Students will be able to identify the purpose and objectives of the eugenics movement at UW–Madison, and who some of the important individuals and organizations within this movement.
Students will be able to understand the scientific, racist, and ablest assumptions built into the eugenics movement at UW Madison.
Students will be able to understand how the eugenics movement at UW fits within social scientific trends of late 19th and early 20th century America.
Sources and Readings
Recommended Primary Sources:
The University Extension Movement: Read Source Here
This is a report written by Charles Van Hise, where he argues that university and college education should be extended for more people to help disseminate knowledge and skills. Note the language in the last paragraph on page one about how applying scientific knowledge to people could reduce the “insane,” “feeble-minded,” and “criminal” classes.
UW–Madison’s Eugenics Club: Read Source Here
This is a report about the ideas and establishment of a eugenics club at UW–Madison. The authors of the club describe their observations that “intellectual” people at Harvard and Yale and others are unlikely to have children, so they are thinking of ways to encourage intellectual people to have children as to not dilute the population for those who are “defective” and criminals.
Conservation of Natural Resources: Read Source Here
This is an excerpt from Charles Van Hise’s Conservation of Natural Resources, where he advocates for eugenic practices. He specifically discusses the idea of reproduction and how humans need to stop “defective breeding” and that using eugenics and scientific practices could help preserve humankind and produce “high grade stock.”
Chapter Seven “Eugenics and Race in Economic Reform.” In Thomas C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016). Read Chapter Here
Wall Street Journal Article “The Progressive History of Eugenics The trouble with reformers: They are so sure, and so wrong.” By Amity Shlaes. Read Article Here
WisContext: “University Place: Sterilization Programs Enjoyed Scientific Credibility, Disproportionately Harmed Women.” By Scott Gordon. Read Article Here
Additional Primary Sources:
The Irony of the Progressive Protest: Read Source Here
This is an article about a protest against Charles Murray, a co-author of The Bell Curve, which contends there are hereditary differences between Black and white people. In the article, the author talks about many famous “progressive” academics during the Progressive Era who advocated for eugenics to factor into reproduction, which included UW–Madison President Charles Van Hise. The author makes an anachronistic correlation between modern and historical conceptions of “progressive” that is worth discussing.
Charles Van Hise’s The Idea of Service Speech: Read Source Here
This is a speech by Charles Van Hise, where he explains the importance and value of scientific thought and the role of the university in fostering and promoting scientific knowledge. These same ideas appear in his university extension movement publication, where he specifically wants to apply scientific knowledge to “breeding” to rid the “insane” and “criminal” classes.
“Eugenics and American social history, 1880–1950.” By Garland Edward Allen Read Article Here
Selected chapters from Susan M. Schweik, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public. (New York: New York University Press, 2009). Book Link Here
Discussion and Questions
Primary Source Discussion Questions
The University Extension Movement Questions:
- How did Van Hise connect scientific knowledge with eugenic practices?
- What interplay does Van Hise layout between scientific knowledge, eugenics, and the role of the university?
- Why do you think Van Hise specifically focuses on this idea of scientific knowledge and its development? Why is it important?
UW–Madison’s Eugenics Club Questions:
- Why was the Eugenics Club founded at UW–Madison?
- What was the club’s ideas and/or goals? How would those ideas and/or goals impact people?
- How did the club correlate education, specifically higher education, with eugenic practices?
Conservation of Natural Resources:
- What was Van Hise’s vision for humankind and how did he hope to achieve it?
- Do you think people would support his ideas? Why or why not?
- Who do you think he meant by those who are not of “high-grade stock?” Explain your answer.
Reading Discussion Questions
- Why did the eugenics movement start to gain traction in the US during the late 19th and early 20th century?
- How did advocates of eugenics think that eugenics should be applied within society? Think about what problems and questions that eugenicists thought to solve with using eugenics.
- How did eugenics inform thoughts about race and racism in the United States?
- Why would people compare current day “progressives” with historic “progressives”? Is it a good comparison, why or why not?
Discussion Norms: These are based on Walter Parker, Teaching Democracy: Unity and Diversity in Public Life, 138-9
- Do not raise hands
- Address one another, not the discussion leader
- Invite others into the conversation
- Cite and/or reference the texts to support your texts
- Base response in the reading/sources
- Listen to and build on others’ comments
- Critically Agree and Disagree
For more ideas about structuring discussion and asking good questions, see The Discussion Project
The University Extension Movement: Charles Richard Van Hise, “The University Extension Movement,” Chancellors and Presidents Files, President Charles R. Van Hise – Addresses and Statements, Series 4/10/3, Box 1, UW–Madison Archives, UW–Madison Libraries.
UW–Madison’s Eugenics Club: Oliver E. Baker, The Eugenics Club at the University of Wisconsin, Journal of Heredity, Volume 3, Issue 1, First Quarter 1912, Pages 69–71, https://doi.org/10.1093/jhered/3.1.69
Conservation of Natural Resources: Charles R. Van Hise, The Conservation of Natural Resources in the United States (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1918), 370-372; Chad Alan Goldberg, Education for Democracy: Renewing the Wisconsin Idea (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2020).
The Irony of the Progressive Protest: George F. Will, “Commentary: The Irony of Progressive Protest,” Allen Monitor, (McAllen, TX), March 9, 2017.
Charles Van Hise’s The Idea of Service Speech: Charles R. Van Hise, “The Idea of Service,” Chancellors and Presidents Files, President Charles R. Van Hise – Addresses and Statements, Series 4/10/3, Box 1, UW Archives, Steenbock Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, 2; Charles Richard Van Hise, “The University Extension Movement,” Chancellors and Presidents Files, President Charles R. Van Hise – Addresses and Statements, Series 4/10/3, Box 1, UW–Madison Archives, UW–Madison Libraries.