Scientific discoveries have been the focal point for delivering solutions to various problems facing humanity. The 19th century saw an increase in the number of scholars attempting to find answers and explain phenomena. In the process, the idea of Eugenics came into being and became so popular during the early 20th century. In America, the Colony of Virginia became the first to consider the idea. As a result, many people were sterilized against their will after the enactment of the Virginia Sterilizing Act in 1924 (“Immigration and Imperialism,” n.d.). However, several years after the abolishment of Eugenics, controversy still surrounds the legitimacy and the purpose of the Eugenics Movement.
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Understandably, the movement was steered by individuals who wanted those deemed unfit in society to undergo sterilization to prevent them from passing their undesired genetic traits. Notable individuals included Harry Laughlin, the leader of the Eugenics Record Office and Albert Priddy, the superintendent of the Virginia Colony (Claude Moore Health Science Library, n.d.). The idea was to segregate individuals considered to be having unwanted genetic qualities to prevent proliferation. The supporters of the movement’s suggestions were that the feeble-minded individuals, the poor, prostitutes, antisocial morons, uneducated, and the non-producing people depending on charities did not deserve to bear offspring. Hence, such people were sterilized through surgical operations that cut and sealed tubes through which reproductive cells pass. As a result, Eugenics was assumed to ensure the continuity of strong, clever, morally upright, hardworking, and genetically desirable people. The Eugenics Movement was also against interracial marriages in the belief that it would lead to the contamination of superior groups. Mostly, the Anglo-Saxon race wanted to preserve its purity by discouraging interaction with other nationalities.
However, the Eugenics Movement was related to Progressive reforms and other scientific discoveries. Similar to most scientific ideas, Eugenics emanated from the age of Enlightenment. Nonetheless, it was closely related to Social Darwinism. In the 19th century, many scientists employed Darwin’s ideas of survival of the fittest to social life (“Immigration and Imperialism,” n.d.). The argument bred the notion of competition, genetic superiority, and biological inequality among individuals, which proponents of eugenics capitalized on it. Hence, Social Darwinism triggered the emergence of the Eugenics ideology and the resultant movement. The birth control argument also emerged almost at the same period, with Margaret Sanger leading the cause. Its idea was to keep the population static by allowing women to decide whether to keep or terminate the pregnancy if the conditions were favorable (Wallace, 1957). Correspondingly, the progressives found an opportunity to attack social problems using scientific arguments. The reformers thought that individuals with undesirable genetic traits mainly were immoral, imbeciles, and unproductive. Thus, since the Eugenics and the progressive movements occurred almost at the same time, the reformers found valid reasons to criticize social issues.
Nonetheless, the Eugenics Movement had a long-lasting legacy in society. In the American community, the campaign contributed to immense suffering to the innocent. For instance, Carrie, a young institutionalized woman from Virginia, was accused of being sexually promiscuous and feeble-minded. The result was sterilization without her consent and being used a test for the enacted law. Carrie’s case represents thousands of innocent individuals who were unwillingly made sexually unproductive. Between 1927 and 1979, reports indicate that more than sixty thousand Americans were forcefully sterilized (“Immigration and Imperialism,” n.d.). The Eugenics movement also advanced the racial conflicts in American society. The idea that some individuals were superior to others contributed to the oppression of the perceived inferior groups. People found guilty of defying the regulations that prevented interracial marriages were severely punished. Mostly, the African Americans became the victims of the cruel scientific ideas. Positively, the Eugenics argument encouraged the concept of genetic counselling among parents. The concern for the children’s traits promoted the habit of seeking professional consultations, which is an impressive motive for parents.
Regardless of the scientific facts used by the proponents of the idea, eugenics efforts were ill-meaning. I would not support the concept since many people suffered without their consent. For example, it was realized that facts supporting Carrie’s case were nothing but falsehood and fabrications (“Immigration and Imperialism,” n.d.). That means those who were proposing sterilization acts had no valid reasons for it. In addition, most states outlawed Eugenics when it was realized that the idea behind it had racial and political undertones. Therefore, the Eugenics Movement was not about improving genetics but advancing brutality among certain groups. The vulnerable individuals in society became the prime targets, which was against their constitutional and human rights. Therefore, my conviction is that a selected group of people steered the Eugenics Movement with hidden racial and political agenda and not for the good of humankind.
Overall, the Eugenics Movement was a popular course during the 19th century. Individuals deemed genetically unfit were sterilized against their will. Although the purpose of the concept was to prevent the proliferation of undesired hereditary qualities, it contributed to devastation among the vulnerable populations. The idea stemmed from Social Darwinism, a theory that promoted social and racial inequality and competition. Progressives utilized eugenics to support their reform movements by criticizing social problems. Consequently, the campaign has an enduring legacy of oppression and cruelty. It promoted racial antagonism as the groups perceiving themselves as superior detested interacting with other nationalities. Thus, I firmly believe the Eugenics efforts were intended to subjugate certain groups of people.
Claude Moore Health Science Library. (n.d.). Buck v. Bell: The Test Case for Virginia’s Eugenical Sterilization Act. The University of Virginia. Web.
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Immigration and Imperialism. (n.d.). Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924.
Immigration and Imperialism. (n.d.). Majority Decision in Buck v. Bell—Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1927).
Wallace, M. (1957). Interview with Margaret Sanger. The University of Texas at Austin, digital collections. Web.