CHAPTER 3: America's National Biology
America was ready for eugenics before eugenics was ready for America. What in England was the biology of class, in America became the biology of racial and ethnic groups. In America, class was, in large measure, racial and ethnic.
Everything Galtonian eugenics hoped to accomplish with good matrimonial choices, American eugenicists preferred to achieve with draconian preventive measures designed to delete millions of potential citizens deemed unfit. American eugenicists were convinced they could forcibly reshape humanity in their own image. Their outlook was only possible because American eugenicists believed the unfit were essentially subhuman, not worthy of developing as members of society. The unfit were diseased, something akin to a genetic infection. This infection was to be quarantined and then eliminated. Their method of choice was selective breeding -- spaying and cutting away the undesirable, while carefully mating and grooming the prized stock.
Breeding was in America's blood. America had been breeding humans even before the nation's inception. Slavery thrived on human breeding. Only the heartiest Africans could endure the cruel middle passage to North America. Once offloaded, the surviving Africans were paraded atop auction stages for inspection of their physical traits. 
Notions of breeding society into betterment were never far from post- Civil War American thought. In 1865, two decades before Galton penned the word eugenics, the utopian Oneida Community in upstate New York declared in its newspaper that, "Human breeding should be one of the foremost questions of the age .... " A few years later, with freshly expounded Galtonian notions crossing the Atlantic, the Oneida commune began its first selective human breeding experiment with fifty-three female and thirty-eight male volunteers. 
Feminist author Victoria Woodhull expressed the growing belief that both positive and negative breeding were indispensable for social improvement. In her 1891 pamphlet, The Rapid Multiplication of the Unfit, Woodhull insisted, "The best minds of today have accepted the fact that if superior people are desired, they must be bred; and if imbeciles, criminals, paupers and [the] otherwise unfit are undesirable citizens they must not be bred." 
America was ready for eugenic breeding precisely because the most established echelons of American society were frightened by the demographic chaos sweeping the nation. England had certainly witnessed a mass influx of foreigners during the years leading up to Galton's eugenic doctrine. But the scale in Britain was dwarfed by America's experience. So were the emotions.
America's romantic "melting pot" notion was a myth. It did not exist when turn-of-the-century British playwright Israel Zangwill optimistically coined the term.  In Zangwill's day, America's shores, as well as the three thousand miles in between, were actually a cauldron of undissolvable minorities, ethnicities, indigenous peoples and other tightly-knit groups -- all constantly boiling over.
Eighteen million refugees and opportunity-seeking immigrants arrived between 1890 and 1920. German Lutherans, Irish Catholics, Russian Jews, Slavic Orthodox -- one huddled mass surged in after another.  But they did not mix or melt; for the most part they remained insoluble.
But ethnic volatility during the late 1800s arose from more than the European influx. Race and group hatred crisscrossed the continent. Millions of Native Americans were being forced onto reservations. Mexican multitudes absorbed after the Mexican-American War, in which Mexico lost fully half its land to United States expansion, became a clash point in the enlarged American West and Southwest. Emancipated African slaves struggled to emerge across the country. But freed slaves and their next generation were not absorbed into greater society. Instead, a network of state and local Jim Crow laws enforced apartheid between African Americans and whites in much of the nation, especially in the South. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 temporarily halted the immigration through California of any further Chinese laborers, and blocked the naturalization of those already in the country; the measure was made permanent in 1902. 
"Race suicide" was an alarum commonly invoked to restrict European immigration, as 1880 Census Bureau Director Francis Walker did in his 1896 Atlantic Monthly article, "Restriction of Immigration." Walker lamented the statistical imbalance between America's traditional Anglo- Saxon settlers and the new waves flowing in from southern Europe. Eminent sociologist E.A. Ross elevated the avoidance of "race suicide" to a patriotic admonishment, decrying "the beaten members of beaten breeds" from Croatia, Sicily and Armenia flooding in through Ellis Island. Ross warned that such groups "lack the ancestral foundations of American character, and even if they catch step with us they and their children will nevertheless impede our progress." 
As the nineteenth century closed, women still could not vote, Native Americans who had survived governmental genocide programs were locked onto often-barren reservations, and Blacks, as well as despised "white trash," were still commonly lynched from the nearest tree -- from Minnesota to Mississippi. In fact, 3,224 Americans were lynched in the thirty-year period between 1889 and 1918 -- 702 white and 2,522 black. Their crimes were as trivial as uttering offensive language, disobeying ferry regulations, "paying attention to [a] white girl," and distilling illicit alcohol. 
