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Eugenics in Britain Author(s): Donald MacKenzie Reviewed work(s): Source: Social Studies of Science, Vol. 6, No. 3/4, Special Issue: Aspects of the Sociology of Science: Papers from a Conference, University of York, UK 16-18 September 1975 (Sep., 1976), pp. 499-532 Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: . Accessed: 04/04/2012 14:33 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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Social Studies of Science, 6 (1976) 499-532

Eugenics in Britain

Donald MacKenzie

The eugenics' movement, which flourished in Britain around the early part of this century is an important example of the relationship between scientific ideas and the interests and purposes of social groups. The eugenists possessed a social theory, and a set of social policies, which claimed scientific foundation. Social position, they argued, was largely the result of individual qualities such as mental ability, predisposition to sickness or health, or moral tendency. These qualities were inherited, and thus a rough equation could be drawn between social standing and hereditary worth. On this basis a programme of social action to improve the quality of the population was put forward. Central to this was the alteration of the relative birth-rate (or survival rate) of the 'fit' and 'unfit'. Those with good hereditary qualities should marry with care and have large numbers of children (this came to be called positive eugenics), while those with hereditary disabilities should be discouraged from parenthood (negative eugenics). The eugenists supported schemes of social reform which would, either directly or indirectly, have this effect, while condemning policies which appeared to encourage procreation of the 'unfit'. Thus, they sought to raise the fertility of some groups in society (generally those of higher social status) and lower that of others (those of lowest status). Eugenics was backed by arguments based on commonsense and medical knowledge of heredity, Darwinian biology and, increasingly, specialized scientific research.\ While largely relying on pre-existing Author's address: Department of Sociology, University of Edinburgh, Adam Ferguson Building, 40 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JU, Scotland, UK. 499


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ideas of society and human heredity, the eugenists themselves developed a body of knowledge of direct eugenic relevance.2 Much of this has become integrated into modern science. Eugenists played the crucial role in the development of mathematical statistics in Britain, through the work of Francis Galton, Karl Pearson and their collaborators, and their ideas informed much early work in genetics. Psychological testing and psychometric theories were developed primarily by men with eugenic convictions (Galton, Charles Spearman, Cyril Burt). Thus, the science of the eugenists made a considerable impact on the scientific and intellectual development of twentiethcentury Britain.3 Further, as I hope to show in future papers, the content of this science (the concepts, theories and methods used) was in large part determined by the eugenic purposes for which it was developed. Unlike its counterpart in the United States, the eugenics movement in Britain has received little attention from scholars, with the exception of the work of Lyndsay Farrall and, for the later period of the movement, Lawrence Waterman.4 Farrall's comprehensive and detailed study has firmly established the essential points of the history of eugenics in Britain. Accordingly I have drawn on it extensively. Inevitably, however, Farrall's pioneering work does not fully treat all aspects of British eugenics, and to some of these I address myself here. In addition, I shall develop a somewhat different explanatory perspective. Unfortunately, Waterman's work was available to me only after the completion of the original draft of this article. Happily, however, his more thorough study does not appear to contradict my very sketchy analysis of eugenics in the 1930s. A few initial words on the perspective of this paper are perhaps desirable. I shall attempt to explain the rise and decline of eugenics, some aspects of the content of eugenic ideology, and the differential appeal of eugenics to the various social classes and occupational groups in Britain. British society I see as fundamentally divided between capitalist and residual aristocratic groups on the one hand ('the ruling class'), and the manualworking class on the other. However, by the late nineteenth century important intermediary groups had appeared, notably the new professional occupations (school-teaching, science and engineering, etc.). Together with the established professions of the church, the law and medicine, these formed what is conventionally and usefully referred to as 'the professional middle class'. Within this group there were, however, important divisions - for example in the nature of the specialized

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knowledge which legitimated the particular professional role. The church and the legal profession relied on traditional spheres of knowledge, while many of the newer professions (and increasingly the older profession of medicine) sought legitimations in such fields as natural science and empirical social research.5 I shall argue that eugenics should be seen as an ideology of the professional middle class, and in particular of the 'modern' rather than the 'traditional' sector. Eugenic ideas were put forward as a legitimation of the social position of the professional middle class, and as an argument for its enhancement. At the same time the eugenic programme was seen by its protagonists as a solution to the most pressing perceived problems of social control in British society. It was thus put forward as a strategy for the ruling class, and the plausibility of eugenics as such a strategy is an important variable in explaining its rise and decline. Eugenic ideas can be regarded as a set of tools deployed for social purposes. The ideas were taken up when thought likely to be useful to their carrier group, and later, when changed circumstances made them less appropriate, they were discarded. No attempt will be made to compare the eugenic movements of different societies. The analysis offered is particular to the British situation; only its general assumptions and perspectives could be applied in other contexts. British eugenics was unique in many respects. In particular, it was a class rather than a 'racist' phenomenon, and unlike its German and United States equivalents is not to be understood in terms of preoccupation with Jews, Blacks or immigrants. Doubtless British eugenists, like Britons in general at this time, held 'racist' views, but these prove largely incidental to their eugenic concerns.

THE BACKGROUND TO EUGENICS The eugenists did not develop their ideas in an intellectual vacuum. They were able to draw on pre-existing beliefs about heredity and society. They fashioned their theory in accord with their purposes by taking some of these beliefs, transforming some of them, and adding new elements. In his biography, Galton described early nineteenth-century beliefs about heredity as 'lax and contradictory'.6 To the extent that this was so it can be attributed to the large variety of social purposes which


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such beliefs served. The animal breeder used heredity as a guide in developing stock; the physician used it as an explanation of disease; the moralist used it to sanction deviance; the middle class male used it as an argument for female passivity. Before eugenics there was no single dominant social use to which heredity was put, there was no generalized controversy about heredity, and thus there was little pressure to consistency in the deployment of ideas. 'Clarification' came only as a result of the eugenists' systematic and controversial use of the ideas of heredity; pre-eugenic notions formed a rich, varied and plastic body of knowledge capable of easy deployment in various directions.7 Hereditarian beliefs were invoked in arguments about social reform before eugenics, but the use made of them was frequently opposite to that typical of the eugenics movement. Heredity could be invoked as a sanction reinforcing the case for particular environmental reforms. Thus, bad conditions, drunkenness and drug abuse were held to have a detrimental effect on the children of the present generation through the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Environmental reform sanitary improvements, a curb on the drink trade - would arguably improve not simply this generation but the next.8 As Rosenberg points out, Richard Dugdale's famous study of the Jukes family was not a call for eugenics - as it was later to be interpreted - but for environmental reform. Sufficiently vigorous action in education and the improvement of conditions, extended over two or three generations, could stamp out the social evils manifested by the Jukes family.9 It is not possible to attribute the change in the social uses of hereditarian beliefs in the later nineteenth century simply to internal changes within science. Certainly, most British biologists after 1890 did follow August Weismann in his rejection of the view that acquired characters could be inherited. And eugenists did use this as a basis for arguing that only eugenic reform could have a permanent effect on the race. However it is clear that Weismannism did not cause eugenics. Galton had independently rejected the inheritance of acquired characters before Weismann's work appeared, probably because of his eugenic views.1? And the subsequent reception of Weismann's views in Britain was strongly conditioned by their perceived political significance.l There had, in fact, been no major change in the available scientific evidence. Nor did acceptance of Weismannism compel or even indicate advocacy of eguenics. 2 Another component in the intellectual background of eugenic thought was political economy and the image of society it

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developed.13 For all its rejection of Enlightenment optimism, of the environmentalism of the utilitarians, and of the revolutionary-bourgeois notion that 'all men are born equal', eugenics retained certain key elements of classical bourgeois thought. The eugenic view of society was individualistic and atomistic. The fitness of a society was the sum of the fitnesses of the various individuals comprising it. Although the eugenists stressed race, their view of race was not a holistic one. The race was not an unalterable essence, but an historical population, the sum of its parts. There was a particularly close affinity to the biological variant of political economy, social Darwinism. The eugenic identification of social failure with biological unfitness, the notion of progress coming through the elimination of the unfit, and the biological view of society, are all drawn from social Darwinism. Indeed, Halliday has attempted to treat the two movements as more or less equivalent. 4 In this however he is wrong. Earlier social Darwinism (especially Spencer's) held that the elimination of the unfit could be achieved by political inaction. If the state would stop interfering in the working of natural laws, all would be well.1 5 Eugenics, in contrast, did not trust to laissez-faire. 'What Nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly', wrote Galton, 'man may do providently, quickly, and kindly'.16 Thus, eugenic thought drew on resources present in the culture of Victorian Britain. But it combined these in its own characteristic manner and, in addition, developed patterns of thought of an entirely novel kind: both general, such as the nature/nurture distinction, and more specialized, such as the statistical view of heredity and evolution. We must now consider who developed and propagated this new and characteristic body of thought.

