Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Eugenic Nation

Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America

Alexandra Minna Stern
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 361
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Eugenic Nation
    Book Description:

    Many people assume that eugenics all but disappeared with the fall of Nazism, but as this sweeping history demonstrates, the idea of better breeding had a wide and surprising reach in the United States throughout the twentieth century. With an original emphasis on the American West,Eugenic Nationbrings to light many little-known facts-for example, that one-third of the involuntary sterilizations in this country occurred in California between 1909 and 1979-as it explores the influence of eugenics on phenomena as varied as race-based intelligence tests, school segregation, tropical medicine, the Border Patrol, and the environmental movement.Eugenic Nationbegins in the 1900s, when influential California eugenicists molded an extensive agenda of better breeding for the rest of the country. The book traces hereditarian theories of sex and gender to the culture of conformity of the 1950s and moves to the 1960s, arguing that the liberation movements of that decade emerged in part as a challenge to policies and practices informed by eugenics.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93866-3
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    At a ceremony held in Oregon’s capitol building in December 2002, Governor John Kitzhaber stood before an overflowing crowd and apologized for the more than twenty-six hundred sterilizations performed in that state between 1917 and 1983.¹ Since the summer, Kitzhaber had been under mounting pressure from a vocal coalition of mental health advocates, disability rights groups, and sterilization victims to express public remorse for what he referred to at the December event as the “misdeeds that resulted from widespread misconceptions, ignorance and bigotry.”² Kitzhaber’s apology was the second in a series initiated by Virginia’s governor, Mark Warner, who in May...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Race Betterment and Tropical Medicine in Imperial San Francisco
    (pp. 27-56)

    At six o’clock on the morning of February 20, 1915, San Francisco was engulfed by a cacophony of sounds. To signal the opening of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the fire department rang its bells and whistles, automobilists honked their horns, policemen banged on trolley poles, and, just in case anyone was still asleep, the fife-and-drum corps canvassed the streets.¹ A few hours later, under a bright sky, an entourage of politicians and merchants headed by Mayor James Rolph Jr. and Governor Hiram Johnson led a two-and-a-half-mile-long procession from Van Ness Avenue and Broadway to the marina. At the vanguard of...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Quarantine and Eugenic Gatekeeping on the U.S.-Mexican Border
    (pp. 57-81)

    In March 1916, Mexicans living in the twin cities of Laredo–Nuevo Laredo on the Texas-Mexican border began to complain loudly to their local consul. They were outraged that the U.S. Public Health Service had started to brand their arms, in permanent ink, with the word “admitted” upon being bathed and physically examined at Laredo’s international footbridge. Angered as well, the Mexican consul sent a letter to the USPHS asserting that “the American sanitary and immigration authorities are acting against all principles of respect, justice, and humanity, by stamping Mexican citizens, who are looking for work, with indelible ink.”¹ The...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Instituting Eugenics in California
    (pp. 82-114)

    From 1935 to 1941, readers of theLos Angeles Timescould open their Sunday magazines to the column “Social Eugenics,” written by the veteran arts and society contributor Fred Hogue.¹ An enthusiast of the American Eugenics Society, Hogue attended the meetings of its California Division, often held at the Los Angeles Public Library, which he then summarized for his audience. He also frequently cited the publications of the Human Betterment Foundation, organized by the Pasadena citrus magnate Ezra S. Gosney to promote surgical sterilization, and commended the marriage and mate counseling offered by Paul Popenoe and Roswell M. Johnson, authors...

  10. CHAPTER 4 California’s Eugenic Landscapes
    (pp. 115-149)

    Atop a steep ridge lined with eucalyptus and pines in the hills above Berkeley, California, sits Vollmer Peak, named for August Vollmer, an eclectic eugenicist and one of the most innovative reformers in modern policing.¹ What was formerly known as Baldy Peak was christened in honor of Vollmer in 1940, after New Deal and relief projects had transformed the face of much of California and the Southwest.² Thanks to the toil of thousands of young workers attached to the Civilian Conservation Corps and the State Emergency Relief Administration, hundreds of parks, gardens, recreation facilities, and historical monuments were constructed during...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Centering Eugenics on the Family
    (pp. 150-181)

    In 1945, Mr. and Mrs. C came to the offices of the American Institute of Family Relations, located not far from central Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. The couple and their two young daughters had recently moved to Southern California from Indianapolis and were on the verge of divorce. Mrs. C had confessed to her husband that she had an unconsummated infatuation with a male coworker, a “sinful” relationship for which she was wracked with guilt. Given their circumstances, Mr. and Mrs. C decided to seek marital counseling at the AIFR, which had been offering such services for fifteen years. Mrs....

  12. CHAPTER 6 Contesting Hereditarianism: Reassessing the 1960s
    (pp. 182-210)

    In 1965, the May Second Committee, a radical student organization at California State University at Sacramento, began disseminating a leaflet titled “Sacramento State’s Own Doctor Strangelove.” This mimeograph demanded that the university administration refrain from bestowing the name “C. M. Goethe” on the campus’s new science building, which was under construction. Asking, “Who is C. M. Goethe?” the students responded angrily that he was a Nazi sympathizer who instituted racial segregation in Sacramento and trumpeted bigotry and eugenics. At the conclusion of their six-page single-spaced indictment, which vilified Goethe as a coldhearted capitalist who funded biased genetics research at CSUS...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 211-216)

    In March 2003, following a senate hearing in the state capitol in Sacramento, Governor Gray Davis apologized for California’s sterilization program. Speaking for the “people of California,” he conveyed his message to the “victims and their families of this past injustice,” lamenting, “our hearts are heavy for the pain caused by eugenics. It was a sad and regrettable chapter—one that must never be repeated.”¹ There was one glaring absence however: someone on the receiving end to accept this official expression of regret. Unlike in Virginia, Oregon, and North Carolina, where those sterilized unveiled plaques, crowded into the government buildings...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 217-288)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-322)
  16. Index
    (pp. 323-347)