Eugenics ideas may have started in Ancient Greece, but it really developed as an influential movement in the USA.
Modern eugenics was first introduced by Francis Galton, who thought of eugenics as a way to improve “human stock”. He promoted the idea of removing deemed “undesirables” and multiplying “desirables”, ensuring a healthy, happy future. Today we would consider this idea wrong; after all, who can say someone is or is not desirable? But in Galton’s era, this ideology was widely accepted.
At first the eugenics movement didn’t have many large scale effects on people’s thinking, but it began growing in influence in the early 1900’s. Desirable people would be encouraged to reproduce, and at many fairs, particularly in the USA, there were competitions to determine families which had the best traits and the most perfect babies. But soon, the eugenics movement evolved, into something much darker.
Eventually, eugenics led to forced sterilisations. The theory was, if someone is ‘undesirable’, they should not be allowed to reproduce, or else they might damage the existing population. Over 20,000 forced sterilizations occurred in the United States of America over the next decade.
Ideas started to ‘pop up’ in political debates, government legislation and correspondence between powerful individuals of the time. The National Archives of Australia holds many quotes from letters about eugenics. For example, V.H. Wallace wrote that eugenics would, “Improve the quality of the Australian population.” Politicians and representatives of Australia also attended several “Eugenics Congresses”, meeting to discuss its value and place in society – and in many cases, how it could be implemented. The National Archives also houses correspondence between countries about the conference.