In the 1880s, the French government decided to pass a law requiring all children to go to school. Since the children would have come in with various levels of previous education, the ides was to create a test to determine which students would need extra help. Hence, Alfred Binet’s Intelligence Scale was born. With the help of his collegue, Theodore Simon, he created questions that tested memory, attention span, and problem solving skills. A final score was determined stating a child’s mental age, a measure of intelligence based on the average abilities of children of a certain age. That way, if some scored lower than that average, their mental age would be younger than their chronological age, and that could identify kids who had cognitive difficulties.
This measure of intelligence, Binet stressed, did not determine permanent, innate abilities, but the *current progress a child had. Essentially, that score would increase with the help of teachers and mentors. Upon finding the Binet-Simon scale, Lewis Terman, a cognitive psychology professor at Stanford, decided to adapt it so that it could be administered in California. He translated it and extended the test for adults. However, he disregarded the warnings that the test couldn’t be used to assess native intelligence, and advertised it in that manner anyway.
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Soon, the test was being used to asses thousands of people’s intelligences.Carrie Elizabeth Buck was born in 1906 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Soon after her birth, her father, Frederick Buck, abandoned her mother, Emma. Some accounts say he died, but it is unclear. As a result, she and her mom fell into dire poverty.
Eventually, Carrie was taken in by foster parents John and Alice Dobbs when they encountered Emma on the streets. There, she attended public school and performed as an average student. She helped cleaned the Dobbs’s home and the neighbor’s. At the age of 17, Carrie was raped by Alice Dobbs’s nephew. Although perhaps less popular than his cousin, Francis Galton was just as involved in academic studies. The Englishman was well versed on statistics, psychology, meteorology and genetics. It was him who created the concepts of correlation and regression to the mean. Additionally, he thought of the first weather map, and even conducted research on the power of prayer.
Perhaps his most important legacy, Galton studied the genetics of the English upper class. He theorized that the intelligence and success of those with a high social status was primarily due to heritability. Inspired by his cousin, he devised a plan to encourage those with high intelligences to breed with each other, creating a powerful line of favorable genetics, a type of artificial natural selection, if you will. In 1883, Galton coined this concept “eugenics”, meaning “well-born”.
“Are You Fit To Marry?”This idea of creating a race infused with “super-genes” spread fervently through the country, so much so that it crossed the Atlantic ocean into the US and Germany. In America, biologists Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin spread the movement. They founded the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), a research lab to gather biological information about the American population, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island. This institution remained active for three decades.
Different from its British counterpart, American eugenics was most concerned in eliminating negative characteristics, rather than breeding positive ones. The idea was to identify “undesirable traits”, such as poverty, cognitive disability, dwarfism, mental illness, promiscuity, and criminality then weed them out of the human genome. “Feeble-mindedness” became clinically diagnosable, and teachers’ and parents’ impressions would land people in closed off communities, or colonies.”Some assert than an individual’s intelligence is a fixed quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism.” -Alfred BinetEventually, the Dobbs family discovered Carrie to be pregnant.
Perhaps because of their embarrassment of Carrie’s pregnancy being a result of the actions of a family member, they admitted her to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded.Soon, the eugenics movement reached its peak in the 20-30s as it began to gain support from the leaders of America. It was implemented in the curriculums of various universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, and Brown. California was the leading entrepreneur in this movement, and their expertize was so developed, that Nazi Germany turned to them for advice in perfecting their own strategies. Soon, the movement spread from science to *commonality. Bestselling books and movies were released, and “better baby” and “fitter family” contests became main attractions at state fairs. First held in a Louisiana state fair in 1908, the “better baby” contest assessed physical and intelligence scores, deducting points for scores under the average.
Similarly, the concept was extended to families. Especially popular in Kansas fairs, the competitions were judged by doctors and often sponsored by the Red Cross. Families were judged on attractiveness, size and health, each indicating a healthy bloodline. Since characteristics like generosity, selfishness and temper were also believed to be passed on by heredity, those traits were assessed too. Like farmers selectively breeding cattle, the American families selectively married and reproduced. “Every single case of inherited defect, every malformed child ..
. is of infinite importance to that poor individual; but it is of scarcely less importance to the rest of us … who must pay in one way or another for these biological and racial mistakes”.It didn’t take long for race to be put under the spotlight. What resulted from this was an almost scientific form of racism, justifying discrimination by “quantities of non-Caucasian blood” and “bad genes”.
