Indiana State Prison, Jeffersonville, 1912
Those Socialists were wrong
Poverty is not a social condition. People do not become criminals as a product of social and economic conditions.
They are born that way. People are poor an criminal because they are genetically inferior.
This ideology ,social Darwinism, was adopted by America’s wealthy at the turn of the 20th century as befitting those who believed they were more fit, indeed had a right to rule.
The idea was that people were born to be poor or criminal, etc. They were “bad seeds”, and thus the problem of poverty was not really a social problem, it was a problem of bloodline, to be fixed by selective breeding programs, forced sterilization, and the maintenance of “racial purity”. Racial purity was the idea that races “should not mix” out of the fear that if whites and blacks mixed the “inferior” black bloodline would “corrupt” the white bloodline, leading to more crime, poverty, and ignorance.
By the 1890s Indiana’s prisons were routinely castrating prisoners to cure them of “chronic” masturbation and prevent them from breeding more criminals.
In 1902 Dr. Harry Clay Sharp, of the Indiana State Reformatory stated:
“We make choice of the best rams for our sheep… and keep the best dogs… how careful then should we be in begetting of children!” Sharp also advocated that every state institution should “render every male sterile who passes its portals, whether it be an almshouse, insane asylum, institute for the feeble minded, reformatory, or prison.”
Alexander Sanger, in a book about his grandmother Margaret Sander noted “Sharp’s zeal for his job led him on a crusade to legalize what he was doing and to expand the class of those to whom he could legally do it.
In a 1902 paper, Sharp wrote: “I therefore suggest that you endeavor to secure such legislation as will make it mandatory that this operation be performed on all convicted degenerates. It renders them powerless to reproduce their kind, and it is an undoubted fact that the progeny of degenerates becomes a charge upon the state.”
In 1907, Indiana became the first in the world and the first of thirty states to legalize compulsory sterilization of “confirmed criminals, idiots, rapists, and imbeciles” if procreation was deemed “inadvisable” by a committee and there was “no probability of improvement of the mental condition of the inmate.” Bans on inter-racial marriage and marriage for those of “unsound or feeble mind” or males who had been in “pauper’s home” during the previous five years soon followed.
My father suffered from epilepsy.
The general attitude of people at the time was (a) its hereditary – or worse – contagious ; (b) it was associated with “feeble mindedness” and violence and (c) many thought those with epilepsy needed to be institutionalized. Our family always feared the state health department.
Eugenics was all the rage in America. Many states would not permit those with epilepsy to marry. Missouri was the last to repeal this law in 1980!. Blood banks wouldn’t take your blood until 1987. Employers would fire you after the first seizure on the job. General practitioner physicians had little to offer you and patients were afraid they would be reported to the health department
In 1902 David Starr Jordan, a former President of Stanford University, who published “Blood of a Nation – A study in the Decay of Races by the survival of the Unfit” noted
“The pauper is the victim of heredity, but neither Nature nor Society recognizes that as an excuse for his existence.”
Dr. J. N. Hurty, who was State Health Officer of Indiana and also became the President of the American Public Health Association, stated that,
“Men and women are what they are largely because of the stock from which they sprang.”
In 1907 Indiana became the first place in the world to legalize forced sterilization of the poor, prisoners, and mentally ill. Washington, Connecticut, California, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa, New Jersey, and New York all followed suit. In fact, New Jersey’s eugenics bills were signed into law by then Governor, soon to be President, Woodrow Wilson.
The first practical steps to apply the theories of eugenics were taken in the United States. A National Heredity Commission was established by Theodore Roosevelt and charged to investigate the genetic heritage of the country and to “encourage the increase of families of good blood and discourage the vicious elements in the cross-bred American civilization”.
Charles Davenport, a leader of the “movement” and directly involved in the sterilization of 60,000 “unfit” Americans established the Eugenics Record Office, funded by the Carnegie Institute.
Eugenics Conference Logo
“Eugenics is the self direction of human evolution”
American scientists began working with European scientists, especially in Germany. In 1911 a meeting of the First International Congress on Eugenics was held in London, including attendees from America, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Norway. Winston Churchill, Alexander Graham Bell, and other well known individuals were in attendance. The Second and Third conferences were held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Invitations were sent around the world by the State Department.
In 1912 the Rockefeller Foundation funded eugenics programs, endorsed by John Rockefeller Jr. himself. By 1914 eugenics had been adopted in America as a valid field of study and was even taught in high schools.
In the American eugenics program one can find the seeds of fascism as well as Himmler’s Lebensborn program. The Nazis admired the way we solved our “Indian question.”
In 1916 D. W. Griffith’s film “Birth of a Nation” was released and although controversial, became the biggest grossing silent film ever made.
President Woodrow Wilson’s “History of the American People” was quoted in the film to describe how Northerners and blacks were using deception and abuse of power to “put the white South under the heal of the black South.”
Birth of a Nation describes Lincoln as having undermined state’s rights creating an all powerful federal government in the process. It depicted Northern blacks and freed slaves as villains bent on destroying white civilization through abuse of their new-found power after the Civil War. The major villain of the film is a mulatto, a man of “mixed white and black race”.
Near the climax of the film, the white folk unite to save a town from “Negro anarchy”. Yankees and rebels unite again in the “common defense of their Aryan birthright.”
By the 1920s racism is brewing full boil in America and by 1924 the power of the Klan is on full display. In 1924 the Klan had over 4.5 million members in a much smaller US population. Approximately 20% of adult white males in the South were members of the KKK at this time.
Still, the Klan’s strongest state was Indiana. In 1924 Klansman Edward Jackson was elected Governor of Indiana. As previously noted, Indiana was also one of the places where the eugenics movement was strongest as well.
During its peak the Klan was seen by a large portion of the American population as a respectable organization that stood for order and preservation of “traditional values”.
400,000 Klansmen march on Washington – 1925
Klan activity in Marysville, Washington urging that Catholic schools be made illegal.
The Klan, while opposing blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigration also opposed Marxism, homosexuality, atheism, and liberalism in general and supported “one language, one allegiance, one flag” which eerily reverberated a decade later – “Ein Reich! Ein Volk! Ein Fuehrer!
In fact Klan / white supremacist ideology and Nazi ideology are virtually identical with the one primarily targeting blacks while the Nazis primarily targeted Jews. Our current problems with extremist right wing politics is nothing new.
It is as American as apple pie