THE SOCIAL COMPOSITION OF THE EUGENICS MOVEMENT British eugenics can, for our purposes, be said to have begun in the 1860s with the publication of the first articles on the subject by Galton and Greg. During the 1880s eugenics became a definite topic of public discussion in books and articles. Between 1900 and 1914 it achieved institutional expression, notably with the establishment of a Eugenics Laboratory in the University of London and in 1907 with the foundation of the Eugenics Education Society (EES). By 1913-14 the EES had over 1,000 members.17 The most straightforward answer to the question, 'Who were the


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eugenists?', is provided by examining the membership of the EES in the key years 1908-14. With the exceptions (notably Karl Pearson), nearly all known active British eugenists seem to have been members of the Society. Its membership and activities have been documented by Farrall. His investigations lead him to conclude that: The leadership of the Eugenics Education Society was dominated by well-

educated members of the middle-classprofessions of medicine,university teaching and science . Membershipwas not only drawnalmost exclusively from the middle classes but also heavily from the intellectual,creative and welfare professions. Of those whose profession has been discovered only threemilitaryofficersand one businessmanwouldbe excludeddefinitelyfrom this category.

To the extent that the hypothesis of membership drawn virtually exclusively from the professional middle class is true, it should be possible to identify every member of the EES by use of the various biographical dictionaries of the professions (such as the Medical Directory), in addition to sources such as the DNB and Who's Who. As a check that this can in fact be done, and that the rather high proportion of individuals not positively identified by Farrall does not contradict his conclusion, I examined one group of members: the 41 elected members of the Council for 1914 (Vice-Presidents and honorary members were omitted). Forty of these were identified (See Appendix for details) and their occupations were as follows:

University teachers and researchers Doctors 19

11 9 4 2 2 2 1 1 8

Lawyers Politicians20 Non-academic scientists21 Writers Headmasters Clergymen Other22 Total


This supports Farrall. It seems safe to conclude that while eugenics may well have enjoyed support amongst other social groups, the bulk of

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its activists were of the professional middle class. Business and the hereditary aristocracy (as distinct from ennobled commoners) were not prominent in support of eugenics, in or out of the Society. Nor were the working class. It would also seem clear that the eugenists were not recruited equally from all sections of the professional middle class. The universities, science and medicine are highly represented; law and the church more sparsely. Finally, it is of interest to note that women are highly represented in the EES (forming, for example, a majority of its total members in 1913).23 These conclusions can be given a little more support by identifying eugenists in the period preceding the formation of the Society. Those I have traced were exclusively professional middle class, and generally associated with the scientifically-based professions.24 So the general tenor of the evidence supports the association of eugenic thinking with the professional middle class. However, evidence of this nature is essentially ambiguous. Might not movements such as spiritualism, vegetarianism, anti-vivisectionism or even tariff reform show a similar membership pattern? Might these figures demonstrate only differing class propensities to join voluntary organizations? While comparative studies of (say) the membership of the eugenics and spiritualist movements are very necessary, let us approach the question differently. Let us see whether the content of eugenic thought can be said to reflect the social base of the eugenics movement. Can we impute eugenics as an ideology of the professional middle class? If so, the empirical association of class and eugenic attitude becomes of greater sociological significance.

EUGENICS AS AN IDEOLOGY OF THE PROFESSIONAL MIDDLE CLASS Let us begin by examining Francis Galton as the founder of British eugenics, before turning to the movement as a whole. What was the relation between Galton's eugenics and his social experience? By birth, marriage and inclination Galton belonged to the elite of the Victorian professional middle class. N.G. Annan has called the group to which Galton belonged 'the intellectual aristocracy'.25 The origins of this group lay in the bourgeoisie. The families from which this group came were distinguished from the bulk of the bourgeoisie by religion (they were Quakers, Unitarians or members of the Clapham Sect) and by their philanthropic and anti-slavery


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concerns. The children of marriages within this group tended to abandon direct business involvement for the world of scholarship, education and the professions. They rapidly rose to dominant positions in the universities, public schools, science and literature. Some entered the state bureaucracy, to become 'mandarins' of the increasingly professional civil service. Although links of kinship and common interest bound them to other sections of the elite of Victorian Britain, Annan emphasizes that this group maintained a separate identity.26 At least until the end of the nineteenth century it remained tightly-knit, held together by continuing intermarriage and by a common commitment to educational modernization and administrative reform, to the abolition of religious tests and to the introduction of selection by competitive examination in the civil service. 'The intellectual aristocracy' stood for change in British society, but for change that was gradual and piecemeal, that would be achieved by argument and 7 persuasion within the 'corridors of power'.2 Franics Galton could well be taken as an archetype of this group. He was born into one of the families of the 'intellectual aristocracy' (the Wedgwood/Darwin/Galton family) and married into another (the Butlers). He inherited from his Quaker ancestors sufficient money never to have to practise a profession for gain (he was trained in medicine and mathematics), and the two families to which he belonged brought him connections in science, medicine, education and the church. It seems that direct observation of kinship links within this professional elite was the source of his initial hereditarian convictions. He wrote in his autobiography: I had been immensely impressed by many obvious cases of heredit among the Cambridge men who were at the University about my own time. He did not, however, give any general interpretation to this to begin with. The spur to such an interpretation was the publication by his cousin, Charles Darwin, of The Origin of Species.29 Fifty years later, Galton wrote: The publication in 1859 of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin made a marked epoch in my own mental development, as it did in that of human thought generally. Its effect was to demolish a multitude of dogmatic barriers by a single stroke, and to arouse a spirit of rebellion against all ancient authorities whose positive and unauthenticated statements were contradicated by modern science.30

MacKenzie: Eugenics in Britain


As important as any detailed impact Darwin's work had on Galton was the more general effect on him of the controversy following its publication. Galton was present at the British Association meeting at Oxford in 1860 when Huxley and Wilberforce debated Darwin's theories.31 Galton clearly felt the need to choose sides between scientific naturalism and its theological opponents:32 given his background, there could be little doubt which side he would choose. He became a leading member of the group of scientific intellectuals which included Huxley, Spencer and Tyndall. He vigorously opposed the dogmas of revealed religion, and sought to replace the Christian faith by a system of belief based on natural science.33 The near monopoly of the church in comfortable professional positions must be ended, and an adequately-supported profession of science established. The scientists' role should not be a mere technical one: they should form a sort of scientific priesthood through the kingdom, whose high duties would

have reference to the health and well-being of the nation in its broadest sense.34 In the 1860s Galton began to interpret his experience of kinship links in the professional elite in a naturalistic and evolutionary framework, and to derive from this a faith and a social practice for the scientific priesthood. The method of his initial studies in heredity was a simple generalization of his early observations of his contemporaries. He sought to trade kinship links amongst those acknowledged to be of exceptional mental ability (amongst his examples were the Darwin and Butler families). By this means he showed that achievement ran in families (i.e. the closeness of kinship links amongst the eminent was far greater than would be expected if eminence was distributed at random in the population). This he interpreted as proof of the inheritance of mental ability, and on this basis he argued for a eugenic programme which would insure the careful and early marriage and high fertility of the most able.35 For Galton, eugenics was not a mere minor reform. He saw in eugenics the basis for a new scientific and evolutionary religion, in which an individual would be seen only as a manifestation of immortal germ plasm.36 This new faith implied the dominance of the 'scientific priesthood' over revealed religion. The practice of eugenics also necessitated social changes. The dominance of society by plutocracy and hereditary nobility must be ended. Extremes of inherited wealth and titles of nobility had a bad effect on the race, causing the degeneration and sterility of originally healthy stock. Instead,