Thousands took foothold in this explanation, asserting that “biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend”, as was said by Vice President Calvin Coolidge. Leading eugenics Madison grant assured that mixing races would result in “racial suicide”. He was worried that soon, the white race would decline as a result of the intermingling of races. In 1924, the Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act was established.
“It shall hereafter be unlawful for any white person in this State to marry any save a white person, …the term “white person” shall apply only to such person as has no trace whatever of any blood other than Caucasian; but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed to be white persons…”By 1915, interracial marriage was considered invalid by more than half of the 50 statesHans F.K. Gunther, influencer of Nazi ideology, once wrote in “Race Lore of German People” about the peril of “Slavic blood of Eastern race” mixing with the German. In Mein Kampf, Hitler thanked the Americans for formulating his ideas on eugenics.In 1924, the Virginia Sterilization Acts were passed, deeming that anyone who possessed feeble-mindedness, alcoholism, criminality, pauperism, blindness, deafness, and promiscuity could be subjected to forced sterilizations by the U.
S government. The idea was to prevent those groups from procreating to “clear” the human genome. In order to prove the constitutionality of the law, it was taken to court, which is how Carrie Buck became the first person in America to be legally eugenically sterilized. “Pure + pure = normalAbnormal + abnormal = abnormalPure + abnormal = ½ normal but taintedTainted + abnormal = ½ normal but tainted, ½ abnormal (..
.)”She was a perfect fit; her mother had been labeled as defective due to her poverty and previous promiscuity, which clearly reflected on her daughter’s pregnancy out of wedlock. Additionally, she had scored as a “moron” on the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale (footnote? an official category placed above “idiot” and “imbecile”), which meant her I.
Q was just below average. Hence, the case of Buck v. Bell was taken by the Supreme Court. With a vote of 8 to 1, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled that the act did not violate the U.S Constitution and that eugenic sterilizations were legal with consent.
“It is better for the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”The Supreme case opened doors for over 64,000 forced eugenic sterilizations. Often, people were sterilized for the suspicion of mental disability of promiscuity.
It was also not uncommon for African American women to be operated on, often during other medical procedures and without consent. The most popular procedure was named “Mississippi appendectomies”, which consisted in unnecessary sterilizations on those women for demonstrations for medical students at teaching hospitals in the South. Soon, the lines between consent and coercion, permission and deception, became blurred. In California alone, by 1933 more people had been forced to undergo sterilizations than all the other states combined.*In 1882, the Act to Regulate Immigration was passed, demanding that “any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge” should be forbidden entry to the United States. It was initially targeted at immigrant with criminal records, mental illness, and those who lived in poverty. Eventually, the The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, signed by President Chester Arthur, was passed, which prohibited the Chinese from immigrating to the U.
S. or acquiring a citizenship. “It is in the sterilization of failures, and not in the selection of successes for breeding, that the possibility of an improvement of the human stock lies”.
*One case* consisted of a woman who had been sterilized nonconsensually during a procedure for appendicitis. She had not been notified of the operation and only discovered of it when she and her husband continued having trouble having children. This woman’s name was Doris Buck.One third of all the sterilizations were done on women younger than 18, often as young as nine. Mary Alice and Minnie Relf were poor African American girls whose illiterate mother had signed a paper giving consent to sterilize them.
She was told it would allow them to receive birth control shots. The girls were 14 and 12. “Only healthy seed must be sown: check the seeds of hereditary disease and unfitness by genetics by eugenics”Countless Mexican American in Los Angeles women were deceived and coerced into sterilization. Many were violently obligated to go under the procedure immediately after giving birth. Footnote: After the fall of the eugenics movement, those cases were taken to court in Madrigal v.
Quilligan, exposing the lack of informed consent preceding the procedures. The court ruled in favor of the hospital under the terms that the doctors had the intent of the patients in mind when performing the operations.By the end of the 1940’s, the eugenics movement began to decline rapidly as World War II began.Although compulsory sterilization laws were repealed in 1942, between the years of 1997 to 2010, over 140 illegal sterilizations took place in the walls of California prisons. Due to the strength of California’s participation in eugenics, it is no surprise that dregs of the movement still remained. It is said that inmates were pressured, coerced and cheated into having the procedures done, as if years had not passed since the movement was banned. Documents show that California reimbursed the doctors to sterilize the women.
In Germany, the Nazi era is extensively covered in textbooks. Laws and bans were put in place in order to avoid history repeating itself. Memorial were built and days were marked in order to remember and honor the horrors of the movement.
In the United States, To this day, California has failed to at least compensate the victims of involuntary sterilizations.