Eugenics and Social Control

During the 1920s many White Americans were uneasy about demographic change in the United States. Large waves of immigration and migration in the early twentieth century had changed the racial, ethnic and religious make-up of the country. White Americans believed many negative stereotypes about minorities, which were then legitimized through scientific racism – “theories” about racial difference and white superiority that we know today to be false and ridiculous. Yet in the 1920s, these ideas about race, and the impact of “inferior” races on American society, were widely accepted and generated various efforts to control marginalized populations and protect American society from their “negative” influence. This week’s discussion examines the Eugenics Movement and efforts to control immigrants and immigration – these were intertwined approaches to this perceived “race” problem (as seen in the newspaper headline included below) . Please make sure you have reviewed the section of the lecture Protecting American Civilization(see in files), and sections three and four of Chapter 4 in Building the American Republic before posting. This background information is required – you will have trouble fully understanding and analyzing the documents without this information.
Before we dive into the primary sources for this week, it is important to note that the authors below held different ideas about race than we do today. All of these documents proceed from the basic “scientific” assumption of the time that there were many different human races or “types.” For instance, in the 1911 Dictionary of Races or Peoples, the United States government identified 36 different “races” coming from Europe to America (U.S. Immigration Commission 1911, 2) ( Also taken for granted was the idea that each race had inborn characteristics (many of which we would today call stereotypes), and that there was a hierarchy among these races, with some being superior and other inferiors.The first three documents address the Eugenics Movement. As you will notice, the first two documents were actually written before the 1920s, and show the ideas that formed the foundation of the Eugenics Movement’s popularity in the “modern era.” Franz Boas was an anthropologist who helped pioneer the modern-day idea of cultural relativism (recognizing how our own culture and values shape our interpretation of others), and was among the first to question the belief that immutable in-born racial characteristics determined the inferiority/superiority of different races. Yet as you can see from Boas’s speech, his ideas about race and science still differ greatly from our understanding today. Charles B. Davenport was a biologist and prominent proponent of Eugenics as a science and guiding force for social policy. Excerpted below is a sample of Davenport’s “scientific” perspective on marriage and children, and what the goals of the Eugenics Movement should be. The third document is an example of Eugenics philosophy in action. In effort to prevent the birth of children who might become blind, the newspaper article describes an attempt to hold married couples fiscally and socially responsible for the health of their children.The remaining documents address the topic of immigration. During the 1920s many Americans supported legislation restricting immigration. This sentiment largely stemmed from the belief that the country was being overrun by “inferior” peoples who would corrupt American society. Charlotee Perkins Gilman, a writer, reformer and advocate for women’s rights (who also resided in Pasadena) expressed concern that the United States was being too welcoming towards immigrants. She called into question longstanding notions that immigration was a net-benefit to American society. Likewise, Hiram Evans, an Imperial Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan in Texas, argued that Americans were by definition white, protestant and native born – immigrants could never truly become “American,” and the country needed to be protected from their influence.But what about the immigrants who were already here? Could they become “American”? Some thought yes – immigrants could be “Americanized” and transformed into productive citizens ( though some Americans, like those who supported the KKK, would never accept immigrants no matter what they did). This meant teaching immigrants how to speak, eat, dress etc. like “Americans,” and demanding that immigrant culture be abandoned. The last document shows this philosophy in action in a guide for Americanizing immigrants through “homemaking.” Specifically addressing Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants in California, the excerpt from the pamphlet shows efforts to target both women and young people in a campaign to Americanize immigrants and make them “fit” for American society.
Directions:For this assignment students must choose one document from the list below and write an Initial Post describing and analyzing the document. Please read all the documents before choosing which one you want to write about!Each initial post must be at least 300 words.Each initial post must have a topic sentence(s) typed at the top of the response. This topic sentence should give your classmates the “thesis” of your response, indicating which document you are writing about and presenting your interpretation of the document’s argument and its historical significance (for an example, see the sample initial post on the previous page)(see in files). The topic sentence is not a title for your response, and should not repeat the title of the document or summarize the subject of the document. The words in the topic sentence do not count toward the 300 word total.Each initial post should introduce your topic, provide relevant historical context, and present your analysis of historical significance. Remember, “historical significance” refers to why the document is significant from a historical perspective- how does the document fit in to the context of time period? What does the perspective shown in the document help reveal about this past era?You should provide a cohesive post in paragraph form – please do not just answer the questions below the documents. These questions are only meant to help you think critically about the document, and you can use them as a jumping off point for crafting your post. You are also encouraged to review the “Questions to Ask of a Source” included on the Types of Historical Evidence page(see in files). These questions can help ensure you are answering productive and historical questions of the document.Do not repeat information your peers have already posted on or discussed! Please check to see if another student has posted on the document you’d like to write about before you post. All documents should be discussed before students start posting about the same document. If you do end up needing to post on the same document as a peer because all documents are taken, try to add something new to the conversation.Include citations when necessary – see the Citations page in the Syllabus Module for a refresher on when to cite and how. When citing information from the course, you only need to provide a parenthetical citation. If you choose to use outside information, please make sure you are using a reputable, academic source, and be sure to provide a full citation at the bottom of your post.All writing should be original! If you use language from another source, it should be properly quoted and cited. If you paraphrase information from a source, that information should also be cited. To ensure students are abiding by school requirements for academic honesty, all students will need to submit a plagiarism check for initial posts, found on the next page. If you do not submit the plagiarism check, you will earn a zero for your initial post.
General Rules and Tips for the Textbook/Document Discussions:Rules for academic integrity and plagiarism apply to all posts.Remember, the goal of this assignment is historical discussion. Connections to present day are great, but they should not make up the majority of your response.You may incorporate quotes from the documents as evidence, but the majority of your posts should be in your own words.
Documents:Franz Boas, “The Instability of Human Types” (1911) ( problematic assumptions does Boas see in studies of race-types?How does environment shape human development? What are some of the examples Boas gives, and why does he think they are important to discuss?What is Boas’s conclusion and/or remaining question about human development?Charles Davenport, Excerpt from Heredity in Relation to Eugenics (1915) (see in files)How does Davenport describe the Eugenics Movement and its goals? How might these goals be achieved?How does he describe marriage and its goals in the context of Eugenics?What does Davenport reveal about his views of gender?How does Davenport see children and their role in society and the country’s future?Sam Smith, “Harvard Scientist Wants Married Couples Bonded” (1928) ( is Dr. Howe advocating and why?How does Dr. Howe’s resolution reflect the Eugenics Movement’s philosophy and goals?Why did Dr. Howe see his new law as beneficial and not radical?Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Is America Too Hospitable?” (1923) (see in files)Why does Gilman think immigrants come to the United States?What does Gilman think of the Founder’s idea that the United States should be “an asylum for the poor and oppressed of all nations”? And why?What arguments does Gilman identify in favor of unlimited immigration, and why does she dismiss those arguments?Hiram Evans, “The Klan’s Fight for Americanism” (1926) ( to Evans, what are the three “racial instincts” of white Americans?What does Americanism mean to Evans? Who is a “true” American?Why were immigrants so problematic for American society and the white race?Pearl Idelia Ellis, Excerpt from Americanization Through Homemaking (1929) (see in files)Where and to whom should Americanization efforts be targeted? Why?How does the pamphlet portray Mexican immigrants?How does Ellis see the role of women and the family in fostering citizenship?

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