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The best form of civilisation in respect to the improvement of the race, would be one in which society was not costly; where incomes were chiefly derived from professional sources, and not much through inheritance; where every lad had a chance of showing his abilities and, if highly gifted, was enabled to achieve a first-class education and entrance into professional life, by the liberal help of the exhibitions and scholarships which he had gained in his early youth; where marriage was held in high honour as in ancient Jewish times, where the pride of race was encouraged (of course I do not refer to the nonsensical sentiment of the present day, that goes under that name); where the weak could find a welcome and a refuge in celibate monasteries or sisterhoods, and lastly, where the better sort of emigrants and refugees from other lands were invited and welcomed, and their descendants naturalised.37

At the end of his life, Galton wrote a novel, Kantsaywhere, in which he described his eugenic utopia.38 This reads, in many respects, as a direct description of the practices and ideals of the 'intellectual aristrocracy'. The island of Kantsaywhere is dominated by a benevolent oligarchy, the Eugenic College, who administer it along the lines suggested by Galton's early articles, holding examinations of fitness, encouraging the early marriage of the fit, deporting or segregating the unfit. The population have fully accepted the rule of the College, and 'everyone is classed by everybody else according to their estimate or knowledge of his person and faculties'. The College is trusted and looked up to: The Trustees of the College are the sole proprietors of almost all the territory of Kantsaywhere, and they exercise a corresponding influence over the whole population. Their moral ascendancy is paramount. The families of the College and those of the Town are connected by numerous inter-marriages and common interests, so that the relation between them is more like that between the Fellows of a College and the undergraduates, than the Gown and Town of an English University. In short, Kantsaywhere may be looked upon as an active little community, containing a highly-respected and wealthy guild.39

Competitive intermarry,

examinations the dominance

determine status, the intellectually gifted of society by the extremely wealthy and

titled is replaced by the dominance of the intellectual elite; the relaxed social control of the university, passing and 'plucking', has been extended over the whole society. Galton's

eugenics had thus a double aspect. It was expressive

of his

social experience. He came from an intellectual elite closely bound by kinship ties. In his social group achievement was inherited (though we might now want to interpret this socially rather than biologically). Successful fathers had successful sons, these sons generally married

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within the social group and themselves had successful offspring.40 So Galton was interpreting generally and naturalistically a salient facet of his social experience. At the same time, an intrinsic part of the eugenic programme was the advancement of the interests of the professional middle class. The middle class 'expert', rather than the priest, aristocrat or plutocrat, should exercise power in an efficient modernized eugenic society. Science, rather than Christian religion, should be the dominant cultural form. Thus, Galton's eugenics, as well as expressing his social experience, also represented the interests of his social group. Although Galton was the founder of the eugenics movement, the analysis of his work alone does not establish the nature of eugenics as a whole. I do not wish to argue that eugenics remained expressive of the social experience of the eugenists in the sense that this was true for Galton. Later eugenists were generally of a lower status within the professional middle class than the 'intellectual aristocracy', and few would have had such strong kinship links to the elite as Galton had.41 On the other hand it remains true that eugenic thought expressed the interests of the professional middle class, both in a narrow sense and in the wider sense of the relative status of professionals and other middle and upper class groups. At times the Eugenics Education Society acted as a straightforward advocate of the financial interest of the middle class: ... the incidence of the income tax is claimingattention, and a letter has been sent by the President to all Members of Parliament pointing out that any system of taxation which takes no account of the necessary expenditure involved in bringing up a family may, in a sense, be said to penalize marriage and parenthood, and that taxation which retards marriage and discourages parenthood on the part of worthy citizens has a harmful influence in tending to lower the proportion of men and women of good stock or blood in the composition of the generation of the future. There is no question that the income tax at present falls most heavily on parents belonging to the middle and professional classes, to whom the description can be appropriately applied. It is suggested that the way to remedy this evil is to extend the principle of allowing rebates for each child . . .

When the First World War broke out the Council of the EES discussed what practical eugenic action could be taken in the war situation. As a result of this discussion the EES, in conjunction with the heads of the leading professional bodies and institutions, helped form a Professional Classes War Relief Council and set up a maternity home


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for the wives of professional men serving in the armed forces.4 3 The significance of eugenics as regards the professional middle class was, however, much wider than this. Eugenics served both to legitimate the social position of the professional middle class and as an argument for its improvement. The professional middle class owed its social position neither to wealth nor to ascribed status but to the specialized mental abilities and knowledge of its members. The hereditarian theory of mental ability as developed by the eugenists claimed that only a limited section of the population had the potential to achieve the skills and knowledge required for professional middle class roles. The professional middle class had achieved their position not by accident of circumstances, but as the result of generations of selection for mental ability. The next generation of professionals would of necessity have to be recruited from the middle class. Thus a rigidly stratified educational system was justified, with only the narrowest of ladders to allow the unusually gifted child, the 'sport', to rise from the lower classes. Eugenics offered the professional middle class an educational philosophy which enabled them to justify the effective monopoly of professional education by the existing proressional class. The eugenist could consistently advocate an expanded educational system - 1870-1914 was a period of considerable educational expansion - while laying down a structure for this expansion which maintained existing privileges.44 One interesting facet of the discussion of mental ability by British eugenists is that 'business acumen' or 'entrepreneurial skills' played no part in it. We find no 'English Men of Business' paralleling Galton's English Men of Science, although an hereditarian account of business skills could have been co,nstructed with equal plausibility. While the majority of British eugenists did not attack the business community, they did not seek to legitimate it in a similar way to their legitimation of the professional middle class. There was also no attempt to legitimate the hereditary nobility. Indeed a not uncommon target for attacks by eugenists was the House of Lords. Following Galton's views on the detrimental effect on the race of the peerage, schemes such as the replacement of the House of Lords by an Upper House of families of genuine eugenic worth were discussed. Arnold White, for example, pictured the aristocracy and plutocracy as degenerate and prey to hereditary ills as the result of inbreeding and marriage for wealth rather than for health and mental ability.45 The majority of eugenists stopped short of an explicit attack on the existing power structure of British society. A significant section,

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however, attacked the existing ruling groups as unable to administer a modern society efficiently and scientifically and condemned capitalist society as dysgenic (i.e. anti-eugenic) in its operation. A eugenic policy, they argued, was impossible while laissez-faire capitalism demanded large supplies of unskilled labour and a permanent pool of unemployed. Among these 'socialist' eugenists were Karl Pearson, Jane Hume Clapperton and several leaders of the Fabian Society, including Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw and (for a while) H.G. Wells.46 Socialist support for a movement I have analyzed as representing the interests of the professional middle class seems paradoxical. However the main point of reference for Fabian socialists and nearFabians such as Pearson was not the working class but the professional middle class. As Eric Hobsbawn has shown, the social composition of the Fabian Society was 'overwhelmingly non-proletarian', with journalists, writers, university and school teachers, clergy and public officials the most common occupations of its members.4 7 Politically, there were wide differences between the Fabians and the majority of working class socialists: The Fabians, alone among socialist groups, opposed the formation of an independent party of labour, supportedimperialism,refused to oppose the Boer war, took no interest in the traditionalinternationaland anti-warpreoccupations of the left, and their leaders took practicallyno part in the tradeunion revivalsof 1889 and 1911.48

But the chief concern of the Fabians was not with the working class as the agency of social change. Fabian ideology (especially as expressed by the Webbs) pivoted round the salaried middle class: They are the trained, impartial and scientific administrators and expert advisers who have created an alterative court of appeal to profit.49

In the ethos of the professionals the Fabians saw 'a working alternative to a system in which men worked in proportion only to their financial incentive'.50 Once stimulated, the professional middle class would realize that a socialist society 'really suited them just as well if not better than the capitalist'.51 Why should a professional middle-class ideology take a socialist form? As the Fabians argued, there are no necessary reasons why the interests of the professional middle class should be tied to a capitalist economic order. The rising 'meritocracy' could see their skills as necessary to any industrial society, not merely


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a capitalist one. There were indeed particular reasons why professionals (especially in the new, rising professions) should be hostile to laissezfaire capitalism. Laissez-faire restricted the scope for their talents and their job opportunities (for example in the lack of state support for science). As Hobsbawn points out, a lot of the Fabians' socialism is merely hostility to laissez-faire, not to capitalism. Indeed, the term 'socialist' was at the time defined in this way. Any doctrine which gave the state a greater role in the national life and economy than that allowed by classical liberal political theory was labelled 'socialist'. The very dominance of liberalism tended to blur the political differences of its rivals. Hobsbawn concluded that the history of the Fabians ... ... must be written not in termsof the socialistrevivalof the 1880s, but in terms of the middle-class reactions to the breakdown of mid-Victorian certainties,the rise of new strata,new structures,new policies,within British capitalism: as an adaptation of the British middle classes to the era of imperialism.2 On this view Fabianism and eugenics were not political opposites but different (though overlapping) variants of the same adaptation. Eugenics was the kind of social reform that the Fabians liked: scientistic, involving state action, legislation and (no doubt) an expansion of bureaucracy. If the Fabian eugenists differed from their more conservative brethren, it was that they took a more fundamental and long-term attitude to the interests of the professional middle class.

