I was born after the heyday of the 1930s/40s “Road to…” films starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. I saw a couple of them on late night TV, but never this one…
I guess the fellows go to the Klondike in a turn of the century “road trip” to look for gold. The frozen north isn’t quite “Utopia,” but I suppose the idea was that it would be if they got rich enough to indulge their wildest dreams.
This blog entry includes a tale of a road trip, but you’ll note that the reference isn’t to the standard “Utopia.” It’s got an extra E at the beginning. Read on to find out why.
As mentioned in previous entries in this blog series, while incarcerated in 1924, Adolph Hitler immersed himself in reading materials about eugenics that had been produced in the US. By the time he finished reading the German edition of Madison Grant’s Passing of the Great Race, he considered it to be his “bible.” He studied in detail reports of the development of state programs of involuntary sterilization across the US. Mein Kampf reflects this fascination with American eugenics theories and practices.
After his release from prison, and for the next few years, Adolph continued to feed on American (and German) eugenic materials, and began constructing in his own mind his own idiosyncratic Future World based on what he had learned.
So it is not surprising that, only a few months after he came into power in 1933, he instituted one of the first steps toward a German Eugenic Utopia. (I guess you could call it a Eutopia!)
The Nazi sterilization law was promulgated on July 14, 1933. Within two months, the [US magazine] Eugenical News printed a major evaluation of the law, including its complete text in translation. The Nazi government was praised for being the ‘first of the world’s major nations to enact a modern sterilization law.’ The German law ‘reads almost like’ Harry Laughlin’s ‘American model sterilization law,’ and along with the American statutes was expected to ‘constitute a milestone’ (sic) in the movement to control human reproduction.
‘The new law is clean-cut, direct and ‘model.’ Its standards are social and genetical,’ the Eugenical News article commented. ‘It’s application is entrusted to specialized courts and procedure. From a legal point of view nothing more could be desired.’
Paul Popenoe, director of the Human Betterment Foundation, a member of the Board of Directors of the American Eugenics Society, and an enthusiastic supporter of the Hitler government, published an alternate translation of the full text of the German sterilization law in the Journal of Heredity in July 1934.
(Sideline note of interesting trivia…if Paul Popenoe’s name sounds familiar to some readers, it’s because after eugenics fell out of favor after WW2 Popenoe specialized in being an “expert” in marriage counseling, and kept at it until his death in 1979. He had started the American Institute of Family Relations in 1930, and turned his attention to that totally in the post-war years. He appeared for a decade on the Art Linkletter television show and created and edited the wildly popular “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” feature of the Ladies’ Home Journal that ran for years. One of his assistants in later years at the institute was James Dobson, before Dobson founded his Focus on the Family ministry in 1970. I’m not quite sure how Popenoe’s admiration for Hitler affected the theory, quality, and content of his marriage counseling! “Along with his advocacy of sterilization programs, Popenoe was also interested in using the principles of German and Austrian marriage-consultation services for eugenic purposes.” From the clips I’ve seen from the LHJ series, it would appear that the answer to marriage problems much of the time–even though the feature was about joint marriage counseling–was for the wife to learn to love housekeeping and find it fulfilling, and to be more submissive to the husband and cater to his every whim. (Wiki))
While the law itself was excellent, Popenoe commented, ‘the success of any such measure naturally depends on conservative, sympathetic and intelligent administration.’ The Nazi government was doing its best to prevent criticism by gathering ‘about it the recognized leaders of the eugenics movement,’ and depending ‘largely on their council in framing a policy which will direct the destinies of the German people,’ as Hitler remarks in Mein Kampf, ‘for the next thousand years.’ [Source]
Leaders within the American eugenics movement were ecstatic.
In the late fall of 1933, William W. Peter assistant secretary of the APHA [American Public Health Association, an organization in existence from 1876 to today] and a longtime public health worker, traveled to Germany for a six-month tour under the auspices of the APHA and the Oberlaender trust to visit German health museums and meet with government officials to gain a full comprehension of Germany’s public health and race hygiene [eugenics] programs.
Peter would have no doubt seen the Dresden Hygiene Museum’s cutting edge “Transparent Man” exhibit, introduced in 1930, that was wildly popular back in the day. As a lecturer would talk about the functions of the various internal organs, each would light up. (The Transparent Woman came along some years later.)
In July 1933, Germany had passed its compulsory sterilization law, which was scheduled to go into effect January 1, 1934, and American officials wanted first-hand knowledge of the effects of the law and the context in which such far reaching legislation would be enacted. Peter described his findings in “Germany’s Sterilization Program,” an article published in the March 1934 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the official journal of the APHA. He described the intentions of the law and stated it had been his “privilege to meet some of the leaders in the present political regime who are responsible for new undertakings in reconstruction of the social order.”
