The Aggressive Mutation of Post-War Eugenics

A weird thing happened in the years right after World War II: new college-level biology textbooks, rather than dropping the subject of eugenics, doubled down and began to defend the ideology with more aggressive rhetoric and moments of near-pornographic spectacle.

Biology: And Its Relation to Mankind by Baylor graduate and Stetson University (later Colorado State College/UNC) professor Albert M. Winchester, was published in 1949 – four years after the discovery of Nazi death camps supposedly marked the end of eugenics.

Yet Winchester’s textbook presented one the harshest defenses of eugenics published in the United States during the twentieth century.

And it was no outlier (WARNING: Disturbing photo below the fold).

EUGENICS IN BLACK AND WHITE: These photos, from Biology: And Its Relation to Mankind (1949), were taken by the textbook’s author, Albert M. Winchester. The conjoined twins in the photo on the left are identified singularly as “this anomaly.” The image appears near the beginning of the book’s section on heredity and genetics. The four photos on the right appear toward the section’s close. Its caption reads, “A sound mind in a sound body is the birthright of every child. Such bright-eyed children as these are seldom produced by defectives.”

Winchester’s is one of at least 6 college-level biology textbooks published in the United States between 1940 and 1950 that follow a similar aggressive pattern. Others of the genre include Man and the Living World by E. E. Stanford (1940), Biology and Human Affairs (1941) by John W. Ritchie, Life Science (1941) by M. W. de Laubenfels, The World of Life (1949) by Wolfgang F. Pauli and Biology (1950) by Claude A. Villee.

Images and text that would have been considered smut in an earlier era, or in any other context, were made acceptable within the frame of science. But these pictures and words functioned less as illustrations of scientific points and more as devices designed to stun their audience into silence and acquiescence. The goal, it appears, was to ensure that eugenics, and the broader mandate biologists claimed for managing the “racial qualities of future generations,” could continue to be promoted without argument, defended in these cases as a bulwark against forces that threatened to turn the county into something intolerably soft, social worky and civil rightsy.

I’ve visited this territory before in Adventure! Domination! Biology and Reform Eugenics and the Gender Bomb. But I think I need to dig a bit deeper. The second (1957) and third (1965) edition of Biology: And It Relation to Mankind are in the mail.

UPDATE: See The Eugenic Zombie in a Graveyard of Textbooks.

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  1. Pingback: What Piltdown Taught | Textbook History

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