EUGENICS, THE RESIDUUM AND SOCIAL IMPERIALISM Eugenics was not only a matter of raising the fertility (and status) of the professional middle class: it also involved lowering the fertility of those at the bottom of the social scale. While this aspect of it was little emphasized in Galton's early, utopian, positive eugenics, it came more and more to the fore in the period from 1880 onwards. Within Galton's own work negative eugenics became more prominent (though he always treated the subject with a certain caution, even distaste, and avoided 'unmentionable' topics such as sterilization and contraception). More generally, the 'unfit' rather than the 'fit' were the central focus of eugenic propaganda. What, we must ask, were the views on class structure held by the eugenists, and who were the unfit who were to be dissuaded from breeding? The eugenists accepted a rough equation of social standing and

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genetic worth. Indeed, this is generally an axiom with their thought, seldom a proposition they feel any need to defend. At least for those social groups conventionally regarded as being below the professional middle class, class position was taken as a sure indicator of average mental ability. The view of social structure they held was summarized by Galton in his 1901 Huxley Lecture.53 Galton took the social categories of Booth's survey of London and mapped them on to his assumed distribution of inherited 'civic worth'. In Figure 1, I have presented his results in graphical form. 'R, S, T, U, V' and 'r, s, t, u, v' are the subdivisions of 'civic worth'. The lowest group, classes t, u, v and below, '/are undesirables'.4 It is against them (and particularly against the 'criminals, semi-criminals and loafers' of v and below) that negative eugenics should be practised; for example, habitual criminals should be segregated 'under merciful surveillance' and 'peremptorily denied opportunities for producing offspring'.5 5 Galton (and the other eugenists) did not wish to depress the birth rate of all groups below the middle class. It would scarcely have been in the interests of the middle class to do so! All eugenists were agreed that manual workers were socially necessary. What they wanted was to improve the discipline, physique and intelligence of the working class by eradicating the 'lowest' elements of it. The eugenists attempted to draw a line between socially useful and socially dangerous elements of the lower orders. While the exact placing of this line was vague, and varied from one writer to another, all were agreed that this distinction was necessary. In few cases was the view of social class as explicit as it was in Galton's writings: nonetheless, all eugenists would have adhered to a similar model. Indeed, few members of the middle class of Victorian and Edwardian Britain would have found much to disagree with in Galton's model. The specificity of eugenic thought lay not in the model, but in the conclusions for action drawn. The lowest social group ('t, u, v and below') were a prominent indeed the prominent - social problem in the eyes of middle class late Victorians and Edwardians. The attitudes of the middle class to this group have recently been elucidated by Gareth Stedman Jones in his Outcast London.s 6 Jones argues that in the latter part of the nineteenth century the focus of middle class fears about social stability, doubt about industrialism and urban existence, shifted from the heartlands of the industrial revolution (such as Manchester) and became centred on London. Since the decline of Chartism, most middle class observers felt that the respectable working class of the North of England were no longer a threat or a social problem. The problem


Social Studies of Science Figure 1. Galton's view of British social structure



u. cr



Criminals, paupers, etc.

v I




Poor and 'Respectable' Skilled low-paid workingclass workers, foremen, clerks, small tradesmen, etc.





Independentprofessionals, largeemployersetc.






For explanation,see text.

rather lay with a smaller and more specific group on the slums of the big cities. The most characteristic image of the working class was that of increasingly prosperous and cohesive communities bound together by the chapel, the friendly society, and the co-op. Pitted against the dominant climate of moral and material improvement was a minority of the still unregenerate poor: those who had turned their backs on progress, or had been rejected by it. This group was variously referred to as 'the dangerous class', the casual poor or most characteristically, as 'the residuum'.5 7 In other words, the perceived problem of social control was no longer the working class as a whole, but only a residual section of it. Most of this was found in London. The Quarterly Review summed up the perceived problem as early as 1855:

MacKenzie: Eugenics in Britain


. . . the most remarkable feature of London life is a class decidedly lower in the social scale than the labourer, and numerically very large, though the population returns do not number them among the inhabitants of the kingdom, who derive their living from the streets... for the most part their utmost efforts do little more than maintain them in a state of chronic starvation . . very many have besides their acknowledged calling, another in the background in direct violation of the eighth commandment; and thus by gradations imperceptibly darkening as we advance, we arrive at the classes who are at open war with society, and professedly live by the produce of depredation or the wages of infamy.5 The worst situation was in the East End. From the end of the 1860s to the First World War the East End was a byword for chronic and hopeless poverty, and endemic economic malaise. There was thus a definite social problem in London. But it was more than this. The residuum posed a problem of social control. They were But they were politically not, it is true, radical or revolutionary. volatile, and, pressed by extreme hardship, they were liable to riot.60 The middle class were not concerned with social control alone. They felt that the poor were not only dangerous but also physically and the urban slum dweller was mentally degenerate. Characteristically, with the and compared healthy strong agricultural labourer. It was caused the degeneration of widely believed that urban conditions from the whether immigrants country, by the direct effect of environment or by selection of the worst types. Francis Galton was an early proponent of the theory of urban degeneracy: It is perfectly distressing to me to witness the draggled, drudged, mean look of the mass of individuals, especially of the women, that one meets in the streets of London and other purely English towns. The conditions ot their life seem too hard for their constitutions, and to be crushing them into degeneracy.61

the context in which the problem of urban Increasingly, was seen, was that of imperialism. A degenerating degeneration population was serious enough under any circumstances, but it would be fatal to a British Empire faced with increased foreign economic colonial war and the ultimate threat of inter-imperialist competition, war. The early reverses suffered by British troops in the Boer War (1899-1902) gave concrete form to these misgivings. It was put about, and widely believed, that up to 60 per cent of working class volunteers for the army had had to be rejected because they failed to meet the army's miniinum standards of physical fitness.62


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The problem, then, was seen to be a selection of the working class that lacked both moral fibre (i.e. was outside social control) and physical fitness. The urban situation had broken the older forms of social control based on direct personal contact between rich and poor. The most important early attempt at a solution was the Charity Organisation Society, set up in 1869, which sought to reimpose social control through organized, selective charity and trained social workers.63 But with the deepening urban crisis of the 1880s and the serious rioting, there was a conscious search for new responses to the problem. Crucial to these responses was the distinction between the respectable working class and the residuum: the residuum must be isolated from the working class as a whole (even at the price of concessions to the bulk of workers) and neutralized or eliminated. The growing awareness of competition between imperialist powers underlined the urgency of the problem. A modern imperialist state needed an efficient, fit and loyal working class. As the riots of the 1880s and the debacles of the Boer War indicated, there was a weakness at the very heart of the British Empire. Fabians, Tories and Liberal Imperialists could find common ground in agreement that a solution to the problem of the urban residuum was a prerequisite of imperial survival. The basis was thus laid for social imperialism, the linking of imperialism and social reform that loomed large in British politics between the 1880s and 1914, and which, as Farrall points out, was important to eugenic thought.64 It was in this context that eugenics provided a plausible social policy.The eugenists had a biological explanation of the residuum. The suspension of natural selection through the operation of charity, medical science and sanitary reform had led to the flourishing in the hearts of the great cities of a group of people tainted by hereditary defect. They were unemployed because they lacked the health, ability and strength of will to work. Hereditary weakness turned them to crime and alcohol. Their constitutions inclined them to wasting diseases such as tuberculosis. This group of degenerates was outbreeding skilled workers and the professional middle class. Further, the eugenists warned, although natural selection was largely suspended within British society, competition between different nations went on. Britain was engaged in a struggle for survival that was at present commercial but might become military. National fitness for this struggle was necessary. This had previously been ensured by natural selection, but under the conditions of modern civilization a replacement for natural selection had to be found in conscious eugenic

