David Starr Jordan studied fish and promoted eugenics in the US during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In his work, he embraced Charles Darwin s theory of evolution and described the importance of embryology in tracing phylogenic relationships. In 1891, he became the president of Stanford University in Stanford, California. Jordan condemned war and promoted conservationist causes for the California wilderness, and he advocated for the eugenic sterilization of thousands of Americans. Like many American eugenicists of the early twentieth century, Jordan combined ideas of Mendelian genetics and of Darwinian natural selection to form a basis for limiting or encouraging reproduction in certain individuals and groups based on their perceived hereditary fitness. Like other eugenicists, Jordan s attempt to control the reproductive fate of entire populations marked an episode in the history of reproduction and biology in which its concepts increasingly influenced the social and cultural contexts.

In 1928 Ezra Seymour Gosney founded the non-profit Human Betterment Foundation (HBF) in Pasadena, California to support the research and publication of the personal and social effects of eugenic sterilizations carried out in California. Led by director Gosney and secretary Paul Popenoe, the HBF collected data on thousands of individuals in California who had been involuntarily sterilized under a California state law enacted in 1909. The Foundation's assets were liquidated following Gosney's death in 1942. In 1943, Gosney's daughter donated the remaining assets to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California to establish the Gosney research fund for biological research. Between 1928 and 1942, the HBF published extensively on what they believed to be the benefits of sterilization to both patient and society. The HBF and its members existed within the larger context of the American eugenics movement and scientific institutions, including the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, which bolstered the movement's goals of the control of human reproduction and human heredity. Moreover, the model sterilization legislation written by the HBF was disseminated throughout the world to eugenics enthusiasts eager to pass laws limiting the reproduction of people they considered to be unfit.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a non-profit research institution that specializes in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology, quantitative biology, and genomics. The organization is located on the shores of Cold Spring Harbor in Laurel Hollow, New York. The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences established the CSHL in 1890, to provide scientists with facilities to research Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory. The first mission of CSHL was biological science education. Since 1998, CSHL has housed the Watson School of Biological Sciences, a PhD program dedicated to scientific research. Nobel Laureates who conducted experiments at the CSHL include Barbara McClintock, Alfred Hershey, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Sydney Brenner. Throughout its history, researchers at CSHL have studied embryology, reproductive medicine, and genetics.

Eugenical Sterilization in the United States is a 1922 book in which author Harry H. Laughlin argues for the necessity of compulsory sterilization in the United States based on the principles of eugenics. The eugenics movement of the early twentieth century in the US focused on altering the genetic makeup of the US population by regulating immigration and sterilization, and by discouraging interracial procreation, then called miscegenation. Published in December 1922 by the Psychopathic Laboratory of the Municipal Court of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, the book reports Laughlin's analysis of how states could benefit from sterilizing their mentally disabled residents, and it reprinted his model sterilization law, which he encouraged state governments to adopt. Laughlin's model sterilization law stressed the need for the sterilization of populations that Laughlin deemed inadequate for reasons ranging from physical appearance to socioeconomic status. The document influenced twentieth century legislation in the US about reproduction and compulsory sterilization.

The American Eugenics Society (AES) was established in the US by Madison Grant, Harry H. Laughlin, Henry Crampton, Irving Fisher, and Henry F. Osborn in 1926 to promote eugenics education programs for the US public. The AES described eugenics as the study of improving the genetic composition of humans through controlled reproduction of different races and classes of people. The AES aided smaller eugenic efforts such as the Galton Society in New York, New York, and the Race Betterment Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan, and it influenced eugenic policy set by the US Supreme Court in cases including Buck v. Bell (1927) and Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942). The AES was renamed the Society for the Study of Social Biology in 1972.

Harry Hamilton Laughlin helped lead the eugenics movement in the United States during the early twentieth century. The US eugenics movement of the early twentieth century sought to reform the genetic composition of the United States population through sterilization and other restrictive reproductive measures. Laughlin worked as superintendent and assistant director of the Eugenics Research Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, alongside director Charles Davenport. During Laughlin's career at the ERO, Laughlin studied human familial ancestry, called pedigrees, and in 1922 published the book Eugenical Sterilization in the United States, which influenced sterilization laws in multiple states. Laughlin's support of compulsory sterilization to control the reproductive capacity of entire populations influenced the history of eugenics and reproductive medicine.

Charles Benedict Davenport, Madison Grant, and Henry Fairfield Osborn founded the Galton Society for the Study of the Origin and Evolution of Man, or the Galton Society, in New York City, New York, in 1918. The Galton Society was a scientific society that promoted the study of humans in terms of race in service to the US eugenics movement. The Galton Society was named in honor of Francis Galton who first coined the term eugenics in 1883. Galton and other eugenics proponents claimed that the human species could improve through selective breeding that restricted who could have children. Some of the society members were scientists from a wide range of disciplines who supported the now disproven notion that fundamental biological differences exist between races that may justify the control of human reproduction. The Galton Society drew on the scientific credibility and influence of its members to advocate for eugenics programs, such as immigration restriction laws, in the US.

Henry Herbert Goddard was a psychologist who conducted research on intelligence and mental deficiency at the Vineland Training School for Feeble-Minded Boys and Girls in Vineland, New Jersey during the early twentieth century. In 1908, Goddard brought French psychologist Alfred Binet and physician Theodore Simon’s intelligence test to the US and used it to investigate intellectual disability in children at the Vineland Training School for Feeble-Minded Boys and Girls. Goddard also wrote a book in 1912 called The Kallikaks: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness, claiming that traits like mental deficiency were heritable traits. His observations and research led Goddard to advocate for sterilization and segregation of the intellectually disabled, which were ideas that reflected the emerging eugenics movement in the US, during the early nineteenth century. Although by the end of his life, psychologists largely dismissed Goddard’s work, schools and the US military used Goddard’s version of Binet and Simon’s intelligence test to identify mental deficiency.

Madison Grant was a lawyer and wildlife conservationist who advocated for eugenics policies in the US during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In his 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race; or, The Racial Basis of European History, Grant argued that what he called the Nordic race, which originated from northwest Europe, was biologically and culturally superior to all other people, including other Europeans. Grant drew from his now-discredited claims to lobby for laws in the US that restricted immigration, legalized sterilizing people against their will, and prohibited interracial marriage. Adolf Hitler referred to Grant’s book as his Bible and it was listed during the Nuremberg Trials in the late 1940s as evidence that eugenics did not solely originate in Germany. Grant’s advocacy of eugenics shaped policy that restricted reproductive freedom and immigration in the US and helped legitimize genocide in Europe.

In 1916, eugenicist Madison Grant published the book The Passing of the Great Race; or The Racial Basis of European History, hereafter The Passing of the Great Race, where he claimed that northern Europeans, or Nordics, are biologically and culturally superior to the rest of humanity. Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York City, New York, published the volume. Grant claimed that the Nordic race was at risk of extinction and advocated for the creation of laws in the US to decrease the population of people he considered inferior. According to Grant’s biographer Jonathan Spiro, Grant’s book synthesized a range of racist and pseudoscientific eugenics claims in prose that was accessible to the public. In the US, The Passing of the Great Race was praised by politicians, including former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, and cited as justification for laws that restricted immigration based on ethnicity and nationality. Adolf Hitler referred to The Passing of the Great Race as his Bible, and during the Nuremberg Trials in the 1940s, Nazi leaders who were prosecuted for war crimes committed during World War II presented the book as evidence that eugenics did not solely originate in Germany but rather had deep roots in the United States.

Subscribe to Eugenics