That same month in Berlin, Peter received a letter from Calvert, who also chaired the committee on scientific exhibits for the APHA, asking Peter to use his powerful contacts to try to convince Gebhard [museum curator], the DHM [German Hygiene Museum in Dresden], and the German government to send an exhibition documenting Public Health and Eugenics in new Germany; it was to be displayed at the upcoming annual convention of the APHA, to be held in Pasadena, from September 3 – 6, 1934. [Popular Eugenics: National Efficiency and American Mass Culture in the 1930s]
The Germans were more than happy to accommodate the request. What a perfect public relations opportunity! Bruno Gebhard arranged a state-of-the-art museum-style exhibition that focused on various aspects of the German program. The first section opened with charts about the decline in births in Germany since the World War—especially among “desirable families.” It had evidently become typical for urban German couples to only have one child, as seen in this poster lamenting this trend.
The next section explained the principles of Mendelian laws of heredity, eventually applying them to the alleged transmission of a wide variety of physical, mental, and behavioral defects. This led directly to posters explaining how much it cost the German federal government–and thus German citizens paying taxes–to care for “defectives,” and how much money could be saved by sterilizations, lightening the burden for the eugenically healthy, as shown by this poster. The caption asserts that each of these “defectives” over a lifespan of sixty years will have cost society 50,000 marks for his upkeep. A burden that would be lifted from the backs of the taxpayer if their parents had been sterilized before their birth.
This led to a display area about the “positive” efforts to encourage more prolific breeding among the desirable class. The ideal was four children, so “eugenically desirable” parents (blond Aryans) were offered a federal subsidy to have children, given out in increments of 25%, so that to get the full subsidy, you’d need to have four (blond) children, as seen in this ideal family below. (I’m not sure if the requirement included creepy “demon eyes” for any little boys in the family! But I suppose that wouldn’t have hurt.)
This was followed by a section detailing the work of the “Central Register” for “hereditarily diseased or suspect people,” a giant record bank of family genealogies to be used by the government in offering marriage advice and making decisions such as those about sterilization of given individuals. This sounded very much like the one that Harry Laughlin was attempting to build in America at the Eugenics Record Office as chronicled in an earlier blog entry in this series. But Harry didn’t have storm troopers to ensure accurate and complete information collection! He was no doubt very envious of the Central Register.
The exhibit was a big hit at the APHA convention.
That’s Gebhart in the dark suit on the right smiling out at the camera. He was so pleased with his own efforts and the enthusiastic response they received in this country that he permanently left Germany in 1937 (he despised Hitler personally) and emigrated to the US. He established health museums at two hospitals in Pennsylvania, planned and designed a health exhibit for the 1939/40 New York World’s Fair, and then created the Cleveland Health Museum in 1940 and became its permanent director until his retirement in 1965.
After the APHA convention, the New Germany exhibit was transferred to the Los Angeles County Museum. Plans had been to have it there for a month, but there was such popular demand for it, and such extensive media publicity, that it was kept there for two months.
In January 1935 it was on the road again.
Early in January 1935, the exhibit was transferred for two weeks to the armory in Stockton, California, at the request of the woman’s auxiliary of the San Joaquin County Medical Society and John J Sippy, director of the San Joaquin County Health District. “Famous exhibit from Germany seen in Armory,” proclaimed the front page of the Stockton Record in an article that encouraged the public to attend for free, especially high school and college students in “biological and social science classes.” “The unmistakable message of this display is an urge for the building up of a virile, healthy race,” the journalist explained. “Through a large portion of the exhibit is apparent the Hitler ambition for an increased birthrate for Germany. Not only from a hygienic and health education standpoint but from political insight into the German program the exhibit is deeply interesting.”
From Stockton the exhibit traveled to Sacramento briefly in mid-February, and after a failed attempt to get it shown at the New York Academy of Medicine it was immediately transferred to Salem, Oregon, in care of Vernon Douglas, Marion County health officer. It arrived at an opportune moment just as the state legislative session was considering revisions to Oregon’s sterilization statute. [Popular Eugenics]
Actually, Oregon was already in the forefront of US sterilization efforts. The first involuntary sterilization had been performed on a man there in 1912. By 1934, over 1,000 sterilizations had been performed. Most had been typical vasectomies or tubal ligations…but Oregon was different from most states in that it also approved scores of actual castration operations when their officials in charge of the program deemed it appropriate.
So they really didn’t need any encouragement, even from the Germans, to continue their sterilization efforts. But there was a bit of resistance by some state citizens to further expansions to the program, and most historians seem to agree that this German exhibit, which was eventually viewed by at least one out of every 20 Oregonians, contributed to lessening that resistance.
