control of reproduction and has done so in order to survive … We cannot repeal the laws of natural selection. Nature does not let every life form survive. Humanity uniquely, and to its benefit, can exercise some dominion over this process and maximize the chances for human life to survive and grow[xxix].”

“We live in a Darwinian world, like it or not,” Sanger later explained in a speech to prochoice Republicans in Florida. “The rules of evolution and the rules of natural selection apply to us like any other species … And natural selection favors women who take control of their reproduction. When they do, they are more likely to survive child-bearing and have their children survive[xxx].”  Perhaps we are not so far removed from the eugenic horror as we like to think.

[The Next Step]

After 1915, many American eugenists supported euthanasia for at least some of the unfit, and eugenists had a formative influence on the founding of the Euthanasia Society of America (ESA) in the late 1930s[xxxi].  “A striking 73 percent of ESA’s founders were supporters of eugenics,” writes Ian Dowbiggin. “By the early 1940s, the list of ESA advisory council members who had defended eugenics to one degree or another was long[xxxii].”

That is an understatement. The ESA advisory council included not merely those “who had defended eugenics,” but some of the most prominent leaders in the eugenics movement. These included Henry Goddard (the godfather of hysteria over the “feeble-minded”), Arthur Estabrook (who testified in the Carrie Buck sterilization case), Albert Wiggam (eugenics popularizer extraordinaire), and even Margaret Sanger. Dowbiggin argues that not every eugenist joined the ESA “solely for eugenic reasons,” but he acknowledges that there were clear ideological connections between the eugenics and euthanasia movements[xxxiii].  ESA member Ann Mitchell justified euthanasia as part of a “biological house cleaning,” and advocated “euthanasia as a war measure, including euthanasia for the insane, feebleminded monstrosities[xxxiv].”

Margaret Sanger warned of the “dangers inherent in the very idea of humanitarianism and altruism, dangers which have today produced their full harvest of human waste, of inequality and inefficiency.[xxxv]


[i] Desmond and Moore, Darwin, 613.

[ii] Darwin himself credited Greg, Wallace, and Galton in the text of Descent (1871), 167– 68. See, in particular, William R. Greg, “On the Failure of ‘Natural Selection’ in the Case of Man,” Fraser’s Magazine 78 (1868): 353– 62; and Francis Galton, “Hereditary Talent and Character,” second paper, Macmillan’s Magazine, August 1865, 318– 27. For a discussion of the views of Greg, Wallace, and Galton, see Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind, 161– 76. For additional information on the background sources of this section of Descent, see John C. Greene, “Darwin as a Social Evolutionist,” in Science, Ideology, and World View: Essays in the History of Evolutionary Ideas (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1981), 95– 127.

[iii] Wilson and Herrnstein, Crime and Human Nature, 79. For a general discussion of the shift from biological explanations to cultural/ social explanations in the social sciences (not tied to crime), see Carl N. Degler, In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 59– 211.

[iv] See Leo Alexander, “Medical Science Under Dictatorship,” The New England Journal of Medicine 241, no. 2 (July 14, 1949): 39– 41.

[v] For Darwin’s endorsement of voluntary marriage restrictions, see Descent (1871), 2: 403. In both Descent and in his correspondence with Francis Galton, Darwin did worry about whether the eugenics crusade might be “utopian,” but he nevertheless thought it was a worthy effort. See Bowlby, Charles Darwin, 415– 16. On the eugenic efforts of sons George and Leonard, see Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), 60 and Desmond and Moore, Darwin, 610– 611..

[vi] For more information on Francis Galton, see Haller, Eugenics, 8– 20, and Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics, 3– 19.

[vii] Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics, xiii.

[viii] “Heredity as a Factor in the Improvement of Social Conditions,” The American Breeders Magazine 2 (Fourth Quarter, 1911): 249, 252.

[ix] “Feeblemindedness,” The Journal of Heredity 6 (January 1915): 33. This same idea can be seen in the comments of an immigration commissioner in New York who argued that “the feeble-minded contribute largely to the criminal class.” Cited in “First Report of the Committee on Immigration of the Eugenics Section,” American Breeders Magazine 3 (Fourth Quarter, 1912): 252.

[x] Quoted in “Would Check Birth of All Defectives,” New York Times (September 21, 1912), 7.

[xi] Quoted in “Hope of Better Brains for All,” New York Times (September 27, 1912), 9.

