KallikaksDeborahDeobrah's handiwork

Negative Eugenics in America: the case of the "Kallikaks"

    Three children of the pseudonymous 'Kallikak' family, featured in Henry Goddard's 1912 book, "The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness." Goddard traced the pedigree of the family over several generations, and found that it included a large number of persons of socially dubious behaviour. Besides the subjectivity of many of his assessments, Goddard was not above doctoring his "evidence:" note that the eyes of the children have been crudely touched up to emphasize their supposed viciousness. One of these was an eight-year-old girl, "Deborah," who Goddard thought showed many undesirable traits:

    [At age 8,] "On the plea that the child did not get along well at school and might possibly be feeble-minded, she gained admission to the Training School [Goddard's Vinland School in New Jersey]... Average size and weight. No peculiarity in form or size of head. Staring expression. Jerking movement in walking. No bodily deformity. Mouth shut. Washes and dresses herself, except fastening clothes. Understands commands. Not very obedient. Knows a few letters. Cannot read nor count. Knows all the colors. Not fond of music. Power of memory poor. Listens well. Looks steadily. Good imitator. Can use a needle [see examples of her work, at right]. Can carry wood and fill a kettle. Can throw a ball, but cannot catch. Sees and hears well [many persons with hearing difficulties were classified as 'feeble-minded' and institutionalized]. Right-handed [!!]. Excitable but not nervous. Not affectionate and quite noisy. Careless in dress. Active. Obstinate and destructive. Does not mind slapping and scolding...."

    [At age 22,] "This is a typical illustration of the mentality of a high-grade feeble-minded person, the moron, the delinquent, the kind of girl or woman that fills our reformatories. They are wayward, they get into all sorts of trouble and difficulties, sexually and otherwise, and yet we have been accustomed to account for their defects on the basis of viciousness, environment, or ignorance. It is also the history of the same type of girl in the public school. Rather good-looking, bright in appearance, with many attractive ways, the teacher clings to the hope, indeed insists, that such a girl will come out all right. Our work with Deborah convinces us that such hopes are delusions.... She has been persistently trained since she was eight years old, and yet nothing has been accomplished in the direction of higher intelligence or general education. To-day if this young woman were to leave the Institution, she ... would lead a life that would be vicious, immoral, and criminal, though because of her mentality she herself would not be responsible. There is nothing that she might not be led into, because she has no power of control, and all her instincts and appetites are in the direction that would lead to vice....  The question is, 'How do we account for this kind of individual?' The answer is in a word 'Heredity,' -- bad stock." [Goddard 1913; emphasis added: Goddard's obsession with sexual morality runs throughout his book]. Subsequent inspection of her school records suggests that 'Deborah' may have had a learning disability but was not otherwise developmentally delayed.

    Goddard, one of the founders of the science of Psychology, developed an early IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test (1908) for use in the United States, based on Binet's French model. The Binet Test had been developed to identify those children who were not performing at grade or age level, and therefore needed extra help. Starting in 1910, Goddard instead used the numerical results of the test to classify individuals as "morons" for those with an IQ of 51-70 [like Deborah], "imbeciles" for those with IQ of 26-50, and "idiots" for those with IQ of 0-25.  Goddard's eugenic intent was not education, but rather isolation and institutionalization, so as to prevent such persons from reproducing.

    Adopting his categories, the US Supreme Court in its infamous Buck vs Bell (1927) ruling approved state laws imposing mandatory sterilization for 'congenital' mental deficiency with the phrase, 'Three generations of imbeciles are enough." This case is considered among the worst decisions ever made by SCOTUS, alongside others such as Dred Scott vs Sandford (1857) (denying civil rights to blacks, & legalization of slavery throughout the United States), Plessy vs Ferguson (1892) (legalization of 'separate but equality' facilities for blacks and whites), and Korematsu vs US (1944) (legalization of the internment of Japanese-American citizens). Most have been overturned by law or subsequent SCOTUS decisions.

Images from the Eugenics Archive; text material © 2022 by Steven M. Carr