Regulating Reproduction: Fetishes of equality, democracy, and universal education
Eugenics is understood as a movement in the early 20th century intended to improve human heredity. On its face, the movement is a noble one, concerned that public policies to improve the lives of the weakest of our species (which they defined as the mentally ill, disabled, and degenerate) were dramatically influencing the Darwinian evolution of the human race in such a way that might lead to the inferiority of our species. It was on the movement’s influence upon the accepted public discourse and integration within government bodies that led to some of the century’s most heinous legislation, resulting in the loss of bodily choice and integrity for many of our nation’s most marginalized and therefore vulnerable individuals.
The very terms segregation and sterilization were originally used in eugenic and bacteriologist literature to mean selective isolation or quarantine and “to eliminate the agents that reproduced disease,” respectively, prior to their use in more recent common vernacular (Pernick, 1997, p. 1769), which implies the original intentions with which these terms were used colloquially.
Ellsworth Huntingdon, scientist and one-time president of the board of directors of the American Eugenics society (Text Book History, N.D.), claimed that “America is seriously endangering her future by making fetishes of equality, democracy, and universal education (as quoted in Roberts, 1997, p. 51) by looking to care for our most vulnerable citizens. This paper will show how the aims he sought in these three areas have continued to hold strong through the last hundred years, despite decades of activists’ efforts to the contrary.