Eugenics Essay

Eugenics Essay

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Taken from the Greek word eugenes meaning ‘good in stock’ the term ‘eugenics’ was coined in 1883 By Francis Galton (1822-1911). Today it is defined by the OED as ‘Pertaining or adapted to the production of fine offspring, esp. in the human race.’ We will attempt to explain what eugenics was within in the context of its time and how it was to be applied to humans. We will also attempt to identify who its supporters were and the many different reasons why the eugenic doctrine appealed to them.
The problem of what to do about the urban poor had been a continuing worry for the middle classes since the mid nineteenth century. Concerns about criminality, vice and poverty widened from the 1870s onwards and by the 1880s the East End of London represented a corruption that threatened the continued success of the British race. The harsh winter of 1885-6 led the poor and unemployed to demonstrate against their conditions in Trafalgar Square. Unemployed dock and building workers rioted in Hyde Park. Tensions ran high and the prosperous middle classes of the West End lived in real fear of the ‘mob’ swamping them. Breeding at a rapid rate, there was a threat that they would outbreed the strongest members of society . A solution needed to be found to solve the problem of the poor masses threatening encroachment on the middle class.
Galton, a polymath, was a cousin of Charles Darwin, whose work Origin of the Species led Galton to ponder whether man could be bred selectively in the same way as farmyard animals. To assign the laws of animal breeding to man, Galton sought to find proof that desirable characteristics are hereditary. By studying the most eminent and successful men of his day he discovered that many were related and concluded that t...


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...eugenic doctrine was malleable and could be twisted to suit a variety of social campaigners. For the Fabian Socialists, eugenics offered the possibility of a bureaucratic utopia. The middle classes could use the eugenic movement to preserve their social status and rid society of the residuum. For philanthropists, the poverty and disease of the poor could be eliminated by eugenic practice, and for women’s rights activists, the eugenics debate presented them with their first opportunity to have a say about their reproductive rights and it could be argued that the movement was used by women to advance their position and gain further rights that could never have been achieved by protest alone. Some historians believe that eugenic discussion was deployed within feminism in an attempt to seize and remodel the presiding socio-scientific discourse for subversive ends.



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