Announcement of the Third International Eugenics Congress, 1932.
Robert M. Yerkes Papers. Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University.
© Yale University Library, 2009
In the United States in the early 1900s, American farmers selected only the best ears of corn with which to propagate the next year’s crop. They understood the benefit of steering the plant’s evolution according to Darwin and Mendel’s principles of heredity. The successful improvement of American crops prompted many to wonder why these principles were not applied elsewhere. Society “pay[s] no attention to the crop of babies,” lamented Charles W. Gould, a Columbia Law School graduate and later author of America: a Family Problem (1920).
Soon, though, America would.
In 1906, the first eugenics organization blossomed from within the American Breeders Association, an agricultural society. It championed the “self direction of human evolution” emblazoned, here, on a pamphlet for the Third International Eugenics Congress. After World War One, European immigrants bloated America’s poor areas and the mentally ill crowded mental health institutions. This expanded visibility of the poor and insane led to fears of societal degeneration and swung public opinion behind a group of the country’s foremost scientists who believed they knew enough to improve the crop of mankind. Eugenics was their solution.