MacKenzie: Eugenics in Britain


selection. A pliable and fit working class could be bred by isolating the residuum in institutions where parenthood would be made impossible.6


Negative eugenics was thus not an abstract programme, but a specific response to a specific problem. The eugenists proposed the most thorough solution to the problem of the residuum short of immediate elimination. Social control was to be imposed by the detention in institutions of the habitual criminal, the alcoholic, the 'hereditary' pauper, and so on. Prevention of parenthood in these institutions would mean the eventual disappearance of the residuum as a group. This solution would leave untouched the position and privileges of the higher social classes, while drawing in full on the skills of the middle class scientific expert. While it might seem a rather extreme proposal, it differed only in thoroughness and scientific rationale from similar proposals put forward at the time, for example, for labour camps with compulsory powers of detention (proposals that were supported by Fabians and 'humanitarian' Liberals).66

THE RISE AND DECLINE OF EUGENICS The rise and decline of the eugenics movement in Britain seems to be largely accounted for by variations in the credibility of the programme for negative eugenics. Four major turning points can be identified: the sense of an urban crisis in the 1880s, the Boer War (1889-1902), the First World War and the world slump and the emergence of German fascism (1929-34). Before 1880 it is impossible to talk of eugenics as a movement: it must have seemed to be a utopian speculation. The urban crisis of the 1880s and the related emergence of social imperialism and Fabianism provided the context for serious consideration of negative eugenics.6 7 The real opportunity for the eugenists came with the Boer War and the boost it gave to social imperialism. This prompted Karl Pearson and Arnold White to write their most famous social imperialist and eugenic tracts.68 As White wrote: In South Africa we have a lesson. Shall we profit by it sufficiently to reconsider our ways?69

Pearson wrote to Galton urging him to open a direct campaign for eugenics, sensing that the time was ripe for 'a word in season' on


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Although almost in his eighties, Galton responded by campaigning for, funding and supporting eugenics. The years from 1901-14 were of almost uninterrupted success for the eugenics movement, which by the time of the outbreak of war seemed on the threshold of considerable legislative impact. Prominent political figures had at least shown interest in eugenics, as was witnessed by the presence of names such as A.J. Balfour and Winston Churchill in the list of Vice-Presidents of the International Eugenics Congress held in London in 1912. A small but growing group of MPs responded to eugenic ideas, and the Eugenics Education Society was able to claim the formulation and passing of the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 as the result of its work.7 After 1918 all this impetus had gone. There was no disastrous immediate decline of British eugenics. The cadre of the movement remained intact. But eugenics seemed to lack political credibility. The EES (renamed the Eugenics Society) evolved gradually into a learned society rather than a campaigning political group. The broad spectrum of political support in the professional middle class evaporated. Increasingly, eugenics as a full-scale political programme became identified with the extreme right-wing. What went wrong for the eugenists? The answer appears to be that the conditions for the credibility of the social programme of negative eugenics no longer existed after 1918. Before the War the problem of social control was seen as centred on a relatively small and well-defined subgroup of the working class. After 1918 things were different. Red Clydeside and the industrial battles of the 1920s suggested that there was a pressing danger to established society from the working class as a whole. Unemployment was no longer localized (indeed London, the core of unemployment before 1914, was relatively prosperous during the 1920s and 1930s by comparison with the industrial North). A political strategy for the British ruling class clearly had to involve a reckoning with the working class as a whole. Such a strategy did evolve, empirically rather than theoretically, in the 1920s. Although it involved intransigence at certain key moments (notably .the General Strike of 1926), the key to the strategy was an accommodation with the political and industrial leadership of the working class in the Labour Party and trade unions. This left no place for eugenics; for example, to make the point starkly, sterilization of the unemployed (as advocated by E.W. MacBride72) was out of place in such a strategy. It was impossible both to reach a compromise with the official eugenics.70

MacKenzie: Eugenics in Britain


leadership of the working class and to threaten that class (or a significant subsection of it) with negative eugenics. Most eugenists gradually came to terms with this reality and diluted their proposals accordingly (for example by calling for voluntary rather than compulsory sterilization). Some, like R.A. Fisher, ceased to propagandize for eugenics, while continuing privately to hold eugenic beliefs.73 A few maintained the old attitudes intact and looked to the application of eugenic measures in the context of the destruction of the labour movement rather than accommodation with it: thus George PittRivers, formerly Secretary of the International Federation of Eugenic Societies, joined the British Union of Fascists and was interned during the Second World War.74 The Nazi victory in Germany and the subsequent Nazi eugenic measures strengthened the association of eugenics and the extreme right. After some initial hesitation, the Eugenics Society condemned Nazi eugenics.7 5 But an already enfeebled Society found it difficult to make it clear that what it preached was different from what the Nazi practised. By the late 1930s eugenics in the old, strong, sense was identified with fascism. In the absence of gains for fascism within British society, eugenics was bound to decline.76

OPPONENTS OF EUGENICS Even at the peak of its influence in the Edwardian period, eugenics was not unopposed. Within the professional middle class itself, eugenics had its critics. Clerics, particularly Catholic clerics, were notably among them.77 These professionals of the old order had their own strategy for dealing with problems of poverty, unemployment, social control and the family. Despite efforts by the EES not to offend the church, eugenics appeared as an intruder into the traditional sphere of religious authority and as a competing secular and scientistic ideology.78 A great deal of the reluctance of the eugenists to advocate the use of contraceptives and sterilization as techniques of negative eugenics can be attributed to fear of religious condemnation. Socialists who, unlike the Fabians, took the working class as their prime reference group, were another source of opposition to eugenics. Stella Browne, a socialist and feminist, attacked the EES for 'class bias and sex bias' and argued that women themselves should have control over their own fertility.79 Other socialists concentrated on defending the working class against the charge of genetic inferiority.


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In a series of articles in The New Age, M.D. Eder took the eugenists to task for their view that the 'upper middle class' represented 'the brains of the nation'. Eder reminded Karl Pearson that Gauss, whose work provided the base of much of the mathematics Pearson deployed in support of eugenics, was 'the son of a bricklayer'. De Vries' mutation theory was seen by Eder as a biological justification of revolutionary socialism, refuting the gradualism of evolutionary socialists such as Pearson.80 After the First World War the socialist attack on eugenics began to find a small number of supporters within science. Then men like J.B.S. Haldane and Lancelot Hogben who were the equals or superiors of the eugenists in technical competence began to attack the eugenists on their own ground. The radical scientists of the 1930s saw the eugenics movement as a paradigm case of the anti-working class use of science, and the defeat of eugenic ideology became one of their major pre-occupations.8 Aside from these two major sources of opposition to eugenics, particular individuals and small groups within the professional middle class were hostile to eugenics for less general reasons. The eugenists presented their major opponent as a social reformer who ascribed all to environment and nothing to heredity. Such a parody creature scarcely existed.82 Nonetheless some groups felt their schemes for particular reforms threatened by eugenic ideology. Karl Pearson, for example, earned the wrath of temperance workers for his denial that environmental reform (temperance measures) would have a beneficial effect on the next generation.83 Similarly, Pearson's views that the major factor in the incidence of tuberculosis was an inherited tubercular 'diathesis' led to controversy with public health workers and other medical men seeking environmental control of tuberculosis.