The exhibit arrived at the Salem Young Men’s Christian Association on February 11, 1935, and the Capital Journal and the Oregon Statesman, Salem’s two newspapers, covered its arrival and explained Gebhart’s role in bringing it to the United States. Reports about the exhibit emphasized the fine craftsmanship of its models as well as its intended use in educating the public on Mendel’s laws of heredity, trends of populations in Europe, and the hereditability of “epilepsy, habitual drunkenness, and mental disorder.”
The display was open for public inspection during afternoon and evening hours through February and classes of students from Willamette University viewed it. After it had been on display for two weeks, newspaper reports began to more fully explain the exhibit’s basic argument: “The exhibit is part of the great German program to eliminate undesirable types of persons through a carefully worked out sterilization program.”
At the end of February 1935, after the exhibit had been at the YMCA for several weeks, Douglas oversaw its move to the state capital, where he anticipated even more local residents would see it. Two weeks later, as health officials made stereopticon slides of the exhibits, charts, and models for use by state hospital staff, Douglas estimated that more than 6000 people had viewed it at the YMCA, in the corridors of the capital, and during a brief visit to Salem high school. By the time it left Salem in mid-March Douglas claimed that between seven and eight thousand Salem area residents had viewed the exhibit before health officials crated the show and transferred it to Reed College in Portland, then to the Portland YMCA. [ibid]
Once the exhibit had done its job in Oregon it found a permanent home at the Buffalo Museum of Science in New York, as part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Carlos Cummings, a naturalist at the museum, wrote of this acquisition:
“What is the astounding eugenics program upon which Chancellor Hitler has launched the German people?” asked Hobbies, a museum-based magazine for young people that was edited by Cummings. “As a matter of public interest, without endorsement,” the magazine announced, “the museum will display in the Central Hall, throughout this final quarter of 1935, a set of 51 posters and charts, a gift from the Deutsch Hygiene Museum of Dresden, which gives Americans a graphic explanation of Germany’s campaign to rear, in posterity, “a new race nobility.”
The Buffalo Museum also acquired a replica of the Dresden Transparent Man for display with the New Germany exhibit. (Another replica had been provided for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 (“Century of Progress”)…it ended up in the Mayo Clinic, and is still there to this day. )
That was 1935. By August 1942, with the United States deeply involved in a war to defeat Nazi Germany, the exhibit had become a distinct liability for the museum, and Cummings sought permission from the insurance firm that had bonded the exhibit, and from U.S. Customs, to destroy “certain German propaganda charts” that had become “perfectly useless material.” One year later the museum incinerated “certain propaganda pamphlets, etc.,” and sought and evidently received additional permission to destroy “models of fertilization and maturation, made of celluloid, wood, etc., which we have had on permanent display in our Hall of Heredity.” [Some time later, not sure when, the museum returned the Transparent Man to Germany.]
The Nazi eugenics roadshow was finished—except perhaps in the minds of those who saw it and in the memories of those who experienced this message most directly in the form of coerced sterilization. [ibid]
In the case of the influence in Oregon…the memories would have lasted quite a while. The Oregon Board of Eugenics, later renamed the Board of Social Protection, existed until 1983, with the last forcible sterilization occurring in 1981.
In 2002, the governor of Oregon issued a formal apology to those Oregon citizens who had been victims of the forced sterilization program. Governors in other states have done likewise in recent years, including those in Virginia, North Carolina, and California. As far as I have been able to determine, only North Carolina, in the past couple of years, has finally agreed to pay some reparations to the few remaining people who were victims of the eugenic sterilization programs of the past.
Yes, the active formal eugenics movement began to fade from the public national scene around the time the US declared war on Germany. By that time the connection between Nazi policies and practices—and the grotesque, inhumane atrocities connected with many of them—and the agendas of the eugenics movement were becoming more and more painfully obvious. This was particularly true once the war was over and more complete stories and photos from behind the scenes in Germany became widespread, such as the pictures of the conditions in the liberated Death Camps.
This doesn’t mean that the die-hard American eugenicists changed their minds about their goals. It just meant that they realized that it would be impossible to “sell” them widely in America any more. I suppose many of them really did find Hitler’s maniacal aberrations to be abominable—but I’ll bet you that many of them were totally comfortable claiming that there was nothing wrong with their OWN almost identical “eugenic ideas,” they were just “misused” by a mad man. Madison Grant died early on…1937…but if he lived through the Hitler era, I’d be willing to guess that he would have just thought that if only HE could have had the authority and power to put eugenic policies totally in place, he could have done it “the right way” and Eutopia would have been achieved.
As it was, even though the organized eugenics movement lost its influence with the American public almost totally by the 1950s, the “collateral damage” inflicted by the policies put in place in its heyday lasted far beyond that. The immigration reform enacted in 1924, largely based on eugenic theories, lasted until the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
Regarding anti-miscegenation laws: In 1967 the US Supreme Court finally ruled that anti-miscegenation laws were prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. At that point…
…17 Southern states (all the former slave states plus Oklahoma) still enforced laws prohibiting marriage between whites and non-whites. Maryland repealed its law in response to the start of the proceedings at the Supreme Court. After the ruling of the Supreme Court, the remaining laws were no longer in effect. Nonetheless, it took South Carolina until 1998 and Alabama until 2000 to officially amend their states’ constitutions to remove language prohibiting miscegenation. In the respective referendums, 62% of voters in South Carolina and 59% of voters in Alabama voted to remove these laws.
