Soconvivium

Yale and eugenics

Arnold Kling points to  the cleverly titled article “God and White Men at Yale” by Richard Conniff in The Yale Alumni Magazine. It’s both a general history of eugenics and the work of Yale economist Irving Fisher. Conniff writes:

By the late 1920s, 376 American colleges were offering courses in eugenics. The army of enthusiasts included, at various times, the presidents of Yale, Harvard, Stanford, the American Museum of Natural History, and the universities of Michigan, Wisconsin, and California. State fairs also embraced the eugenic cause. Known for celebrating grand champion sows and other masterworks of animal husbandry, they now added a “human stock” section, where competitors vied for the blue ribbon in the “Fitter Families” contest. A traveling display warned, “Some people are born to be a burden on the rest,” above a light that flashed every 15 seconds to indicate that another “$100 of your money” had just gone “for the care of a person with bad heredity.”

Of Fisher, who had predicted in October 1929 a “permanently high plateau” for the stock market, Conniff writes:

But the far grosser distortion of judgment, and of his better self, was in Fisher’s campaigning as a eugenicist. His interest in health had arisen largely from his own encounter in 1898 with tuberculosis, the disease that killed his father. It took Fisher three years of fresh air, proper diet, and close medical attention in sanatoriums around the country to regain his health. Having managed to get his own head out of the lion’s mouth, he said in 1903, he wanted to prevent “other people from getting their heads into the same predicament.” His initial approach was to lobby the government to reduce urban pollution, protect the health of mothers and children, and establish school health programs, “so that American vitality may reach its maximum development.”

But his almost religious conversion to eugenics, not long after, turned all that upside down. Two decades after his own recovery, Fisher was denouncing “hygiene to help the less fit” as “misapplied hygiene” and “distinctly dysgenic. … Schools for tubercular children give them better air and care than normal school children receive.” He seemed to have forgotten that he was once among those who, by his own harsh standard, deserved to have their heads held fast in the lion’s mouth.

Conniff also reports:

[T]he issue, it seemed to Fisher, was that graduates of leading universities were failing to do their reproductive duty: the families “of American men of science” averaged just 2.22 children, versus a national average of 4.66. (Or as he put it, perhaps too lucidly, “The average Harvard graduate is the father of three-fourths of a son and the average Vassar graduate the mother of one-half of a daughter.”) This “race suicide” among “the well-to-do classes means that their places will speedily be taken by the unintelligent, uneducated, and inefficient.”

Another eugenicist? Margaret Sanger founder of Planned Parenthood. She was hardly the only one, for as Art Carden and Steven Horwitz noted in The New Freeman last year, progressivism is intricately linked to eugenics as it is the “ultimate” form of social engineering. Kling concludes his post with a very important point: “That eugenics was part of the progressive agenda is one of the most heavily-airbrushed features of history.”

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