What is Eugenics?

Eugenics is the science of human racial improvement through controlled reproduction

First coined during the late nineteenth century, eugenics is the science and practice of improving the quality of the human race through controlled reproduction. Eugenicists believed that the human race could be improved through two methods. Positive eugenics encouraged the eugenically “fit”— the white, able-bodied, and intelligent — to have more children; negative eugenics prohibited the reproduction of the “unfit” — the people of color, “defective” people, or “feeble-minded" people.

To determine who was unfit for reproduction, eugenicists invented new taxonomies of race and disability, methods of labeling people of color and people with disabilities as social problems. One such method was the the Stanford-Benet I.Q. Test developed by Stanford’s own Lewis Terman, which was intended to locate the "idiots" and "morons" of society. The penal system was also utilized to locate the unfit with criminality seen as a sign of unfitness.

Eugenicists promoted different measures to control who could reproduce: segregation of the unfit in asylums and other institutions, laws requiring marriage certificates proving health, and the sterilization of disabled people. 

During the early twentieth century, eugenic measures were codified in law, from requiring medical certificates for marriage to sterilizing the eugenically unfit. Between 1907 and 1963, over 60,000 people were forcibly sterilized by state governments. The State of California alone sterilized over 20,000 people, namely people deemed "feeble-minded" and disproportionately people of Mexican descent. The last sterilization occurred as late as 1963. Anti-immigration laws also had roots in the eugenic anxieties of race suicide: white Americans feared being outnumbered by non-white "hordes" entering the country.



 

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