Samples from Section "B"


Ruth Clifford Engs, The Eugenics Movement: An Encyclopaedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.


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            A positive eugenic and public health program, the better babies movement was established to educate parents in adequate child care, hygiene, and sanitation during the pre-World War I years. Its goal was to improve children’s health and to prevent racial degeneracy. Prevailing thought was that better care and feeding of infants would produce healthier babies, as had been found with domestic animals. The first better babies contest was held in 1908 at the Louisiana State Fair and started by civic-minded leader Mrs. Frank (Mary) de Garmo (1865-1953). She introduced the idea to Mary T. Watts (d.1926) who instigated a contest at the Iowa State Fair in 1911. Babies were judge not according to their beauty, but rather according to their health and strength. In March 1913, the editors of Women’s Home Companion, a popular women’s magazine, developed a Better Babies Bureau, after being influenced by de Garmo, headed by physician Lydia DeVilbiss. The bureau’s goal was to educate mothers in “race betterment” methods through baby contests. It was aimed at social workers and others to encourage them to launch contests and educate parents about hygiene, diet, and positive child-rearing techniques for producing healthier children. Most competitions occurred at state and county fairs or urban settlement houses. These events encouraged mothers to obtain information for the care and feeding of their babies so as to bring them up to the standards of the prize winners. When a physician pointed out baby defects, parents were more receptive to health education messages. In 1915 the Children’s Bureau organized a “better babies week” during which all American mothers were encouraged to have their children weighed and measured. In local communities, club women, extension organizations, doctors, ministers, and others organized better baby clinics. Parents were urged to bring their children for free checkups. Better babies contests in the post-World War I years evolved into the Fitter Family campaign. Further Reading: Holt, Marilyn Irvin, Linoleum, Better Babies, and the Modern Farm Woman, 1890-1930 (1995).




            An anti-war and pro- eugenics essay, Blood of the Nations was written by educator and eugenics supporter David Starr Jordan. The book contains 82 pages and was published in Boston by the American Unitarian Association. The work is divided into two parts, “Part I, In Peace,” and “Part II, In War.” The author proposes that the “blood of a nation determines its history “ and that the “history of a nation determines its blood.” The term blood was defined as heredity. A major theme suggests that “a race of men or a herd of cattle are governed by the same laws of selection”and proposes that when the fit, brave, and strong are sent to battle to die, the weak and “unfit” remain home and reproduce. It is the descendants of these individuals who, in turn, make up the future character of the nation. He argues that this factor was a cause of the decay of ancient Rome and Greece. The author contends that the British Anglo-Saxonrace” developed a “superior” civilization due to its primogenitor laws (the oldest son was the sole heir) which constantly integrated younger sons and daughters back into the masses. These individuals with ancestry from the nobility, in turn, colonized north American and brought democracy to the new world and Britain. The book, like other eugenics works of the day, decried the decrease in birth rate among the educated as as leading to race suicide. It was given favorable reviews in popular periodicals.



BURBANK, LUTHER (March 7, 1849 - April 11, 1926).

            A world-renowned plant breeder, Burbank was an early proponent of eugenics. Born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, he was the thirteenth child of a farmer and brick maker from a family proud of its old New England Anglo-Saxon stock. Educated in local schools, he attended Lancaster Academy four years, but gained his scientific knowledge from the public library. In 1870 two years after the death of his father, he used his inheritance to buy property near his hometown, became a nurseryman and started experimenting with plant breeding. In 1875 he sold his land and moved to Santa Rose, California, where he developed an experimental garden and created new varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. By 1890 Burbank’s income from a variety of new hybrids was sufficient to enable him to devote full time to plant development. In 1905 the Carnegie Institution of Washington arranged with him to collate his scientific data as Burbank generally destroyed his field notes; however, the arrangement was terminated after five years. Burbank continued to experiment with plants for the rest of his life.

            In Burbank’s genetic experiments, he cross-bred the “fittest” plants. This research brought him into the American Breeders Association. In 1906 he became an original member of the association’s Committee on Eugenics. Burbank’s work with plants convinced him that the key to good breeding was a combination of nature-nurture, or genetic selection and the environment. He was one of few eugenicists who retained a belief in Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics, long after it had been discredited by the scientific world. When the Eugenics Registry was established in 1914 at the Race Betterment Foundation, he was a member of its governing committee. Burbank was opposed to open immigration from eastern and southern European cultures due to “a large proportion of inferior representatives,” and was concerned about race suicide among “the better classes of the community.” He wrote little over his lifetime and did not seek publicity. In 1907 he published a booklet that carried the eugenics message for child rearing, Training the Human Plant. He achieved worldwide recognition and honors for his plant breeding. Burbank married twice, first to Helen A. Coleman (1890), whom he divorced in 1896, then Elizabeth Waters (1916), his secretary, but fathered no children with either. He died of complications from a heart attack at his home and was buried among his flowers. Further Reading: Dreyer, Peter, A Gardener Touched with Genius (1975);Gould, Stephen Jay, “Does the stoneless plum instruct the thinking reed?” Natural History 101 (April 1992):16-25.

Note: Bold type means a cross reference. These samples are from the draft uncopyedited version of the manuscript, so please get permission from author (add my last name, engs to the @ and . Type into your mailer) and Greenwood press before quoting this material.

(c) The Eugenics Movement: An Encyclopedia. Copyrighted, 2005 Ruth Clifford Engs, Bloomington, IN. Publishing rights Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 2005. Reproduced with permission of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., Westport, CT.