Eugenics attempts to use social sanction or state policy to improve the “hereditary character” of a specific population by preventing those deemed “inferior” from reproducing and encouraging those deemed “superior” to bear children. Eugenics attempts to change the quality and quantity of a population, to increase the numbers of the “fit” over the “unfit.” According to its proponents it is the “well-born science.” Organizations devoted to the “ideals” of eugenics and “racial hygiene” first emerged in Germany (1905), the United States (1906) Britain (1907), France (1912) and Czechoslovakia (1913) to only list some of the most active efforts. These efforts arose in the context of several important societal changes in Europe and the United States: namely industrialization, the emergence of statistics as a science, the development of hygiene and state health surveillance, the propagation of “race science theories”, the development of theories of inheritance and the influence of the environment, and colonialism.
Industrialization led to the migration of individuals from rural areas in search of work and opportunity into the growing urban centers in search of employment and housing. This growing class of the urban poor, as well as concerns from elites over growing political radicalization of the lower classes was a cause for concern for many European and American elites and the middle class, who came to view them the same negative, and often racist, way they viewed colonial subjects in Africa, India and Southeast Asia. Influential British thinkers like Herbert Spencer and Thomas Malthus began developing theories and policies they believed would help alleviate society of the “burden” of the poor and other “problem populations” such as rural and indigenous groups. Francis Galton, who coined the term “eugenics,” wished to decrease the birth-rate of the so-called “unfit” who were “doomed in large numbers to perish prematurely” and to bring about the “...improvement of the race by furthering the productivity of the Fit (sic) by early marriages and healthful rearing of their children.” He believed that subjective qualities like wealth and success, and alternatively poverty, were heritable.
Eugenicists were working from an incomplete knowledge of population genetics, the pace of evolution and the inheritance of complex phenotypes. Their immoral and racist policies would have failed to change the frequency at which these phenotypes would be present in the future. The resources below will provide a historical overview of eugenics.