6 February 2012
The Development of Eugenics
Charles B. Davenport
Editor's Note: The following is Charles B. Davenport's presidential address at the Third International Congress of Eugenics, held at the American Museum of Natural History (above), in New York, between 21 to 23 August 1932.
It is a privilege and an honor to occupy the place on this platform occupied
at the last Congress by my friend Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn. It is
an honor to succeed more remotely that grand old man of Eugenics, whom
distance and extreme age are keeping from us, — Leonard Darwin. He has a
message for us which he sends through the voice of the biologico-statistician
of his country, R. A. Fisher.
We rejoice that so many from abroad have been able to come, even at
great sacrifice, financially. They have come from England, the Scandinavian Countries, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland.
From the Americas we welcome Canada, Cuba and representatives of ther
countries of Pan America. From the United States the representation is
good; some have come as far as those who crossed the ocean to articipate in
the activities of this Congress.
We regret that so many European leaders in eugenics have been prevented from coming because of economic or political considerations. We
were urged by some of them to postpone the Congress but the appeal came
too late, after we had accepted and spent considerable funds. Their disappointment is shared by us. We miss particularly Ploetz, that grand old
leader of eugenics, in Germany, Fritz Lenz, his associate; Marianne Van
Herwerden, beloved by all for her graciousness and esteemed for her researches. Time fails to tell of all whom we miss here tonight. We hope
they will come to the next Congress in America.
We meet again in Congress after 11 years. What progress has been
made by us as Eugenicists since 1921?
The Federation of Eugenics Organizations has met regularly in European
Countries and we have come to know and esteem each other and have gradually increased the scope of the Federation, Indeed now most of the principal countries of the globe have eugenical organizations. We have made contacts with each other's countrymen and have a better understanding of their
social viewpoints. But what have we accomplished to advance the science
and application of eugenics? First, we may not underestimate the advantages of mutual contact in stimulating research. Since the publication
of Holmes' Bibliography of Eugenics, the number of papers on the subject
has increased enormously. We may share part of the credit for this advance
so well recorded in the textbooks of Baur, Fischer and Lenz. In application
there has been a slow but steady spread. Sterihzation as a useful aid in
negative eugenics has been adopted by Denmark, largely through the
activities of our colleague Soren Hansen. England and the Netherlands re
considering legislation on the subject. Sterilization is being at least widely
discussed. The principle of national determination of immigration has
become recognized. One country may not relieve itself of its socially inadequate by slyly exiling them to another country. Each country must
bear the burden of caring for the socially inadequate that it breeds.
The seriousness of the act of mate selection is, I think, becoming increasingly recognized partly as a result of increasing instruction on eugenics
given in the schools. Marriage advice stations have sprung up in Germany
and Gosney and Popenoe are responsible for an active center in Los Angeles.
Eugenical ideals are as old as mankind and have their roots in the instinct
of mate selection which is found through the largest part of the vertebrate
phylum, if not below.
The necessity of emphasizing these ideals now is partly the spread of non-
biological theories of equality of breeding stocks; the doubt entertained by
many sociologists whether there is any difference in quality of fitness among
humans (despite the difference between an idiot and a scholar; an epileptic
and a person with controllable emotions); the undue emphasis on economic,
rather than biological, considerations in mate selection and in reproduction.
We honor Galton for arousing the conscience of civilized peoples on
these matters, and starting a movement to mend them. Galton saw clearly
that the conscious improvement of mankind must be based on the laws of
heredity and he turned his attention to its study. But in his day a knowledge of this subject was very incomplete; so that he failed in more than
demonstrating in general the importance of heredity in human affairs.
With the rise of Mendelism a new era opened. In place of average
results in inheritance it now became possible to state more precisely the
consequences of a given mating; or at least the way was opened to acquire
knowledge toward such a statement. Such at least was the idea that led to
the establishment of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor
by Mrs. E. H. Harriman. Such an ideal was doubtless in Galton's mind
when he made the Galton Laboratory at London the residuary legatee of
his estate. Unfortunately it got into the hands of an opponent of the new
method of analysis.
