A look into the development of Eugenics, or the theory that biological traits are passed from one generation to the next in a way that supports genetic superiority over other groups, shows how the United States was quick to adopt the fledgling science. As explained in The New Yorker’s article, many of those who were forced to be sterilized under the pretense of eugenics were of white descent–but did not fit the standards for “intelligence”.
This time period saw the ratification of the legalization of sterilization (try saying that 5 times fast) for 32 states. This was also followed by the Immigration Act of 1924–one of the darkest, and most controversial moments of the 20th Century. While today we understand these actions to be abhorrent, many considered these practices and laws to be beneficial to the United States by promoting “racial purity”– a sentiment that was largely shared in the post-Reconstruction era South.
The line between what is correct and ethically sound, and what is “new science” can at times be hard to determine–which is exactly why case studies like the American Eugenics movement must be studied.