CONCLUSION In his study of the English eugenics movement, Farrall defines it as a form of 'middle class radicalism' and compares it with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) of the 1950s and 1960s.84 Both the EES and the CND, he argues, were drawn largely from the 'welfare and creative' professions, and as was the case with the CND, . . . the members of the eugenics movement found emotional satisfaction in expressing their personal beliefs in action rather than seeking specific material improvement in their status within society.

MacKenzie: Eugenics in Britain


From the perspective of this paper, the differences between the EES and the CND are more important than the similarities. The eugenists, I argue, were concerned with improving the social status of the professional middle class. CND members, on the other hand, were self-deprecating on the subject of their social status, replying to questioning with such answers as 'middle class - unfortunately'.86 Further, for many of its members participation in the CND was closely linked to growing identification with the working class and the labour movement. The eugenists remained identified (if at times rather critically) with the ruling class. The basic question raised by this paper is that of the determinants of the political attitudes of the professional middle class. Under what circumstances do members of this class identify with the ruling class, and under what circumstances with the working class? With growing class conflict, and with signs of the re-emergence of eugenic positions87, this question is not simply theoretical.

POSTSCRIPT This paper was completed, apart from minor revisions, in July 1975. Since then, chiefly as a result of criticisms and suggestions by Gary Werskey, I have realized that there are several ways in which the analysis can and should be strengthened. In particular, much of the material discussed fits well with the perspective developed by Poulantzas in his Classes in Contemporary Capitalism (1975).88 The term 'professional middle class', as I have used it, would in this perspective include two separate groups: a fraction of the ruling class, the dominant intellectual elite who control the chief institutions of education and science and who are ultimately chief bearers of the cultural hegemony of the bourgeoisie (the centre of this group in Victorian Britain would be the 'intellectual aristocracy'); and an upper fraction of the 'new petty bourgeoisie', the professional, technical, office and service workers who have become such an important group in modern capitalism. Now, in Britain, the 'professional' fraction of the new petty bourgeoisie was largely under the sway of the 'intellectual aristocracy' (who, for example. provided its culture heroes from Darwin to Keynes). However, the technocratic anti-capitalism which Poulantzas argues is a typical feature of the ideology of the new petty bourgeoisie


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does appear in the form of Fabianism. Thus the split between ruling class and petty bourgeois elements of the 'professional middle class' had its reflection in the split between rightist and leftist eugenists. As Poulantzas points out, the new petty bourgeoisie owe their situation fundamentally to the division of mental and manual labour in capitalist society. What differentiates a professional (or even, though to a lesser extent, an ordinary office worker) from a manual worker is the professional's possession of (and monopoly of) knowledge and mental skills which are held to be uniquely valuable. The whole rationale of professionalization is to legitimate the activity of an occupational group with reference to its accredited possession of a body of knowledge, while at the same time imposing strict controls on access to this knowledge. A hereditarian theory of mental ability has then obvious attractions for members of the new petty bourgeoisie, as it makes the social division between them and the working class into a natural division, based on genetically determined ability. Although in all class societies it is to be expected that the dominant class will try to explain differences in social position in terms of innate, 'natural' differences, the new petty bourgeoisie, which is not in reality a dominant class, perhaps feels a particular need to elaborate this into a full-blown ideological system. Further, it is in a sense mistaken to see the decline in support of the more extreme negative eugenic proposals in the inter-war period as the decline of all aspects of eugenics. Eugenists such as Galton and Pearson (especially the latter) had as one of their chief aims the provision of a rationalized system for ensuring that occupational positions at the various levels of the hierarchical division of labour were adequately filled. They sensed that a highly technological monopoly capitalist society would need a planned and selected supply of labour, rather than the chaotically competitive labour market of early capitalism. As Gary Werskey has pointed out to me, this need was largely met after the First World War by the widespread use of IQ tests, the development of the three-tier secondary education system, and so on. While not involving eugenically planned reproduction, these developments did in fact have strong connections with eugenics (for example, the role of the eugenist Cyril Burt in pioneering the introduction of mental testing).


Eugenics in Britain



SOCIAL COMPOSITIONOF THE EUGENICS EDUCATION SOCIETY Farrall's data refer mainly to two groups: the members of the Council from 1908-20, and a random sample of 60 members and associate members of the Society from 1912-13. With his kind permission, I reproduce his data: Occupations of the Members of the EES Council8 9 Occupation

Medical Academic Politicians Clergy Social Work Scientists Writers Military Officers Lawyers Housewives Not Known Totals


Well-documented number

26a 18 4 3 3 2 2 2 1 2 48d

10 16 3 3 3 2 2c 1 1 2 0



a. Includes five who had the title 'Dr' but about whom no further information was available. b. Includes Col. H.E. Hills, FRS, who was a military officer specializing in military engineering. c. Includes Havelock Ellis whose writings were largely scientific. d. Includes eight people who had university degrees and ten with the title, 'Sir' or 'Lady'. The 'well-documented number' refers to those for whom definite biographical information was available.


Social Studies of Science Occupations of the Members of the Random Sample90



Academic Medical Social Work Writer Clergy Military Officer


6 3 2 2 1 1

Wifea Lawyer Director of Art Museum Local Governmegt Part-time author No information Total

Number 5 1 1 1 2 35


a. All were wives of prominent people. b. These two members are known only because of the one or two books they each wrote. The group of 41 EES Council members for 1914 is a subset of Farrall's group of 111 Council members for 1908-20, and can be seen as a check on the 'not known' or not 'well-documented' cases in Farrall's list. We see that there is in fact no reason to doubt his conclusion (individuals already identified by Farrall are asterisked9 ). *President:

Major Leonard Darwin. Son of Charles Darwin. Retired army engineer. (Who was Who, 1929-40).

*Hon Secretary:

Mrs Sybil Gotto. Hon Secretary 190720. Widow of Naval Officer. Effectively worked full-time for eugenics. (Eugenics Review, Vol. 47 [1955-61, 149).

Hon Treasurer:

Paul von Fleischl. Treasurer of EES, 1907-22. Occupation unknown.

Mr Crofton Black:

Barrister and official of Land Union. (EES Sixth Annual Report, 25, and Eugenics Review, Vol. 12 [1920-21], 91).

Sir Edward Brabrock:

Barrister, Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies 1891-1904. Director of Society of Antiquaries and former President of the Anthropological Institute. (Who's Who, 1914).

Mrs Theodore Chambers:

Wife of Theodore Chambers, civil servant and businessman. (Who was Who, 1951-60).



Eugenics in Britain

Hon Sir John Cockburn:

Former Minister of Education, South Australia. Doctor. Represented Australia at international conferences on health, eugenics, etc. (Who was Who, 1914).

Mr R. Newton Crane:

International 1914.)

Mr A.E. Crawley:

Author. Wrote on anthropology, sport, etc. (Wbho'sWho, 1914.)

Sir H. Cunningham:

Former lawyer and judge in India. (Who's Who, 1914.)

Dr Langdon Down:

Physician to National Association for Welfare of Feeble-Minded. (Medical Directory, 1914.)

*Mr Havelock Ellis:

Scientist 1914.)


and author.



(Who's Who,

Prof J. Findlay:

Professor of Education, University of Manchester. (Who's Who, 1914.)

Mr E.G. Wheler Galton:

Nephew of Francis Galton. Farmer at Claverton. Interested in scientific aspects of agriculture. (K. Pearson, op. cit. note 38, passim.)

*Dr M. Greenwood:

Medical passim.)



Dr W. Hadley:

Lecturer in Medicine, London Hospital. Physician, Chest Hospital, Victoria Park. (Who's Who, 1914.)

Mrs W.H. Henderson:

Wife of Admiral Henderson, who since retirement had served on Metropolitan Asylums Board. (Who's Who, 1914.)

*Major E.H. Hills, FRS:

Director of Durham University Observatory, President of Royal Astronomical Society. Former military engineer. (Who's Who, 1914.)

*Very Rev W.R. Inge:

Dean of St. Paul's. Former Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. (Who's Who, 1914.)

