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Our Own Master Race

Our Own Master Race: Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945

Angus McLaren
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 230
  • Book Info
    Our Own Master Race
    Book Description:

    In this landmark book Angus McLaren, co-author ofThe Bedroom and the State, examines the pervasiveness in Canada of the eugenic notion of "race betterment" and demonstrates that many Canadians believed that radical measures were justified to protect the community from the "degenerate."

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2331-6
    Subjects: History, Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 7-12)
  4. 1 The Birth of Biological Politics
    (pp. 13-27)

    In 1919 W.L. Lochhead introduced the readers of theCanadian Bookmanto the complexities of the new science of genetics. He traced its lineage back to Francis Galton, whose statistical work demonstrated the importance of inheritance, August Weismann, who destroyed the old theory of acquired characteristics, and Gregor Mendel, whose experiments on hybridization revealed the way in which characteristics were passed from generation to generation. The new science, according to Lochhead, promised to do more than rejuvenate plant and animal breeding; it also held out hopes of improving human reproduction.

    This latter phase is called Eugenics and has received considerable...

  5. 2 Public Health and Hereditarian Concerns
    (pp. 28-45)

    The main support of eugenics, in Canada as elsewhere, came from those who believed that an understanding of heredity could improvepublichealth. This in turn meant that in Canada, as in Britain and the United States, the most vocal defenders of eugenics were to be found in the ranks of the medical profession.¹ Why physicians sought to link hereditarian concerns to the public health issue and the extent to which such attempts affected social policies warrant close analysis.

    In the early 1800’s doctors enjoyed a relatively low status vis-à-vis other professionals. The working class either could not afford their...

  6. 3 Stemming the Flood of Defective Aliens
    (pp. 46-67)

    At the 1914 Social Service Congress of Canada conference Helen MacMurchy rose to declare that the problem of defective children could only be solved if special education and medical inspection were complemented by restriction of immigration. “It is well known to every intelligent Canadian,” she asserted, “that the number of recent immigrants who drift into institutions for the neuropathic, the feeble-minded and the insane is very great.”¹ The same sentiments were expressed at the Congress’s 1924 meeting, where it was asked:

    What are the eugenic effects of bringing in thousands of boys and girls, a considerable proportion of whom have...

  7. 4 Sex, Science, and Race Betterment
    (pp. 68-88)

    Like moths to a flame, eugenicists were inexorably drawn to the issue of sexuality. The reproduction of the degenerate, the irrational breeding of the feeble-minded, the swamping of Canada by prolific aliens were all subjected by hereditarians to morbid analysis. But they were not content to draw up negative policies to curb the fertility of the unfit; they also sought to assist in the breeding of the fit. To generations of Canadians worried that the increase in the numbers of women working outside the home, the decline in fertility, and the rise in divorces signalled the death of the traditional...

  8. 5 Creating a Haven for Human Thoroughbreds
    (pp. 89-106)

    In 1933 theCanadian Medical Association Journalreprinted an address that Dr. H.A. Bruce, Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, had given to the Hamilton Canadian Club. In it, Bruce, a respected surgeon, wandered far from his own area of professional expertise into the nightmare world of eugenic speculation. Between 1871 and 1931, he informed his audience, the general population had doubled but that of the mentally ill had increased sixfold. Fifty per cent of the latter were produced by feeble-minded parents who were far more prolific than the normal. Bruce warned that if some steps were not taken to stem this tide,...

  9. 6 The Eugenics Society of Canada
    (pp. 107-126)

    British Columbia and Alberta, in passing legislation for the sterilization of the feeble-minded and its supervision by boards of eugenics, went the furthest in putting into action the hereditarian program. The backers of such legislation, as we have seen, came from the progressive, middle-class professionals who were interested in a variety of social reforms; there was no organized single-issue “eugenic movement”perse.In Ontario the campaign to have the province follow B.C. and Alberta in passing such acts played a part in the coming together of Canada’s only formally organized group of eugenicists. This society warrants particular attention. Hereditarian concerns...

  10. 7 Genetics, Eugenics, and Human Pedigrees
    (pp. 127-145)

    Eugenics was thrown into disrepute by the excesses of the Nazis. How, it was to be asked after the Holocaust, could a science have been turned to such atrocious purposes? The answer advanced by a number of historians is that the question is misleading because eugenics, marked as it was by the self-serving interests of its adherents, was patently not a science. Though eugenicists claimed to be elaborating a hereditarian science, most knew little of the true workings of genetics. Indeed, by the 1930’s, so the argument goes, the gulf was widening between value-free genetics and politically engaged eugenics. “These...

  11. 8 The Death of Eugenics?
    (pp. 146-164)

    Under the headline “Two Doctors Disagree in their Own House on Eugenics Problem,” theToronto Stargleefully reported in January, 1933, that Charles C. Macklin did not share Madge Thurlow Macklin’s enthusiasm for sterilization.

    “I am not particularly interested in the study of heredity,” said the ostensible head of the Macklin house, “my problems are in a different field, but I have not yet formed an opinion favourable to sterilization. The reason is that in my view there are not enough low grade people in the world. The troubles of mankind are not due to the low grade run of...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 165-171)

    A measure of the humanity of the inhabitants of Sir Thomas More’s imagined, sixteenth-century Utopia was the degree to which they relished the companionship of the mad. “They have singular delite and pleasure in the foles,” he reported. “And as it is a great reproche to do annye of them hurte or injury, so they prohibit not to take pleasure of foolyshnes.”¹ In early twentieth-century Canada such an indulgence would have been regarded as distinctly odd; it was taken as a given that in the modern world any handicap that impeded “racial efficiency” was lamentable. “It is beyond question,” declared...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 172-218)
  14. Index
    (pp. 219-228)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-230)