In The First Two Decades Of The 20th Century, Some People Believed The Best Way To Deal With The Lame, Degenerate, and the Developmentally Disabled Was To Kill Them – Preferably Soon After They Were Born
Eugenic Beliefs of a College President; a Doctor; Politicians and a Supreme Court Justice
Eugenics can mean many things, but in its most simple form the main purpose is control, selection and “improvement” of human population.
Its not the sort of idea that curries favor today, especially after Nazi Germany put the concept into practice eliminating undesirables; Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the retarded, the infirm, lame and many other “unfit” groups in their quest for racial purity.
From 1979 until 2015 China’s government practiced a form of eugenics with their one child policy that was meant to control population. Today population control remains a touchy subject. Who gets to decide who should or shouldn’t reproduce?
For the first few decades of the 20th century eugenics or Spartansim was a popular and controversial science or as some have called it, a pseudoscience. If there are people today who would like to see the revival of a eugenics movement, few will say so publicly.
In this fascinating article published 102 years ago The Commonwealth a weekly socialist newspaper based in Everett, WA, an attack was published on the rise of Spartanism and used the words of its proponents to point out the dangers of the Spartan / eugenics movement. The article has been edited here for brevity while maintaining the overall tone of the story.
Highlights from The Commonwealth Thursday January 8, 1914 (Everett WA):
Danger Ahead For Working Class
The Revival Of Spartanism
(Editor’s note – Further examples of this trend of the bourgeois mind toward a recrudescence of Spartanism will be given next week. We have kept close watch on this insidious movement for some years, and it would seem to us high time that the working class be aroused to the dangers which may beset them before they are fully aware of the sinister motive behind this half-hidden movement)
College President Wants Weak Destroyed
President Andrews, of the University of Nebraska, expressed his belief that society would be benefited by destroying all weakly and defective children. “The Spartans, Medes and Persians who put their imbecile or deformed to death as soon as born were wiser than we,” declared Mrs. Margaret Forwerg to a club of society women in Chicago.
Justice Truman C. White, of the New York supreme court, notes the growth of a public sentiment in his state favorable to physical elimination of the “unfit” – the idiotic, the insane, the epileptic, etc.
In explaining the system of classification adopted in 1905 by the school board for the disposal of backward children, Dr. Brown of the board of health of the City of New York made this statement:
“Every child with the slightest deficiency receives a special examination. If he is blind, or deaf, he is sent to an institution where that deficiency is given special treatment, and possibly cured. In like manner the imbecile is often made into a useful citizen. But for the idiot there is absolutely no hope. When it is found that he is too far gone for the surgeon’s knife to help, his life had better be extinguished. We would then have more time and energy to spend on children in whom there are possibilities of success.”
Mothers Should Have Deformed Infants Killed Says Boston Doctor
“If mothers would be willing to have their children quietly put to sleep forever when they are very young and show signs of deformity or degeneracy, the world would be better,” says Dr. Andrew Christian of Back Bay, Boston’s aristocratic district.
“Of course that would not be unless the women could be educated up to the fact that it would be the kindest way to end a life which will be of no use to itself or anyone else.
If I myself, had a little child born and it was deformed or showed that it would be mentally weak, then I would be willing that it should be put to death with no suffering and it would be the prudent thing to do, because it would save it from untold suffering later. This may seem harsh, but it is really not.”
“Removal” of Feeble-Minded.
During the year 1903 a bill was introduced in the Michigan legislature by Representative Rogers, in which it was proposed to”remove” by some painless method, “all feeble-minded children.” One wonders why this genial gentleman did not begin with the incurable insane in the state asylum. But even cold-blooded murderers are not anged in Michigan! Strange commentary on the spirit of our age that Mr. Rogers would rather ask for the execution of helpless children!
In the opinion of Mr. Ambrose Bierce the noted critic, poet and all-around literature, “Society has an indubitable moral right to remove those of its members who will not live in harmony with its just and necessary requirements (?). The first or second felony is the felon’s fault (?); for the third and all subsequent ones the state is to blame… Century after century we suffer the rabble of degenerates, fully identified and avowedly impenitent, to conduct their irritating hostilities against life and property, while we have it in our power to put an end to the aggressors. …. The criminals have no right to anything , not even as this proposalassumes, to life”
Real Aim of Spartanism
Here we strike the keynote of the noble Spartan movement: The aim is to lay a foundation for legislation which will work out in practice only as to the execution of the poor.
Justice Holmes Would Kill the “Inadequate”
It seems to me,” writes Justice O.W. Holmes of the United States supreme court, “that the question of the death penalty ,as of every other penalty, is a question of sociological observation- and of that there is too little in this country and probably anywhere in the world to get very certain answers … I assume, of course, that no competent person would have any sentimental scruples, and it seems to me that if I were going to speculate about the future,… I should contemplate as one possibility among others that this community would or might take life into its hands on more far-reaching grounds than punishment. I am not clear that even now, that I would rather see a man killed because he was inadequate than because he had killed someone else.’