We Americans, like many other people, don’t like to acknowledge our less honorable moments. I found inspiration from real-life, heart-wrenching history while writing my novel, My Soul to Keep. I’m talking about Eugenics. Specifically, Negative Eugenics.
Negative eugenics is the type we associate with the Nazis. Unfortunately, America has a long, dark history of negative eugenics that pre-dates the Nazis’ use.
An Act to Regulate Immigration
It began in 1882 with the passage of “An Act to Regulate Immigration.” That act established criteria for allowing immigrants into the United States. The act included the right to deny any passengers entry into the country if they appeared to be lunatics, unable to care for themselves, or convicts.
The Father of Eugenics
Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, coined the term eugenics in 1883. In it’s simplest form, eugenics means “well-born.” More to Galton’s concept, it meant “the science which deals with all influences that improve inborn qualities.” Galton studied the upper classes of Britain. He concluded that their social positions were due to their superior genes. Selective marriage was his recommendation. He hoped to end poor genetics by having more healthy and above average intelligence producing more children. This type of genetic manipulation is considered positive eugenics. Many countries practiced or encouraged positive eugenics. In the 1880’s, the United States was, like many other countries, afraid. There was a perceived degradation of society. People pointed to rising populations in prisons and institutions for the feeble-minded and predicted “racial suicide.”
Connecticut was the first state in the U.S. to pass a eugenics-type law regulating marriage in 1896. It prohibited marriage for anyone who was epileptic, imbecile, or feeble-minded.
In 1887, Michigan became the first state to propose a law to sterilize criminals and the feeble-minded. The law did not receive enough support and did not pass.
The First Sterilizations
Dr. Albert Ochsner documented the first known vasectomy performed on criminals in 1899. He suggested sterilizing all hardened criminals to stop the procreation of criminals.
In 1904, Charles Davenport, an American eugenicist, and biologist became the director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory located in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. He set up a biological experimentation station to study evolution through testing done on plants and animals. It was this research that eugenists used as a basis for and to support their research. Davenport eventually set up the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) in Cold Spring Harbor.
Indiana became the first place in the world to pass a sterilization law in 1907. Eugenics-based, it allowed for compulsory sterilization of institutionalized individuals who were “unfit to reproduce.” Shamefully, many states followed suit.
More Heart-Wrenching History To Come
I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of my Inspiration series of posts. This is only the tip of the inspiration from real-life, heart-wrenching history I used in writing My Soul to Keep. Did you know about the practice of eugenics in American’t history? Next week, there will be more about sterilization laws, the ERO, who in America who supported eugenics, and the shocking length of time eugenics has been practiced in the US. Stay tuned for more Inspiration from Real Life Heart-wrenching History, Part II and learn how I used the inspiration. My Soul to Keep is available on Amazon, and many more online stores.