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“Culling the Herd”: Eugenics and the Conservation Movement in the United States, 1900–1940

Abstract

While from a late twentieth- and early twenty-first century perspective, the ideologies of eugenics (controlled reproduction to eliminate the genetically unfit and promote the reproduction of the genetically fit) and environmental conservation and preservation, may seem incompatible, they were promoted simultaneously by a number of figures in the progressive era in the decades between 1900 and 1950. Common to the two movements were the desire to preserve the “best” in both the germ plasm of the human population and natural environments (including not only natural resources, but also undisturbed nature preserves such as state and national parks and forests). In both cases advocates sought to use the latest advances in science to bolster and promote their plans, which in good progressive style, involved governmental planning and social control. This article explores the interaction of eugenic and conservationist ideologies in the careers of Sacramento banker and developer Charles M. Goethe and his friend and mentor, wealthy New York lawyer Madison Grant. In particular, the article suggests how metaphors of nature supported active work in both arenas.

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Correspondence to Garland E. Allen.

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Allen, G.E. “Culling the Herd”: Eugenics and the Conservation Movement in the United States, 1900–1940. J Hist Biol 46, 31–72 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-011-9317-1

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Keywords

  • Charles M. Goethe
  • Madison Grant
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Gifford Pinchot
  • Boone and Crockett Club
  • eugenics
  • ecology
  • conservation
  • preservation
  • National Parks
  • Save the Redwoods League
  • National Socialists
  • immigration restriction
  • Sterilization