526 *Miss Kirby:

Dr Ernest Lane:

*Prof E.W. Macbride:

Lady Owen MacKenzie:

Social Studies of Science Secretary of National Association for Welfare of Feeble-Minded. (Eugenics Review, Vol. 1 [1909-10], 85.) Senior surgeon, St. Mary's Hospital. (Who's Who, 1914.) Professor of Zoology, Imperial College. (Who's Who, 1914.) Widow of Sir George Sutherland MacKenzie (1844-1910), merchant and geographer. (DNB)

*Mr Robert Mond:

Industrial Chemist. Director of Brunner, Mond & Co. (Who's Who, 1914.)

*Dr F.W. Mott, FRS:

Neuropathologist. Physician to Charing Cross Hospital (Who's Who, 1914.)

Mr G.P. Mudge:

Surgeon, university teacher, and author of biology textbooks. (University of London Calendar and British Museum Catalogue.)

*Mrs G. Pooley:

Wife of opthalmic surgeon, G.H. Pooley. (Who's Who, 1914.)

*Mr W. Rae, MP:

Liberal MP for Scarborough. (Who's Who, 1914.)

*Dr Archdall Reid:

Physician and author of books on heredity, alcoholism, etc. (Medical Directory, 1914.)

Mr John Russell:

Headmaster of King Alfred's School, Hampstead. (Alumni Cantabrigienses, Part II.)

*Mr F.C.S. Schiller:

Philosopher, Oxford University. (Who's Who, 1914.)

*Prof A. Schuster, FRS:

Secretary of Royal Society. Formerly Professor of Physics, University of Manchester. (Who's Who, 1914.)

*Mr Edgar Schuster:

Former Galton research fellow in eugenics. In 1914 at Oxford University. (Biometrika, passim.)


Eugenics in Britain


*Dr C.G. Seligmann:

Professor of Ethnology, University of London. Formerly Hunterian Professor at Royal College of Surgeons. (Who's Who, 1914.)

*Prof C. Spearman:

Grote Professor of Mind and Logic, University of London. (Who's Who, 1914.)

*Prof J.A. Thomson:

Professor of Natural History, University of Aberdeen. (Who's Who, 1914.)

Dr E.F. Tredgold:

Physician specializing in mental diseases. (Who's Who, 1914.)

Mrs Alec Tweedie:

Writer and columnist. 1914.)

*Mr W.C.D. Whetham, FRS:

(Who's Who,

Senior tutor, Trinity College Cambridge. Physicist. (Who's Who, 1914.)

Dr Douglas White:

Physician. (Medical Directory, 1914.)

Dr Florence Willey:

Lecturer in midwifery, London School of Medicine for Women. (Who's Who, 1914.)


I would like to thank the following: Lyndsay Farrall, on whose work I have drawn extensively here, and who has kindly permitted me to reproduce material from his unpublished thesis; Barry Barnes, Steven Shapin and Helen Rugen of the Science Studies Unit, University of Edinburgh, and the Editors and anonymous referee of Social Studies of Science, all of whom made helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. 1. Francis Galton first used the term eugenics in his Inquiries into Human Faculty (London: Macmillan, 1883), 25. The concept was implicit from the beginning of his work in heredity 20 years earlier. The Greek root means 'of good stock'.


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2. Throughout this paper I use the word 'knowledge' in the sociologists' sense of 'accepted belief' and do not wish to imply any judgement as to the truth of the ideas in question. 3. The impact of eugenics on statistics is discussed in Ruth Schartz Cowan, 'Francis Galton's Statistical Idea: the Influence of Eugenics', Isis, Vol. 63 (1972), 509-28; also in D. MacKenzie, 'Social Factors in the Emergence of Modern Statistics', paper read to the Conference on the History of Statistics, Harvard University (January 1974). Cowan discusses Galton's influence on genetics in 'Francis Galton's Contribution to Genetics', Journal of the History of Biology, Vol. 5 (1972), 380412. Philip Abrams, The Origins of British Sociology, 1834-1914 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968) indicates the general intellectual impact of eugenics. 4. L.A. Farrall, The Origin and Growth of the English Eugenics Movement, 1865-1925 (PhD Thesis, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1970), available from University Microfilms; L.S. Waterman, The Eugenic Movement in Britain in the Nineteenth Thirties (MSc Thesis, University of Sussex, 1975). There has also been some work by eugenists on the history of eugenics: C.P. Blacker, Eugenics: Galton and After (London: Charles Duckworth, 1952) and F. Schenk and A.S. Parkes, 'The Activities of the Eugenics Society', Eugenics Review, Vol. 60 (1968), 142-61. For eugenics in America see Mark Haller, Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1963); K.M. Ludmerer, Genetics and American Society: an Historical Appraisal (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972); D.K. Pickens, Eugenics and the Progressives (Nashville, Tenn: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968); and the essay review by Garland Allen, 'Genetics, Eugenics and Society: Internalists and Externalists in Contemporary History of Science', Social Studies of Science, Vol. 6 (1976), 105-22. 5. For an account of the growth of professional occupations in Britain, see A.M. Carr-Saunders and P.A. Wilson, The Professions (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933). In identifying particular occupations as 'professional' or not, I would follow their judgement. 6. F. Galton, Memories of my Life (London: Methuen, 1908), 288. 7. Cf. C.E. Rosenberg, 'The Bitter Fruit: Heredity, Disease and Social Thought in Nineteenth-Century America', Perspectives in American History, Vol. 8 (1974), 189-235. 8. It should, however, be noted that many of those campaigning for compulsory custodial treatment of alcoholics did not accept this optimistic view, and saw retreats as a means of isolating alcoholics. See R.M. MacLeod, 'The Edge of Hope: Social Policy and Chronic Alcoholism, 1870-1900', Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 22 (1967), 215-45. 9. Rosenberg, op. cit. note 7, 221-22. 10. Ruth Schwartz Cowan, 'Sir Francis Galton and the Continuity of the Germ-Plasm: a Biological Idea with Political Roots', Actes du XIIe Congres International de l'Histoire des Sciences (Paris, 1968), Vol. 8, 181-86. 11. See, for example, W.P. Ball, Are the Effects of Use and Disuse Inherited? (London: Macmillan, 1890). J.C. Burnham argues that this sociopolitical response to Weismannism was a peculiarly Anglo-American phenomenon. See his 'Instinct Theory and the German Reaction to Weismannism', Journal of the History of Biology, Vol. 5 (1972), 321-26.


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12. Arthur Russel Wallace, for example, accepted that acquired characters were not inherited, but rejected eugenics as a social programme. See Wallace, 'Human Selection', Fortnightly Review, Vol. 48 (1890), 325-37. 13. Abrams makes much of the resemblance of eugenic thought to political economy: 'Eugenics, when its history is written, will have to be treated in close relation to political economy', op. cit. note 3, 123. 14. R.J. Halliday, 'Social Darwinism: A Definition', Victorian Studies, Vol. 14 (1971), 389-405. 15. See, for example, Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology (London: Henry King, 1873), 343-46. 16. F. Galton, 'Eugenics: its Definition, Scope and Aims', in his Essays in Eugenics (London: Eugenics Education Society, 1909), 42. For an account of social Darwinism's broadly similar development in America, see R. Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1968). 17. Farrall, op. cit. note 4, 211-12. 18. Ibid., 225 and 228. 19. Several of the doctors held university or medical school teaching posts. 20. One, Cockbur, a doctor by training. 21. One, Havelock Ellis, also an author; the other, Mond, also a businessman. 22. One official of National Association for the Welfare of the FeebleMinded, one farmer (and amateur agricultural scientist), one retired army engineer, and five wives or widows (of a naval lieutenant, an admiral, a civil servant and businessman, a merchant and geographer, and a surgeon). 23. Farrall, op. cit. note 4, 211. The small number of women with independent professional careers seem to have been particularly highly represented in the Society. The relationship between eugenics and feminism is a complex and interesting one, which I hope to discuss elsewhere. 24. See my forthcoming PhD thesis for more details. 25. N.G. Annan, 'The Intellectual Aristocracy', in J.H. Plumb (ed.), Studies in Social History: a Tribute to G.M. Trevelyan (London: Longmans Green, 1955). 26. Ibid., 248. 27. Ibid., 247. 28. Galton, op. cit. note 6, 288. 29. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London: John Murray, 1859). 30. Galton, op. cit. note 6, 287. 31. D.W. Forrest, Francis Galton: the Life and Work of a Victorian Genius (London: Paul Elek, 1974), 84. 32. See F.M. Turner's Between Science and Religion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1974) for a sensitive analysis of this divide. 33. Some of Galton's anti-clerical sallies - in particular his statistical 'disproof' of the efficacy of prayer - now seem rather amusing. But at the time issues such as this were seriously debated. See F.M. Turner, 'Rainfall, Plagues and the Prince of Wales: a Chapter in the Conflict of Religion and Science', Journal of British Studies, Vol. 13 (1974), 46-65.