Let US note some of the advance in the study of human genetics made in
the new era. In the first glance the inheritance of a lot of normal varying
characters has been placed on a Mendelian basis, such as stature, body
build, pigmentation of hair and skin, eye color, hand form; also temperament, mental traits and quality of the special senses. Similar progress has
been made in studying defects and diseases on a genetic basis. Twins,
endocrine conditions and a nimiber of sex-linked characters have had their
One of the greatest advances of this period of research has been the change
in attitude of pathologists toward the hereditary factor in disease. We have
come a long way from the standpoint of the medical man who said, in effect,
tuberculosis is due to the bacillus tuberculosus and that is all there is to it —
despite the fact that practically every adult harbors the tubercle bacillus.
Rather the conclusion of Professor Jobling of the College of Physicians and
Surgeons in this city is being reached, who said: Henceforth the physician
and geneticist must work together.
But, as we are constantly reminded, human genetics is only part of
eugenics. Research in eugenics must also be concerned with mate election.
This field is indeed little worked; yet it will yield and is yielding great
During the past two decades the importance of eugenics to mankind has
become recognized by thoughtful leaders and an attempt has been organized
to "put it across," as we say; to secure the adoption and practice of the
principles established. Eugenic societies have been organized with that
high aim. While one can only applaud the purpose and wish god-speed
to the effort, still, on the other hand, one may be excused if he does not
enter with enthusiasm into such propaganda.
Propaganda, as I understand it, is the organized effort to get accepted some
principle the truth and value of which have not been, or can not be, demonstrated but of whose importance the propagandists hold a strong opinion.
They are, if not morally surely emotionally, certain of its truth and undertake
a crusade, or indeed, a warfare to lure or force others to accept their way
of thinking. Thus we have had the prohibition propaganda, the laborless-child propaganda, the birth control propaganda and the rest.
Now it is hoped and expected that human genetics will, in due time, be
placed on a basis, not of opinion but of fact, like the facts of animal breeding.
When that time comes, indeed probably before it comes, writers of textbooks for the schools or writers of books for general reading will have presented the facts and even drawn immediate deductions from them. Just as one does not need to organize propaganda in favor of the theorems of
geometry, just so little is propaganda required in favor of the laws of inheritance of haemophilia, polydactylism or moronity.
What of the Future?
First, research on humian genetics, as the foundation of eugenics, should
be continued. We need to know more about the genetical factor present in
various morbid conditions, such as cancer and arterial and heart disease.
We need to know the genetical factors present that favor self control —
inhibition — or the lack of it. We need to know more about the genetical
factor that favors output in music, mathematics, invention, organization
and the rest. By a knowledge of the laws of inheritance of these special
capacities the chance of breeding them can be increased. And the day may
come when this country (which at the very beginning lured artisans, black-smiths, mechanics, because of the houses, towns and cities that had to be
built) will offer a large premium for the inventive capacity which, once gone,
can be recovered only by importation.
Second, extensive research is needed on mate selection and its instinctive
action. It is obviously important to know the biological basis of correct
On the active control of mate selection we have heard much today.
It is probably well that the principle has been established in this country
that the fertile marriages of the feeble-minded, and the inheritably insane
should be reduced to a minimum. Of course, we recognize that even if one
of the inheritable feeble-minded reproduced in this generation, there would
be new cases of inherited feeble-mindedness in the next generation; though
reduced in mmiber. This, because the defect is carried recessive, in normal
individuals. Our experience at the Eugenics Record Office indicates that
very many people with hereditary defect in the family are aware of the
danger of reproducing it: and many either avoid marriage or at least parentage on account of this family defect. Probably, in time, this practice will
become widespread, and thus the supply of the hereditarily feeble-minded
will gradually diminish. At least I think we may look for this result in
consequence of wider knowledge of the facts of inheritance.
You have heard today discussed the possibility of increasing the marriage
rate and fecundity of the more effective, socially more efficient classes. I
can not add to that discussion; but, as an optimist and as a result of numerous contacts with young people who are contemplating marriage, I
believe that more and more will be guided consciously (as well as instinctively) to make matings that will ensure physically, mentally and temperamentally well-endowed offspring. Advance in knowledge of human
genetics will aid in this advance.
