The term “eugenics” first arose when a scientist by the name of Francis Galton theorized that human kind could advance and thrive by having males and females with “superior” qualities reproduce (this is also known as selective breeding).
The idea of eugenics spread to the United States, where scientists attempted to research what the best traits might look like, and how they differed from undesirable traits and races. Some parts of society at this time assumed that those with higher the social status usually got there because of “natively superior mental endowment” (McDougall, 1914). In the early 1900’s, the US relied on IQ testing, along with the research in eugenics, to “prove” that white people were superior to minorities. This idea was also used on immigrants coming into Ellis Island, of which many were labelled as “feeble-minded”, usually because of their lack of knowledge in the English language. According to Kühl (1994), “the United States had played an important role as a model of a country in which eugenic sterilization… [was] as least to some degree successfully implemented” (p. xiii).
The conclusions of this research and implementation were widespread, reaching to Germany where it was further researched and later implemented in a far more excessive manner.
Germany was in a state of repair after it was defeated in World War I. It needed a guiding force to get it back on track, and this force was eugenics. Around 1920, Germany was researching eugenic theories about creating a better human race, and one psychiatrist, Alfred Hoche, supported “large-scale medical exterminations” (Breggin, 1993).
Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler embraced this theory of eugenics, and used it to begin one of the worst genocides history has seen.
For further research on eugenics:
University of Vermont’s “What is Eugenics?”
By Sarah McDermott