Throughout the first six decades of the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Americans and untold numbers of others were not permitted to continue their families by reproducing. Selected because of their ancestry, national origin, race or religion, they were forcibly sterilized, wrongly committed to mental institutions where they died in great numbers, prohibited from marrying, and sometimes even unmarried by state bureaucrats. In America, this battle to wipe out whole ethnic groups was fought not by armies with guns nor by hate sects at the margins. Rather, this pernicious white-gloved war was prosecuted by esteemed professors, elite universities, wealthy industrialists and government officials colluding in a racist, pseudoscientific movement called eugenics. The purpose: create a superior Nordic race.
To perpetuate the campaign, widespread academic fraud combined with almost unlimited corporate philanthropy to establish the biological rationales for persecution. Employing a hazy amalgam of guesswork, gossip, falsified information and polysyllabic academic arrogance, the eugenics movement slowly constructed a national bureaucratic and juridical infrastructure to cleanse America of its “unfit.” Specious intelligence tests, colloquially known as IQ tests, were invented to justify incarceration of a group labeled “feebleminded.” Often the so-called feebleminded were just shy, too good-natured to be taken seriously, or simply spoke the wrong language or were the wrong color. Mandatory sterilization laws were enacted in some twenty-seven states to prevent targeted individuals from reproducing more of their kind. Marriage prohibition laws proliferated throughout the country to stop race mixing. Collusive litigation was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sanctified eugenics and its tactics.
The goal was to immediately sterilize fourteen million people in the United States and millions more worldwide—the “lower tenth”—and then continuously eradicate the remaining lowest tenth until only a pure Nordic super race remained. Ultimately, some 60,000 Americans were coercively sterilized and the total is probably much higher. No one knows how many marriages were thwarted by state felony statutes. Although much of the persecution was simply racism, ethnic hatred and academic elitism, eugenics wore the mantle of respectable science to mask its true character.
The victims of eugenics were poor urban dwellers and rural “white trash” from New England to California, immigrants from across Europe, Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Native Americans, epileptics, alcoholics, petty criminals, the mentally ill and anyone else who did not resemble the blond and blue-eyed Nordic ideal the eugenics movement glorified. Eugenics contaminated many otherwise worthy social, medical and educational causes from the birth control movement to the development of psychology to urban sanitation. Psychologists persecuted their patients. Teachers stigmatized their students. Charitable associations clamored to send those in need of help to lethal chambers they hoped would be constructed. Immigration assistance bureaus connived to send the most needy to sterilization mills. Leaders of the ophthalmology profession conducted a long and chilling political campaign to round up and coercively sterilize every relative of every American with a vision problem. All of this churned throughout America years before the Third Reich rose in Germany.
Edwin Black, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race