One of the main goals of the Third Reich was creating a so-called Master Race. It was a horrible time in history, and something we can look back on in sadness. But contrary to popular belief, the Third Reich didn’t invent the idea of a Master Race, or of eugenics—America did. Several decades before the movement caught on in Germany, Americans were flaunting their Caucasian genes and the “Better Babies” they would bear, and sterilizing those deemed less worthy of a family. It was a terrible program, about which Hitler would later say, “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 it didn’t even end after World War II.
10. What It Was The American Eugenics Society was an organization that began in the United States in the early 1900s. Its mission included not just segregation, but a racial cleansing and the establishment of a strong, pure race untainted by the blood of those that were deemed lesser, whether by race or by disability. That meant the practice of forced sterilization for those who were deemed unfit to have a family, such as those with learning disabilities or those in institutions. It also meant forbidding interracial marriage and, as we’ll cover, the forced sterilization of orphans, cripples, and the “feeble-minded.” The theories behind the practice came from the work of Charles Darwin and his cousin, Sir Francis Dalton. Dalton theorized that if only the best and the brightest married each other and bore children, it would elevate the human race. And in America, a country still torn by racial tensions and the reminders of a Civil War and the end of slavery, it was exactly the sort of thing those self-proclaimed best and brightest could seize upon. A 1911 treatise called “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” presented bullet points on just how they proposed going about this project. Included were suggestions for euthanasia and gas chambers.And some of the views were, frankly, pretty visceral. Oliver Holmes, a Supreme Court Justice, famously said, “It is better for all the world…three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
9. 30 States And 60,000 Victims
At the height of the movement, 30 states had adopted legislation that legalized the sterilization of individuals deemed unfit for reproduction. In most states, that meant the mentally ill or mentally deficient. By the time all was said and done, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000 people had been forcefully sterilized in state-sanctioned procedures. In some states, such as California, sterilization records are incomplete or often altered, making it impossible to truly know how many people were subjected to the procedures. It was done to men and women, Caucasians as well as individual from other and mixed races. State laws in California included permissions for those who were in prisons to be eligible for sterilization, as well as those found to have any chance of carrying hereditary dementia or insanity. The laws also removed the patients’ rights to contest the procedure, although it was still necessary for parents to consent to the sterilization of their minor children. In the years between 1921 and 1950, roughly 450 people were sterilized in California each year.
8. Feeble-Minded, Deaf, And Orphans
The American eugenics movement had a very specific desire when it came to creating the perfect, pure race. Not only were they tall, intelligent, and talented, but they were blond-haired and blue-eyed. Sound familiar? It was described as a “Nordic” race in America, and it was the Aryan race in Germany. That meant weeding out everyone who wasn’t that . . . and while the American version never went as far as the German, the roots were there.While Alexander Graham Bell targeted the deaf, and laws on the whole targeted the sexually deviant offenders and the mentally ill, there was another sub-group who fell victim to the forced sterilization procedures. In California, all it took was a doctor to deem you “unworthy” to have the procedure done. And in some cases—as late as 1963—that could simply mean you were an orphan. Men like California’s Charlie Follett were sterilized against their will as children; Follett’s only crime was to be born to alcoholic parents who could not support him, leaving him a ward of the state.
7. Supported By Alexander Graham Bell And The Rockefellers
An appalling number of people supported the movement, in voice and in finance. Alexander Graham Bell was a staunch supporter of the movement, and thought that deaf people should not be allowed to marry. Many eugenics projects got their financing from some of the corporate moguls of the day, including the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Harriman railroad conglomerate. In fact, the Carnegies founded and funded the Cold Spring Harbor research facility, one of the largest centers of eugenics activities (more on that in a minute). And it was the Rockefellers who put up the money behind a branch of eugenics in Europe—that was a German branch that counted Joseph Mengele in its ranks. They also funded organizations like the German Psychiatric Institute, which in turn gave rise to one of Hitler’s most instrumental minds in medical repression, Ernst Rudin. The United States Supreme Court was also on board, upholding the laws of the eugenics movement, and one of the leaders of the American eugenic movement, Madison Grant, received a fan letter from none other than Adolf Hitler, praising his work as inspiring. While much of the financial support of families like the Rockefellers ended before the official beginning of World War II, they had already helped set things in motion.
No Más Bebés tells the story of a little-known but landmark event in reproductive justice, when a small group of Mexican immigrant women sued county doctors, the state, and the U.S. government after they were sterilized while giving birth at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the late 1960s and early 1970s.