Eugenics and Race, 1900–25

Part of the St Antony’s/Macmillan Series book series


The nineteenth century closed with racism firmly established in popular opinion and in science. Despite disagreements among biologists about the proper definition of ‘race’, and the elusiveness of the very concept when attempts at racial classification were made, most scientists thought that the mental, moral and physical differences between racial groups were profound and socially significant. Belief in the racial superiority of whites, and the practice of racial discrimination at home and abroad, if often deplored on moral grounds, had nevertheless acquired some sanction in the seemingly objective findings of modern science.


Mental Ability White Race Cephalic Index Human Heredity Eugenic Movement 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    Francis Galton, ‘Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope and Aims’, Nature 70 (1904) 82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    See G. R. Searle, Eugenics and Politics in Britain, 1900–1914 (Leyden: Woordhoff International Publishing, 1976);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  9. 4.
    Biographical details are found in D. W. Forrest, Francis Galton: The Life and Work of a Victorian Genius (New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1974). See alsoGoogle Scholar
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    Ruth Schwartz Cowan, ‘Francis Galton’s Contributions to Genetics’, J. Hist. Biol. 5 (1972) 389–412, esp. pp. 390–403 on the confusions concerning the terms such as ‘heredity’, ‘inheritance’, and ‘variation’ in the 1850s. For Galton’s commitment to a non-Lamarckian theory of inheritance see Cowan’s Nature and Nurture: The Interplay of Biology and Politics in the Work of Francis Galton’, Studies in the History of Biology I (1977) 133–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Karl Pearson, ‘The Problem of Alien Immigration into Great Britain, Illustrated by an Examination of Russian and Polish Jewish Children’, Annals of Eugenics i (1925–6) 5–127. On intelligence tests and eugenics, see pp. 131–4 of this chapter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Darwin, as is well-known, was deeply impressed with Galton’s arguments concerning the inheritance of mental qualities. See Blacker, Eugenics, p. 92. Nevertheless, he was on the whole optimistic that natural selection did eliminate the unfit. Huxley for rather different reasons, also rejected eugenics. See T. H. Huxley, Prolegomena to ‘Evolution and Ethics’, (1894) in Evolution and Ethics and other Essays (London: Macmillan, 1894) pp. 39. Wallace rejected eugenics as a distasteful infringement of marital choice, though in later papers he saw eugenical choice as emerging naturally in a socialist society. See A. R. Wallace, ‘Human Selection’, Fortnightly Review xlviii (1890) 325–37; ‘Human Progress, Past and Future’, The Arena (January 1892) 493–509; and Social Environment and Moral Progress (New York: Cassell, 1913) pp. 146–7.Google Scholar
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    José Harris, Unemployment and Politics: A Study in English Social Policy, 1886–1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972) pp. 29–30. One hundred and twenty thousand Jewish immigrants settled in England in London, Leeds, Manchester and other commercial centres, between 1870 and 1914. See alsoGoogle Scholar
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    V. G. Kiernan, The Lords of Human Kind: Black Man, Yellow Man, and White Man in an Age of Empire (Boston: Little, Brown, 1969) p. 230, comments that ‘mystique of race was Democracy’s vulgarisation of an older mystique of class’.Google Scholar
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  39. 47.
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    The expression ‘external’ social Darwinism to refer to a struggle between groups and races rather than individuals has been used by Bernard Semmel, in ‘Karl Pearson: Socialist and Darwinist’, British Journal of Sociology 9 (1958) 111–25 and in his Imperialism and Social Reform, pp. 24–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 51.
    Karl Pearson, National Life From the Standpoint of Science (1900). Reprinted as Eugenic Laboratory Lecture series no. XI (1919).Google Scholar
  42. 52.
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    See, for instance, R. Ruggles Gates, ‘Heredity and Eugenics’, ER 12 (1920) 1–13 andGoogle Scholar
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  53. 67.
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  54. 68.
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Copyright information

© Nancy Stepan 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryYale UniversityUSA

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