was term coined by Francis Galton in 1883 to describe the theory that sympathy for the weak thwarted evolution. The field went stagnant without any real interest until the rediscovery and renewed interest in Mendels theories of inheritance in the early 1900s. through the forties a worldwide interest in the field of eugenics spread throughout the world, but took particular hold in the United States
, and Germany
. It was both research and convenient propaganda.
The American Eugenics Society was formed at the Second International Conference on Eugenics in 1921. All eugenicists of repute belonged to the society. The AES spread their theories through pamphlets and exhibits at county fairs and held contests for "Fitter Family" and best essays and sermons on eugenics.
Through their widespread caimpaign they convinced the American public the money
that shoud be used to further the glory
of the country was instead being used to care for the unfit
. one exihbit, documented with photographs with the AES papers at the American Philosphical Society Library, called "Some People are Born to be a Burden
on the Rest," shows three sets of flashing lights. One light flashed every 15 seconds and a sign under it states "every 15 seconds $100 of your money goes for the care of a person with bad heredity ..." , one light flashed every 48 seconds, indicating the birth of another "defective
" (the sign then continues, "Very few normal people ever go to jail
"), and one light flashed every 7 and a half minutes, indicating the birth of a "high grade person."
The ultimate problem with the AES was that it was a decidedly non-scientific organization. The field of eugenics
was founded on the theories of heredity
and inheritence and how they relate to evolution
, but was used as justification for hatred of the poor
, the licentious
s, drug addict
s, and other social have-nots. Any trait deemed undesireable was called curable by simply claiming it was a matter of bad genetics. The people were convinced that all social ills could be wiped out in one generation
if the unfit, feeble minded people were denied the right to reproduce
"Sterilization could be applied to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types."
From The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant, co-founder American Eugenics Society
The spread of eugenics propaganda
convinced 27 states to pass laws against the intermarriage of the races as public health measures or the force
d sterilization of those deemed mentally defective or deficient
Many fought back against these law
s. One notable case was that of Carrie Buck. Her case went to the Supreme Court
(Buck vs. Bell) where they decided "it is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind . . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough." Labeled as feeble poor white trash, the pregnant
teenager was forcefully sterilized and insitutionalized at the Virginia Colony for Epileptic
s and the Feebleminded. This set a precedent
which resulted in the court-ordered involutary sterilization of more then 60,000 men
from 1907 through the 1960s.
Eventually, the AES did begin to lean away from the focus on propaganda and toward science
mainly through the influence of Frederick Osborn, a retired bank president and railroad executive
(secretary of the Society from 1928 to 1972). After studying genetics
, he found "dissatisfaction with the prejudice
s and generalizations that characterized much of the eugenics movement." As there were openings in the Board of Directors of the AES, he would use his position
to replace flagrant racist
s with "persons of scientific reputation
and more balanced views."
I could not find evidence
of the Society existing as a research entity
today. The most recent reference I could find was as the Society for the Study of Social Biology (the name of the organization was changed several times over the years), and the most recent publications being the journal "Social Biology" which was last publish
ed in 1996.