Social Studies of Science

34. F. Galton, English Men of Science: their Nature and Nurture (London: Macmillan, 1874; facsimile reprint, with an introduction by R. Schwartz Cowan, London: Frank Cass, 1970), 260. 35. See F. Galton, 'Hereditary Talent and Character', Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. 12 (1865), 157-66 and 318-27, and Hereditary Genius (London: Macmillan 1865), reprint of second edition (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1972). 36. See, e.g., Galton, Hereditary Genius, op. cit. note 35. 37. Ibid., 415. 38. This was never published. The surviving fragments are reproduced in Karl Pearson, The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton, Vol. IIIA (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930), 411-25. 39. Ibid., 414. 40. Mothers and daughters, it is worth noting, scarcely figured in Galton's eugenic thought except as the transmitters of hereditary ability. 41. On the other hand it seems likely (although I have no conclusive evidence on this point) that few eugenists would have had working class parents, and thus that few would have had difficulty in seeing themselves as instances of inheritance of ability. Further, the view of social status as determined by individual energy and ability rather than (say) collective activity arguably corresponds more closely to the educational and work experience of the professional middle class than to that of other social groups. On this point see the material cited by A. Giddens, The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies (London: Hutchinson, 1973), 185. 42. EES, Sixth Annual Report (1913-14), 7. 43. EES, Seventh Annual Report (1914-15), 4-5. 44. See Karl Pearson, 'The Function of Science in the Modern State', Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. XXXII (London: Adam and Charles Black, 10th edition, 1902), vii-xxxvii, for a detailed educational blueprint based on eugenics. The deep and persistent role of crypto-eugenic arguments in British educational thought and policy is indicated by B. Simon, Intelligence, Psychology and Education (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971) and is a subject worth further study. 45. See his Efficiency and Empire (London: Methuen, 1901). 46. For Karl Pearson, see my forthcoming University of Edinburgh PhD thesis; for Jane Hume Clapperton, her Scientific Meliorism and the Evolution of Happiness (London: Kegan Paul, 1885) and Farrall, op. cit. note 4, 32-34; for Webb's views, The Decline in the Birth-Rate (London: Fabian Society 1907; Fabian Tract No. 131); for Wells, W.J. Hyde, 'The Socialism of H.G. Wells in the Early Twentieth Century',. ournal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 17 (1956), 21734; for Shaw, whose 'extremism' on the subject of marriage and monogamy terrified most eugenists, see the Preface to Man and Superman (Harmondsworth, Middx.: Penguin, 1972). 47. Eric Hobsbawm, 'The Fabians Reconsidered', in his Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1968), 268. 48. Ibid., 253. 49. Ibid., 258. 50. Ibid. 51. Ibid., 259. 52. Ibid., 266. 53. F. Galton, 'The Possible Improvement of the Human Breed, under the existing Conditions of Law and Sentiment', reprinted in his Essays in Eugenics,


Eugenics in Britain


op. cit. note 16, 1-34. 54. Ibid., 11. 55. Ibid., 20. 56. Gareth Stedman Jones, Outcast London (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971). 57. Ibid., 10-11. 58. Quoted, ibid., 12. 59. Ibid., 99. 60. For the most serious distrubances (those of the mid-1880s) see ibid., 290-96. 61. Galton, Hereditary Genius, op. cit. note 35, 395-96. 62. See Bentley Gilbert, The Evolution of National Insurance in Great Britain (London: Michael Joseph, 1966), 85 ff., for different responses to the scare. 63. See Jones, op. cit. note 56, 241-61. 64. See Farrall, op. cit. note 4; B. Semmel, Imperialism and Social Reform: English Social Imperial Thought, 1895-1914 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1960); and G. Searle, The Quest for National Efficiency (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971). 65. See, for example, White, op. cit. note 45, and the works of Karl Pearson, for this argument. 66. See Jones, op. cit. note 56, passim., for some of these proposals. 67. See, for example, Arold White, Problems of a Great City (London: Remington, 4th edition, 1895), first published in 1886. 68. Karl Pearson, National Life from the Standpoint of Science (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1901); White, op. cit. note 45. 69. White, op. cit. note 45, xiii. 70. The letter is in Karl Pearson, op. cit. note 38, 24243. 71. EES, Sixth Annual Report (1913-14), 5-6. See Farrall, op. cit. note 4, 23847, for the political activities of the EES. 72. In Nature, Vol. 137 (1936), 45. Quoted by P.G. Werskey in his article 'Nature and Politics between the Wars', Nature, Vol. 224 (1969), 462-72. 73. Interviews with students of Fisher have convinced me of this point. 74. P.G. Werskey, 'British Scientists and "Outsider" Politics 1931-1945', in S.B. Barnes (ed.), Sociology of Science(Harmondsworth, Middx.: Penguin, 1972), 252. The British Union of Fascists employed eugenic rhetoric. See Sheila Rowbotham, Hidden from History (London: Pluto, 1973), 151. 75. See the Eugenics Review, Vol. 25 (1933-4) and Vol. 26 (1934-5), passim. 76. For a far fuller account, see Waterman, op. cit. note 4. 77. For discussion of Christian attitudes to eugenics by churchmen sympathetic to eugenics, see W.R. Inge, 'Some Moral Aspects of Eugenics', Eugenics Review, Vol. 1 (1909-10), 26-36; J.H.F. Peile, 'Eugenics and the Church, Eugenics Review, Vol. 1 (1909-10), 163-73; Inge, 'Eugenics and Religion', Eugenics Review, Vol. 12 (1920-21), 257-65. 78. This attitude comes over clearly, if idiosyncratically, in G.K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils (London: Cassell, 1922), in which eugenics is condemned from a Christian, anti-scientistic and anti-industrial point of view. 79. Quoted by Rowbotham, op. cit. note 74, 152. Stella Browne, a member of the Communist Party until 1923, was important as a pioneer of birth control and abortion law reform.


Social Studies of Science

80. M.D. Eder, 'Good Breeding or Eugenics', The New Age (23 May, 13 June, 18 July and 25 July 1908). Copies of these articles are in the press-cutting file of the Eugenics Society for September, 1907, to September 1908. 81. See P. Gary Werskey, The Visible College: a Study of Left-Wing Scientists in Britain, 1918-1939 (PhD Thesis, Harvard University, 1972), for the radical scientists' movement. it is worth noting, however, that Haldane, for example, in fact shared the eugenists' hereditarianism and to a large degree their elitism. What was attacked was the specifically right-wing and fascist forms taken by eugenics in the 1930s. 82. The nearest approach is perhaps L.T. Hobhouse who attacked eugenics from the point of view of an activist, reforming Liberalism, arguing that progress was ethical and social rather than racial. But even he accepted particular eugenic measures such as control of the 'feeble-minded'. L.T. Hobhouse, Social Evolution and Political Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1911). 83. See Farrall, op. cit. note 4, 250-82. Many eugenists, however, disagreed with Pearson on this. 84. The term 'middle class radicalism' is taken from the account of the CND in F. Parkin,Middle Class Radicalism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1968). 85. Farrall, op. cit. note 4, 293. 86. Parkin, op. cit. note 84, 51. 87. The speech by Sir Keith Joseph, in which he argued that 'the balance of our population, our human stock is threatened', although subsequently largely retracted, may be a harbinger of this. See the report in The Observer (20 October 1974). 88. N. Poulantzas, Classes in Contemporary Capitalism (London: New Left Books, 1975). 89. From Farrall, op. cit. note 4, 221. 90. Ibid., 227. 91. As listed, ibid., 220, footnote 37.

eugenics in britain  

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