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It was adopted by a lot of thought leaders at the time. Negative eugenics was actually preventing people who were thought to be unfit from reproducing. AC: And they were looking at our statutes. Her father disappeared early on, and she was raised by her mother without a lot of resources. Who was she? Their professions were similarly in favor of doing what was done to Carrie Buck. Galton thought that if we could do what nature was doing, we could do it more methodically and in a more kind way. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he was president of volume 100 of the Harvard Law Review. The more people associated eugenics with this idea of building a master race and anti-Semitism and racism, it came to be seen as un-American.

And when I started digging into it, there was so much I hadn’t known about. PRH: In the book, you wrote about the eugenics movement as an effort “to use newly discovered scientific laws of heredity to perfect humanity.” Did that not sound a little creepy to anyone at the time? These are the institutions that you would want to step up and say, “This is wrong, this is bad, and this denies Carrie Buck her rights.” None of them did that. He saw no good way to treat epilepsy, which there was not. Connect.

As many as 70,000 people were sterilized around the country, which was rather shocking.

As a grad student, he … The Supreme Court had an opportunity to overturn it in 1943 and chose not to. Adam Cohen, a former member of The New York Times editorial board and senior writer for Time magazine, is the author, most recently, of Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America. AC: It did. One was a lawyer who brought the case to the Supreme Court. PRH: When did Charles Darwin’s research about evolution start influencing the way people thought about human health, disease, intelligence, etc.? AC: Yeah, there were. One of the primary arguments that the Nazis raised in their defense was the fact that they had largely lifted those policies from the United States where more than half the state legislatures had passed forced sterilization laws, where states had already carried out tens of thousands of such sterilizations, and where the Supreme Court in a 1927 case called Buck v. Bell said it was perfectly legal to do so. AC: Darwin’s work was in the mid-1800s in England. I was going to ask if the Americans and the Nazis were looking at the same evolutionary science, but the Nazis were looking at our evolutionary science. It was relied on by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in 2001 in a sterilization case. He was running the Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded. Among those other war crimes was the carrying out of 375,000 forced sterilizations for the purpose of eliminating supposed genetic deficiencies from the German gene pool. The president of Harvard was a eugenicist.

PRH: Has this case been struck down, or did it just wither away? PRH: Albert Priddy was the doctor who ordered Carrie Buck sterilized, and that was completely against her will. For him and for other doctors, there was no drug or vaccine but they could remove the genes from the gene pool. AC: She was a young, white woman born to a poor family. The 1924 Act was also designed to stop Asian immigration to the West Coast. There’s Carrie Buck herself, and the other four characters who played big roles represented four revered professions that we would hope would lead society in the right direction.

AC: There were really two. PRH: Were there moments in your research where you just couldn’t believe this was ever the norm in the 20th-century America? I was shocked reading the way people spoke in the 1920s — including members of Congress — about Italians and Jews. They struck down Oklahoma’s sterilization law on narrower grounds. They lived part of the time on the street. There were actually two kinds of eugenics. She was taken in by a foster family in Charlottesville, Virginia. Adam Cohen, who served as a member of the New York Times editorial board and as a senior writer for Time magazine, is the author of  Supreme Inequality:The Supreme Court’s Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America, Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck and Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America. Positive eugenics, which Galton was more inclined toward, encouraged people who had good genes to reproduce and match with people that would result in good offspring. ADAM COHEN, a former member of the New York Times editorial board and senior writer for Time magazine, is the author most recently of Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America . One was a scientist who was one of the main advocates for eugenics. So I knew about the case and I knew about Holmes, but I didn’t know too much about it. He sees feeblemindedness as something he also doesn’t have a way to treat. PRH: How similar is the rhetoric today about immigration to what it was then about the idea that immigrants are harming the economy and changing the culture in the ways we don’t want. Was there a precipitating event or movement that began to change those views? Cohen graduated from Bronx High School of Science. In their mind, they thought this was a solution to a medical problem. It was incredibly raw and bigoted.

He obtained his bachelor's degree in the interdisciplinary honors Social Studies program from Harvard College in 1984 and received his law degree in 1987 from Harvard Law School where he was the president of the Harvard Law Review.
We all have things in our family lineage that would be good to get out, but then none of us would ever have children. AC: That’s absolutely true, but they didn’t view it that way.

People like Dr. Priddy were trying to deal with the medical conditions before them.

AC: You would think there would have been more people to say that, but eugenics was very popular. I had learned about him as this great justice, and the degree to which he was incredibly bigoted and condescending toward people who weren’t of his so-called high birth made him in many ways a terrible judge. One was a doctor who ran the Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded in Virginia. It really is still good law. @adamscohen. There’s no gene for feeblemindedness. We would look back at that as trying to distinguish among different groups of white people. PRH: Was their understanding of Darwinian evolutionary theory good science? Sign up for news about books, authors, and more from Penguin Random House, Visit other sites in the Penguin Random House Network.

Rather than send her to a home for unwed mothers, they had her declared feebleminded which wasn’t hard to do for a woman pregnant out of wedlock. PRH: The Immigration Act of 1924 allowed immigration from Western Europe but not from Eastern Europe, which seems today like a weird thing to do. The book is organized around five characters. He was playing with the idea that Darwin had uncovered that nature was sorting people and leading to survival of the fittest. The other was reading how Oliver Wendell Holmes thought. AC: Not really. The Nazis were adopting their own eugenic sterilization modeled largely on our program.

Photo Credit: Eleanor Randolph Penguin Random House sat down with Cohen earlier this week to talk about the book. People like Madison Grant, who was a big eugenist at the time, would write with disgust and horror about seeing Polish Jews in New York City. AC: Eugenics means “good birth.” It’s from the Greek. We are experiencing technical difficulties.

It was actually his half-cousin Francis Galton who was the founder of eugenics. PRH: The book is oriented around this one particular case about Carrie Buck. The American Bar Association president endorsed a eugenics law in Connecticut. By clicking Sign Up, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to Penguin Random House's Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. And that case went to the Supreme Court, which determined Virginia could start sterilizing people. That started in England and then came over the America in the early 1900s.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, he was president of volume 100 of the Harvard Law Review. This was a day and age when that was not acceptable, and the family was possibly worried that the nephew would be prosecuted.
There were two major geneticists at Harvard writing in a positive way about eugenics. She was sent to this colony at the time the director was looking for a case to test the new Virginia eugenics law. How did you get onto the topic? PRH: What does eugenics actually refer to? Medical journals were filled with pro-eugenics sterilization articles. There are all kinds of recessive genes so that someone who appears to be healthy may be a carrier of the gene you’re trying to eliminate. Oliver Wendell Holmes says that “three generations of imbeciles is enough,” but the imbeciles turn out to be these four educated people who misunderstood what was going on around them. Cohen-Aslatei, who has a master’s in management from Harvard, got his start in the dating industry while he was in school there.

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