Eugenics Crusade: American Experience

Tuesday, October 16, at 9pm on ThinkTV16

The word “eugenics” tends to conjure gruesome images of Nazi concentration camps and the millions of casualties from Hitler’s ruthless campaign for racial purity. What may come as a surprise to many is that a similar effort to breed a “better” human race flourished in the United States in the decades prior to World War II – and that the manifestos written by the American movement's proponents and the policy victories they achieved were a direct inspiration to the Führer.

Perhaps more surprising still, American eugenics was neither the work of fanatics, nor the product of fringe science. The goal of the movement was simple and, to its disciples, laudable: to eradicate social ills by limiting the number of those considered to be genetically “unfit” –– a group that would expand to include many immigrant groups, the poor, Jews, the mentally and physically disabled, and the “morally delinquent.” At its peak in the 1920s, the movement was in every way mainstream, packaged as a progressive quest for “healthy babies.” Its doctrines were not only popular and practiced, but codified by laws that severely restricted immigration and ultimately led to the institutionalization and sterilization of tens of thousands of American citizens.