Eugenics: The Story

Eugenics is the term that describes the medical sterilization of people to help create a better race and eliminate all weak citizens who are seen unfit to procreate. Eugenics began in America around the 1920’s to help the white race become stronger and many states began non-consensual sterilizations of white people who the state deemed unfit to reproduce, mainly the poor, handicapped, and uneducated were targeted. In the 1920’s the idea of creating a perfect race without any weakness was very popular and was seen as an improvement in society at the cost of those being sterilized. Eugenics started with some push back as the first couple of cases were exposed as a “tragedy” but the idea seemed appealing enough to people for it to continue to grow in support in America.  Sterilizations became so popular and widespread that a Supreme Court case, Buck v. Bell, declared non-consensual sterilizations constitutional because “three generations of imbeciles are enough”. This helped eugenics in America gain support in the late 1920’s as newspapers began publishing support for it, comparing it to birth-control. Many Americans were taken from their homes and brought to asylums to be sterilized under the broad medical diagnosis of feeble-mindedness where they would undergo dangerous operations. Many people were sterilized as babies to prevent the spread of their bad genes. The US continued to sterilize people until the 1970’s when it was finally exposed as a crime against those who were sterilized. Hitler admired the United States eugenics program in the 1930’s and even wanted to visit some of the hospitals where the sterilizations took place. Hitler and his Nazi regime are usually brought up in history books as the man who tried to create a perfect race. In reality however, America was doing something very similar, Hitler just took eugenics a step further by eliminating those who were unfit–not sterilizing them. In America, our country portrays itself as the “good guy”, and showing any similarities with men like Hitler would reveal some dirty laundry America has that many would like to forget. Remembering our past helps us to understand the present and allows us to improve for the future, so trying to forget eugenics is only hurting the next generation of citizens from understanding where the country has come from. 

        Eugenics is typically swept under the rug in American schooling because it is a very dark and very recent event in our history. American education does not like to show the dark side of the country to our citizens and this is a perfect example of it happening. However, this is important to learn because there are still people alive that are suffering from the effects of the eugenics movement, it helps us understand the rationale of the time period, and provides a great opportunity to discuss controversies that occur in our society today. It is important to discuss hard topics because it can help people form their own opinions over controversies happening today and allow citizens to learn how to have a debate about them without it turning offensive. As you work through this website keep this question in mind: ” How does learning about the US’s dark past help its citizens in the present?”