One of the primary goals of the Third Reich was to create what they referred to as a “Master Race”. It was a very bleak time in history, and something that we should not forget about, to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Contrary to what many people believe, the Third Reich did not invent the idea of the Master Race, or even the idea of eugenics. America did.
Decades before the movement was popular in Germany, Americans were showing off their Caucasian genes and stating that they had “Better babies”. They were also sterilizing those who were deemed less worth of creating a family. It was a horrible program and one that Hitler would later comment on as “There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.” And unfortunately, eugenic efforts didn’t end after WWII.
Explaining American Eugenics
The American Eugenics Society was an organization that started in the U.S. in the early 1900s. Their mission mainly focused on segregation, but also looked at methods of racial cleansing and the start of a strong, pure race that was untainted by the blood of those who were considered to be “less” whether by race or disability.
This meant that the practice of forced sterilization was considered to be right for anyone who was considered unfit. That included those who had learning disabilities or those who were already in institutions. It also meant forbidding interracial marriage and the forced sterilization of orphans, children, and the “feeble-minded”.
The theories behind American eugenics came from the work of Charles Darwin and his cousin, Sir Francis Galton. Galton came up with the idea that if only the very best and brightest married each other, and had children, it would help to elevate the human race. And In America, a country that was still torn by racial tension, the effects of the Civil War and the end of slavery, it was the best move to help sort things out, according to him.
In 1911, treatise known as the “Preliminary Report of the Committee of the Eugenic Section of the American Breeder’s Association to Study and Report on the Best Practical Means for Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the Human Population” It presented several points on how exactly they proposed to going about the project. Included in this were suggestions for euthanasia and gas chambers.
Some of the views were pretty straight forward and visceral. Oliver Holmes, who was a Supreme Court Justice, famously quoted, “It’s better for all the world …three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
30 States, 60,000 Victims
At the height of the American Eugenics movement, 30 states had adopted the legislation that legalized the sterilization of individuals who were deemed to be “unfit for reproduction”. In many states, that included the mentally ill or the mentally deficient. Once that had occurred, nearly 60,000 people had been forcefully sterilized in state-sanctioned procedures. In California, sterilization records are incomplete and sometimes altered, making it truly impossible to know just how many people were subjected to the procedure. It was performed on both men and women, Caucasians as wells individuals from other races.
Even people in prisons were eligible for sterilization, as well as those who were known to be carrying genes for dementia or insanity. The laws removed the patient’s rights to contest the procedure, although it was still necessary for parents to consent to the sterilization of minors. Between the years of 1921 and 1950, an average of 450 people was sterilized in California every year.
Feeble-Minded, Deaf and Orphans Were Targeted
During the American Eugenics movement, there was a specific desire when it came to creating the ideal human race. Not only did they have to be tall, intelligent and talented, but they were all blond-haired and blue-eyed. This was described as the “Nordic” race in America, and it was the Aryan race in Germany. That meant removing everyone who wasn’t that, and even though the American version never went as far as the Germans, the roots were still there.
The Racial Integrity Act
The Racial Integrity Act of Virginia was established in 1924. The purpose was to document the race of every individual in the state, allowing for a massive genetic database to be created. The database was necessary for the rest of the law, making sure that someone whose heritage was purely white married only another similar pure white person.
State registrars were forbidden from issuing a marriage license unless the man and woman in question could produce such a certificate stating that there was no trace of any race other than Caucasian in their ancestry. If the clerk had any reason to doubt that their racial profile was not accurate, they didn’t have to grant the couple a marriage license, not until both parties had proof that they actually, truly were white. Lying about your race was considered a felony and you could be punished by up to one year in jail for it.
The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is still around today, located in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. Now it focuses its research on fields of neuroscience, plant biology, quantitative biology and genomics. It was originally opened in 1910 by Charles Davenport, and was known as the Carnegie Institute of Washington. The Eugenics Record Office would keep detailed family records that allowed the field workers to trace cases of mental and physical defects through a family line.
Davenport also conducted studies on the importance of other inherited traits, such as hair and eye color, hair texture, and skin pigments. In addition to all physical traits, they also attempted to document how chronic diseases such as hemophilia and mental disorders like schizophrenia, and other disorders known as “feeble-mindedness” were passed through a family.