I have always been fascinated with pre-World War II America’s flirtation with eugenics. We were well on our way to a pretty horrific state of affairs (by today’s standards) and I strongly suspect we would still be recovering from that dark detour were it not for Nazi Germany’s actions giving the world a strong distaste for governments being that involved in the reproduction rights of their citizens.
Many of the European ideas and approaches to the problems of society, class, and race broached by Francis Galton, Cesare Lombroso, and numerous others were exported to the United States around the turn of the twentieth century.
These concepts influenced such fields as philanthropy, sociology, and criminology; hereditarian concepts of criminality and its control were systematized by Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso.
The University of Missouri’s Special Collections and Rare Books department has an excellent timeline of publications influencing the movement.
This film, Tomorrow’s Children, from 1934 offers some insight into the state of affairs here in the land of the free in the decade before the war.
Tomorrow’s Children (1934)
A young woman wishes to marry her boyfriend and raise a family, but because her own family has been deemed “defective” by the state health authorities–her parents are lazy alcoholics who continue to have children, and her brothers are crippled, have mental problems or are jailed–she is ordered by a court to undergo sterilization so that her family’s “defective genes” won’t be passed on to any more children.
Her boyfriend and a kindly priest desperately search for a way to stop the forced sterilization before it’s too late.