Defective, Dependent and Delinquent- America, Germany and the Eugenics Solution.

The following is an interview recreation between a fictitious journalist and Charles Davenport. Davenport was a pioneer in the field of eugenics. He moved American Eugenics to a settled science with mass support. His influence led him to establish the Eugenics Record Office in 1910 that undertook years of research on eugenics. The interview has been set in 1938. The interview and Davenport’s answers are based on primary source material, historians and what Davenport originally said:

Journalist: Mr Davenport thank you for sitting down with us today. Can you tell the public who you are and why you want to speak with us today?

Mr Davenport: Of course. Firstly I want to thank you for this time, and I hope what I say today can be of some value. My name is Charles Davenport, I was the director of the Eugenics Record Office in Cold Spring Harbour, New York from its establishment in 1910 until 1934. Although no longer director, I am here to explain to the American public the importance of eugenics and why it should be of continued interest to the people.

Journalist: Can you explain to us what eugenics is and why you have taken such interest in it?

Mr Davenport: Of course. Eugenics is the science of the improvement of the human race by better breeding. As you are well aware, defectives, dependents and delinquents are destroying the quality of the American gene pool. Not only this, but immigrants, particularly those dirty Slavs and Eastern Europeans, are infecting our people. The human race will face ultimate extermination unless we prevent the continued births of low grade and defective stocks! The racial purity of our Anglo-Saxon upper class is at a huge risk!

Journalist: You’re suggesting then that we need to remove those who are inferior? Can you elaborate how we are to fix this issue?

Mr Davenport: There are a number of solutions to this problem, and this is exactly what my team at the Eugenics Record Office is working on. There are two approaches. The more positive approach: we encourage the breeding of genetically superior stock, in order to raise the overall quality of the nation. For example through marriage control. The alternative is prevent handicaps or those inherently inferior from either breeding, or infecting the nation . This could be achieved through sterilisation of those deemed unfit and restricting immigration.

Journalist: All of this sounds very controversial, is the United States the only country who believes in the importance of eugenics?

Mr Davenport: Heavens no! Eugenics is gaining mass interest and support in multiple countries. The nation I admire most strongly at this point is Germany! Like us they have the same concerns about the degeneration of the lower classes, those dirty Slavs, the superiority of Caucasians, and most importantly they are fearful that the cultural and racial heritage of their nation is being threatened.

Journalist: You’re saying they have very comparable views surrounding eugenics? However you shouldn’t be reminded that Germany is not democratic and is, as we speak, under the growing influence of the totalitarian National Socialist Party. Does this mean that eugenics will be approached differently than here in democratic America?

Mr Davenport: You have raised an important point, and one in which I am cautious of. As you mentioned, Germany is under the control of the Nazis. This has influenced their approach to eugenics. From what I read they are focused on transforming the German nation into a more unified, superior nation with a focus on the Volk (people’s community)They appear to be extremely nationalistic and have expressed their desire for a racially pure nation. I acknowledge that this has been my hope for America, however I do see that Germany is becoming increasingly radical.

Journalist: Can you elaborate what you mean by radical? How is Germany different to us, if, as you say, we have similar views?

Mr Davenport: Well the simple fact that Hitler influences them is one thing. Secondly I have observed the way eugenics has progressed in Germany. Like the United States, sterilisation has been a popular option. This was taken on board by the Germans, who believed that up to twenty percent of the German population were undesirable and should be sterilised (Frick, 1933). I have also heard rumours that Hitler has planned to incarcerate and then euthanise handicaps. If these rumours are correct then German eugenics is clearly progressing in a different way to America.

Journalist: Do you think America would support the government if eugenics progressed in the way its taken place in Germany?

Mr Davenport: No of course not. American’s are fearful of inferiors, but I don’t think this fear would result in their desire for them to be murdered. Putting it simply, sterilisation is one thing, mass murder is clearly another.

Journalist: You speak of Germany’s supposed euthanasia program. How do you think eugenics will progress in Germany? And is this what you want for the United States?

Mr Davenport: It’s hard to say for certain how it will progress. Germany appears incredibly determined to rid their country of defectives. They have the influence of the Nazis and the man- power to make their goals happen. I wonder if the murders will stop at the euthanasia of the handicaps. My feeling is that there will be a nation wide sweep of anyone deemed inferior: Jews, gypsies, Slavs, Eastern Europeans, the list goes on.

Journalist: Sorry Mr Davenport, but you haven’t fully addressed my question: would you want this for America?

Mr Davenport: I’m sorry I feel like I’ve explained my views enough. I’m not going to answer such a question.

Journalist: Your silence on the question seems awfully suspicious. However I’ll leave the interview there. Thank you for your time.

Mr Davenport: Thank you.

Source material and further reading: 

Black, Edwin. War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race. Washington: Dialog Press, 2012.

Davenport, Charles B. Heredity in Relation to Eugenics (New York: Henry Hold, 1911), p. 1

Frick, Wilhelm. Reischminister for the Interior, before the First Meeting of the Expert Council for Population and Race-Politics, held in Berlin, June 28, 1933. Eugenical News, vol. 19, no. 2, (1934): pp. 34. Cited in: Barry Mehler, “Eliminating the Inferior: American and Nazi Sterilization Programs,” Science for the People (Nov-Dec 1987): p. 14-18.

Friedlander,Henry. The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. (London: The university of North Carolina Press. 1995), p.10.

Image: Eugenics archive, DNA learning centre:

Kühl, Stefan. The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism, (New York: Oxford University Press. 1994), p 5.

Stockard,Charles R, “Remarks made during the general discussion at the ‘Round Table Conference on Eugenics in Relation to Medicine” at the New York Academy of Medicine, April 21, 1937. American Eugenics Society Papers, BK 6.

2 comments on “Defective, Dependent and Delinquent- America, Germany and the Eugenics Solution.

  1. hayden699 says:

    Hey Isabelle,

    I like your research project. It is creative and insightful. Eugenics is an interesting theme of Nazi Germany, an i think too often not observed in correlation with America, where its scientific ideas emanated. I did not know much about Charles Davenport, and i think illustrating him in such ways demonstrates not only the racial prejudice at the time, but that such views and ideas seemed condoned due to its ‘scientific’ grounding.

    What would be interesting would be to see how Davenport’s views and responses to his Eugenics research were received by the general public. Although Eugenics had popular support, did the wider American population endorse its extreme model that was employed in Germany? or indeed could Davenport’s Eugenics ideas be used and interpreted through a more egalitarian lens at the time or was it predicated on inherent racial prejudice? I suppose these would be some of the questions i would be interested in. However, i found your interview style post to be quite insightful and demonstrative of the types of racial thought and attitudes that permeated society at the time.

    Well done on a fantastic research project, i thought it was quite creative and informative.


  2. mickihatfield says:

    Hi Isabelle,
    I loved the way you set up your blog post, very interesting to be able to read it as an interview transcript. I felt like I was really able to engage with the “characters” and understand Davenport’s views on Eugenics.
    It’s very interesting to note both the differences and similarities between German and American eugenics in theory and in practice, I didn’t realise how closely linked the two were!
    Davenport’s two solutions to his eugenics problem were particularly confronting (sterilisation or marriage control) and it is so interesting to me that America, a country that prides itself on its freedoms, garnered so much support for eugenics. Although I guess it does make sense when you think about the fact that African American’s weren’t given equal citizen rights until after the 1960s.
    Great work on your project! Your blog post was really interesting and made me think about eugenics and their effect in the world in the 1930’s.

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