This is not to say that the eugenics movement had single-handedly influenced all those states to put anti-miscegenation laws on their books in the first place, of course. Pure “popular racism” had long been enough of an impetus in most states, particularly in the south. But the eugenics movement did strongly influence the decision in general in some states to impose such laws, and in others, such as in Virginia, it was instrumental in tightening the definition of “inter-racial” to cover individuals with even “one drop” of Negro blood.
“What if” Adolph Hitler had not come along? “What if” there had been no German-American collaboration within the eugenics movement? There is, of course, no way to tell. What ifs are a dime a dozen. So it’s hard to say if the influence of the eugenics movement would have continued to build in US society in the 1930s and beyond if the Nazis hadn’t given it such a rotten reputation.
But admittedly, before the Nazi Connection darkened its glow, the eugenics movement was not all-powerful. There were from the very beginnings “detractors” within both the scientific community and the political and public media communities. Although the movement did attract many big names in the scientific world and among politicians, it wasn’t monolithic. Other well-known scientists attempted to hack away at the theoretical foundations of the idea of eugenics, as well as point out the often very un-scientific methodology of research and practice of the eugenicists. Other well-known politicians spoke out against the eugenicists’ influence in governmental policies such as immigration.
Some publishing behemoths like the Ladies’ Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post became almost mouthpieces for the eugenicists, promoting their every bit of goofiness. But there were others which regularly lampooned books and lectures by prominent eugenicists.
The problem was, the theories of the eugenicists did line up very nicely with the personal prejudices of the average white “man on the street” across much of America. So when a well-known magazine printed a pro-eugenics article by a well-known doctor or scientist (in an era when such “authority figures” had much more sway that they do now in the Internet age, when everyone seems to be an authority of one because they have access to Google) it was “gobbled up whole” by much of the reading public.
Multiply that by years of such articles, along with impressive eugenics displays at state fairs and World’s Fairs, eugenics courses in many high schools and colleges and universities, and thick eugenics books with long bibliographies like Madison Grant’s Passing of the Great Race…and you have a whole generation where many people were so indoctrinated by “popular eugenics” that the concepts they learned no doubt stayed with them their whole lives. Even when most of the scientific community eventually rejected classic eugenic theory.
Frankly, hardly anyone ever “goes back” and mops up the mess they made in the past with teachings they may no longer hold. For of course, there is usually no one central source of information where you can go and print a “retraction” for something you said in a lecture you gave long ago to a nameless, faceless crowd, or for something you wrote in a textbook thirty years ago…even though those nameless, faceless listeners, or the young people who used that textbook for a class in high school or college. fully embraced your teaching, have never forgotten it, and still believe it.
Henry Goddard, for instance, the psychologist who invented the term “moron,” and who was a rabid eugenicist for many years, came to reject significant portions of some of his early work. Including the research that was the basis for his most famous book, The Kallikak Family. But the conclusions of that book were SO useful as substantiation for eugenic programs that OTHER eugenicists continued to use it for many years to support their own agendas. And of course back in those pre-Internet days, you couldn’t google Goddard’s name and read about his repudiation of his early work. (As I just did.) The book was spread widely, so with no “central clearing house” for retractions, few readers likely ever realized he changed his mind…and why.
Eugenics as a specific “science” has been out of the public eye for a long time. I would guess that a significant proportion of the US populace in 2014 would not remember ever hearing the word. In fact, during the time I was in high school in the early 1960s, I don’t ever remember learning anything about the role of the eugenics movement in American history at all. Nor learning anything about it in college history classes in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I can’t remember specifically the first time I read any details about eugenics, but I’m pretty sure it was on the Internet in the past decade.
The past decade HAS seen a resurgence of interest in the topic, particularly in how it relates to modern issues such as legalized abortion, DNA tinkering, “designer babies,” handicapper rights, euthanasia, birth control, immigration/illegal alien issues, and more. The Popular Eugenics book cited in this blog entry was published in 2006 and is one of many recent explorations of the history of the movement by contemporary researchers. I’ve seen eugenics mentioned recently on news shows, in newspaper and magazine articles, and all over the Internet. It really is NOT just “ancient history,” but a significant Hot Topic these days.
Some final thoughts on the role of eugenics in the Great American Narrative in the final entry in this series, up next:
But before you go, you are welcome to lighten up from this gloomy topic with a little 1940s goofiness with Bing and Bob, in the trailer for Road to Utopia.