The Future of a Differential Birth-Rate
The interests of the eugenicist are in improving the quality of those
born and increasing the proportion of the socially adequate. So far, the
only method of improving the quality of those born, apart from prevention
of infection in the mother, is to improve the matings. We have heard
discussed today the possible methods of securing a higher birth rate in he
most effective groups of the population. Let us hope such methods will be
successful. Were birth control differential it would have possibilities.
The most intellectually successful strains are slow and tardy breeders.
The proletariat will for a long time, as in the classic age, be the fecund class.
All honor to the fecund. It will be a long time before we can improve practically on nature's method of race improvement — a high birth rate and a
high death rate.
Eugenics is not interested in death rates any more than it is in birth
rates. It is interested only in quality. One may even view with satisfaction the high death rate in an institution for low grade feeble-minded,
while one regards as a national disaster the loss of a bold and successful
aviator, or even the infant child of exceptional parents.
Control of the Quality of the Breeding Stock Through Control of Migration
Any nation will, in the long run, be what the quality of its breeding stock
permits it to be; fair conditions of life assumed. Every nation wants to
secure for itself its ideals of high quahty of manhood. Even if we could
carry out a program of improved breeding with the people within our gates
our problem might be comphcated by the immigration of other peoples
which, perhaps, had no such program.
The immigration problem has indeed two aspects on the biological side.
One is the problem of a possible biological disharmony arising in the hybrid offspring of peoples widely unlike genetically; i.e., having marked,
structural, including neuronic, differences. Today, in the absence of
precise information on the matter each person feels entitled to his own
opinion. I know of no subject today of vaster eugenic, as well as political,
moment than that of the genetical consequences of the union of dissimilar
races of mankind. The results of breeding dogs obtained by Stockard
suggest that marked morphological differences of the parental stocks may
result in morphological disharmonies in the hybrid offspring; also, the
hybrids between blacks and whites in Jamaica show an excess of persons
over either parental stock who are incapable of tackling even slightly
difl&cult mental tests. Despite these facts there are even geneticists who
doubt if wide crosses result in disharmonies.
It would seem as if mankind was entitled to know the facts as to human
crosses. The practical problem is not one of inferiority or superiority of
races, but primarily of racial differences. We must all rejoice that Eugen
Fischer is entering with enthusiasm into the problem of human race crossing
over the world.
The other aspect of immigration is that of a clash of instincts in groups
with unlike temperaments and mores. For a highly individual people the
mores and laws of a population with strong social instincts may be intolerable. A mixture of heterogenous peoples thrown into intimate contact, is
apt to be a more or less turbulent people. This is a biological principle
that has strong sociological bearings.
While there are apparent dangers in the free mixture of very dissimilar
races, we have reason to look for certain advantageous consequences of
out-breeding, providing the breeds be not too extreme. Thus the mixture
of north Europeans in the United States seems to have produced many
especially virile persons of which the Theodore Roosevelt family is a brilliant example. It is probable that the principle of heterosis is effective in
man also. On these matters we look to the future for a clearer light.
Meanwhile any people is justified in going slow in bringing together into
its land very diverse races of mankind. If future research supports present
suspicions as to dangers, the mixtures can not be unscrambled. If the
suspicions of danger prove to be unfounded, then it will not be too late to
throw the doors open to free intermigration of the most diverse peoples.
The present safe course is to pursue the ideal of race homogeneity.
Finally, we may inquire: Can we by eugenical studies point the way to
produce the superman and the superstate? Progress will come slowly.
Man is a poor subject for experimental study; still worse to get to apply to
himself established principles. But I think we are justified in having faith
that the future will bring precise knowledge in human biology, and education will estabUsh the desired mores.
The past two decades have seen the new eugenics rise from a mire of
ridicule to the solid foundation of a recognised important social factor.
It is probable that in the next two decades it will rise still further in public
esteem and become regarded as the most important influence in human
advancement. For, man is an animal, and permanent racial progress in
eugenics, must be based on the laws of biology.