[xii] “Eugenics Organizations,” Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement, http:// eugenics/ theme = 19& search =& matches = (accessed February 20, 2012); also see “Description of the American Breeders Association,” (American Breeders Association, 1909), available as document 410 at the Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement, http:// (accessed August 15, 2012).

[xiii] James Wilson, “Presidential Address,” American Breeders Magazine 4, no. 1 (First Quarter, 1913), 53.

[xiv] “Eugenics Seeks to Improve the Natural, the Physical, Mental and Temperamental Qualities of the Human Family,” (Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Eugenics Record Office, 1927), 1, available as document 248 at the Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement, http:// (accessed August 15, 2012).

[xv] “First Eugenics Congress,” New York Times (July 25, 1912), 5.

[xvi] “Our Work in Eugenics,” New York Times (July 26, 1912), 4.

[xvii] Bleecker Van Wagenen, “The Eugenic Problem,” in Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction at the Thirty-Ninth Annual Session, Held in Cleveland, Ohio, June 12– 19, 1912, ed. Alexander Johnson (Fort Wayne, IN: Fort Wayne Printing Company, 1912), 277.

[xviii] Karl Marx to Ferdinand Lassalle, Jan. 16, 1861, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels: Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1975– 2005), 41: 245.

[xix] Engels went on to add: “Never before has so grandiose an attempt been made to demonstrate historical evolution in Nature, and certainly never to such good effect. One does, of course, have to put up with the crude English method.” Frederick Engels to Karl Marx, December 11 or 12, 1859, Collected Works, 40: 550. The views of Marx and Engels on Darwin’s death-blow to teleology were echoed by other German socialists. “German socialists … were elated with Darwin’s elimination of teleology from nature, which they regularly summoned in defense of their materialist world view.” Weikart, Socialist Darwinism, 221. The same view was adopted by later Soviet thinkers. “In Soviet opinion this theory of Darwin’s deals a devastating blow against the teleological point of view.” Gustav A. Wetter, Dialectical Materialism: A Historical and Systematic Survey of Philosophy in the Soviet Union, trans. Peter Heath (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1958), 379– 380.

[xx] Karl Marx to Frederick Engels, December 19, 1860, Collected Works, 41: 232.

[xxi] Karl Marx to Ferdinand Lassalle, January 16, 1861, Collected Works, 41: 245.

[xxii] Weikart, Socialist Darwinism, 35. Despite his praise of Darwin, Marx was ambivalent about the application of Darwinism to human society, and he could be very negative about Darwin’s theory in private. Ibid., 15– 51. For an interesting summary of the contacts between Darwin and Marx, see Ralph Colp, Jr., “The Contacts between Karl Marx and Charles Darwin,” Journal of the History of Ideas 35, no. 2 (April-June 1974): 329– 38. For many years it was believed that Marx offered to dedicate an edition of Das Kapital to Darwin, but this idea was based on a misidentification of the recipient of one of Darwin’s letters. See Margaret A. Fay, “Did Marx Offer to Dedicate Capital to Darwin?: A Reassessment of the Evidence,” Journal of the History of Ideas 39, no. 1 (January– March, 1978): 133– 46.

[xxiii] Margaret Sanger to the Human Betterment Foundation (February 1951), in Margaret Sanger Papers, Series 3, Subseries 4, Articles and Speeches, #306308.

[xxiv] Sanger, “The Function of Sterilization,” Birth Control Review (October 1926), 299.

[xxv] Perry, The Pivot of Civilization, 215.

[xxvi] Sanger in Perry, Pivot of Civilization, 214.

[xxvii] Sanger, “Sterilization: A Modern Medical Program for Human Health and Welfare,” (June 5, 1951), Sophia Smith Collection, Records of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 2.

[xxviii] Sanger, “Address,” Supplement to The Malthusian (January 1951) in Sophia Smith Collection, Margaret Sanger Papers.

[xxix] Alexander Sanger, Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom and the 21st Century (New York: Public Affairs, 2004), 292.

[xxx] Quoted in David Rogers, “Sanger: Pro-choice stance stale,” March 20, 2004, Palm Beach Daily News, http:// news/ newsfd/ auto/ feed/ news/ 2004/ 03/ 20/ 1079760835.26609.3982.6211. html (accessed March 20, 2012).

[xxxi] Ian Dowbiggin, A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 25, 53– 56.

[xxxii] Ibid., 54.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 55.

[xxxiv] Mitchell, quoted in ibid.

[xxxv] Sanger in Perry, Pivot of Civilization, 214.


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