Pub. date: 2010 | Online Pub. Date: November 23, 2010 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412959193 | Print ISBN: 9781412959186 | Online ISBN: 9781412959193| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Eugenics and Crime: Early American Positivism
Kristan A. Moore & Jennifer L. Lux
As defined by Patrick J. Ryan (2007, p. 254), eugenics is “the applied science of improving the hereditary characteristics of human beings.” The early American eugenics movement sought to use newly developed scientific concepts and technologies to improve the human race by promoting the reproduction of productive citizens and limiting it for unproductive citizens. The definition of unproductive was rather broad, encompassing epileptics, the mentally handicapped, alcoholics, drug addicts, and criminals. Eugenicists often used the term feebleminded to refer to individuals carrying the propensity for social ills. Eugenics found its theoretical basis in the work of Sir Francis Galton. Several prominent Americans—including Charles Davenport, Richard Dugdale, and Henry Goddard—used Galton's writings in their attempts to further establish the eugenics movement in the United States. Various prescriptions were advocated by these eugenicists, such as sterilization and birth control. Public support for the eugenics movement eventually declined, in part because of Feeblemindedness ...