21 Historical Figures You Didn’t Know Supported The Eugenics Movement

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Teddy Roosevelt, Helen Keller, and other revered historical figures who supported the eugenics movement at the height of its pre-WWII popularity.

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt was a proponent of the sterilization of criminals and the supposedly feeble-minded. In 1913, Roosevelt wrote a letter to eugenics supporter and biologist C.B. Davenport, saying that “society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind.»

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Alexander Graham Bell
Telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell helped lead the First International Eugenics Conference in 1912. Bell also published a paper in which he bluntly listed the steps that would prevent the proliferation of the deaf: “(1) Determine the causes that promote intermarriages among the deaf and dumb; and (2) remove them.»
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Helen Keller
Even Helen Keller, surprisingly enough, advocated for the eugenics movement. She once stated, “Our puny sentimentalism has caused us to forget that a human life is sacred only when it may be of some use to itself and to the world.»
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Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill advocated for compulsory labor camps for mental defectives in 1911. The year prior to this, Churchill wrote a letter advocating for sterilization saying, «The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the Feeble-Minded and Insane classes … constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate.»
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Margaret Sanger
Activist Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic and she aligned her fight for contraception with the eugenics movement. She stated that “birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit [and] of preventing the birth of defectives.»
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W. E. B. Du Bois
Harvard-educated sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois was a leading African-American activist and writer — who called for dividing the black community into four groups. He promoted marriage and reproduction within the most desirable group, the “talented tenth,” and wanted to breed out the lowest group, “the submerged tenth.»
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Clarence Darrow
Clarence Darrow is known for being the ACLU defense lawyer in the famous 1925 «Scopes Monkey Trial» — in which he defended the teaching of evolution in schools. Unfortunately, he had no personal empathy for the disabled, as he addressed the separate problem of deformed children by remarking, “Chloroform unfit children. Show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live.»
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George Bernard Shaw
Celebrated writer George Bernard Shaw explored the biology of eugenics in his political writing. He is quoted as saying, «We should find ourselves committed to killing a great many people whom we now leave living, and to leave living a great many people whom we at present kill.» He added, «A great many people would have to be put out of existence simply because it wastes other people’s time to look after them.»
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Oliver Wendell Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932, wrote the 1927 Buck v. Bell decision that allowed for compulsory sterilization of the «unfit» in the U.S., stating, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. … Three generations of imbeciles are enough.»
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Jacques Cousteau
The famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau was in favor of population control —saying in an interview, “World population must be stabilized and to do that we must eliminate 350,000 people per day. This is so horrible to contemplate that we shouldn’t even say it. But the general situation in which we are involved is lamentable.»
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John Harvey Kellogg
Doctor, nutritionist, and the inventor of Corn Flakes, John Harvey Kellogg also ran a sanitarium. He wrote in the 1913 issue of the Journal of Public Health, «Long before the race reaches the state of universal incompetency, the impending danger will be appreciated … and, through eugenics and euthenics, the mental soundness of the race will be saved.»
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Plato
Long before the eugenics movement, Greek philosopher Plato wrote, «The good must be paired with the good, and the bad with the bad, and the offspring of the one must be reared and of the other destroyed; in this way the flock will be preserved in prime condition.»
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William Beveridge
Prominent British economist William Beveridge remarked in 1909, «Those men who through general defects are unable to fill such a whole place in industry are to be recognized as unemployable … with complete and permanent loss of all citizen rights – including not only the franchise but civil freedom and fatherhood.»
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Alice Lee Moqué
Alice Lee Moqué was an American newspaper correspondent, photographer, and suffragist. She also supported sterilization of certain genetic undesirables, such as those with hereditary illness in their bloodline.
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Sidney Webb
Co-founder of the London School of Economics, Sidney Webb carried out research in the 1890s confirming the high fertility of the improvident — whom he described as «degenerate hordes … unfit for social life.»

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Francis Crick
British biologist Francis Crick is quoted as saying, «in an attempt to solve the problem of irresponsible people and especially those who are poorly endowed genetically having large numbers of unnecessary children … sterilization is the only answer.»
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Robert Foster Kennedy
Neurologist Dr. Robert Foster Kennedy stood up before the American Psychiatric Association in 1941 and told them, «I am in favor of euthanasia for those hopeless ones who should never have been born-Nature’s mistakes.»
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Thomas Malthus
English economist Thomas Malthus, who died before the eugenics movement truly took hold, believed in eugenics because he was concerned about food shortages. He once noted, «The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.»
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Herbert Hoover
In the American Child Health Association’s Child’s Bill of Rights, Herbert Hoover made the statement, “There shall be no child in America that had not the complete birthright of a sound mind in a sound body.»
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Linus Pauling
Scientist and peace activist Linus Pauling was forced to defend his eugenics position in 1972, well after the height of the eugenics movement, when a woman at Michigan State accused him of promoting racism. (Pauling had said carries of genetic diseases shouldn’t procreate.) He replied, «It’s alright for her [a mother] to be allowed to determine the extent to which she will suffer, but she should not be allowed to produce a child who will suffer. This is immoral. It is wrong to produce a little black child who will lead a life of suffering. I would say this is not racism. I advocate the very same thing to … all kinds who carry these abnormal genes.»
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John Maynard Keynes
Even after World War II, economist John Maynard Keynes supported eugenics, population control, and migration restrictions as Director of the British Eugenics Society. He asserted that eugenics was, «the most important and significant branch of sociology.»
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