The century ahead was advertised as an epoch for social progress. But the ushers of that progress would be men and women forged from the racial and cultural fires of prior decades. Many twentieth-century activists were repelled by the inequities and lasting scars of racial and social injustice; they were determined to transform America into an egalitarian republic. But others, especially American eugenicists, switched on the lights of the new century, looked around at the teeming, dissimilar masses and collectively declared they had unfinished business.
Crime analysis moved race and ethnic hatred into the realm of heredity. Throughout the latter 1800s, crime was increasingly viewed as a group phenomenon, and indeed an inherited family trait. Criminologists and social scientists widely believed in the recently identified "criminal type," typified by "beady eyes" and certain phrenological shapes. The notion of a "born criminal" became popularized.  Ironically, when robber barons stole and cheated their way into great wealth, they were lionized as noble leaders of the day, celebrated with namesake foundations, and honored by leather-bound genealogies often adorned with coats of arms. It was the petty criminals, not the gilded ones, whom polite society perceived as the great genetic menace.
Petty criminals and social outcasts were abundant in Ulster County, New York. Little did these seemingly inconsequential people know they were making history. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, this rustic Catskill Mountain region became a popular refuge for urban dropouts who preferred to live off the land in pastoral isolation. Fish and game were abundant. The lifestyle was lazy. Civilization was yonder. But as wealthy New Yorkers followed the Hudson River traffic north, planting opulent Victorian mansions and weekend pleasure centers along its banks, the very urbanization that Ulster's upland recluses spurned caught up to them. Pushed from their traditional fishing shores and hillside hunting grounds, where they lived in shanties, the isolated, unkempt rural folk of Ulster now became "misfits." Not a few of them ran afoul of property and behavior laws, which became increasingly important as the county's population grew.  Many found themselves jailed for the very lifestyle that had become a local tradition.
In 1874, Richard Dugdale, an executive of the New York Prison Association, conducted interviews with a number of Ulster County's prisoners and discovered that many were blood relatives. Consulting genealogies, courthouse and poorhouse records, Dugdale documented the lineages of no fewer than forty-two families heavily comprised of criminals, beggars, vagrants and paupers. He claimed that one group of 709 individuals were all descendants of a single pauper woman, known as Margaret and crowned "mother of criminals." Dugdale collectively dubbed these forty-two troubled families "the Jukes." His 1877 book, The Jukes, a Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity, calculated the escalating annual cost to society for welfare, imprisonment and other social services for each family. The text immediately exerted a vast influence on social scientists across America and around the world. 
While Dugdale's book spared no opportunity to disparage the human qualities of both the simple paupers and the accomplished criminals among the Jukes family, he blamed not their biology, but their circumstances. Rejecting notions of heredity, Dugdale instead zeroed in on the adverse conditions that created generation-to-generation pauperism and criminality. "The tendency of heredity is to produce an environment which perpetuates that heredity," he wrote. He called for a change in social environment to correct the problem, and predicted that serious reform could effect a "great decrease in the number of commitments" within fifteen years. Dugdale cautioned against statistics that inspired false conclusions. He even reminded readers that not a few wealthy clans made their fortunes by cheating the masses -- yet these scandalous people were considered among the nation's finest families. 
But Dugdale's cautions were ignored. His book was quickly hailed as proof of a hereditary defect that spawned excessive criminality and poverty -- even though this was the opposite of what he wrote. For exam pie, Robert Fletcher, president of the Anthropological Society of Washington, insisted in a major 1891 speech that germ plasm ruled, that one criminal bred another. "The taint is in the blood," Fletcher staunchly told his audience, "and there is no royal touch which can expel it .... Quarantine the evil classes as you would the plague." 
The Jukes was the first such book, but not the last. Tribes of paupers, criminals and misfits were tracked and traced in similar books. The Smokey Pilgrims of Kansas, the Jackson Whites of New Jersey, the Hill Folk of Massachusetts and the Nam family of upstate New York were all portrayed as clans of defective, worthless people, a burden to society and a hereditary scourge blocking American progress. Most convincing was a presentation made in 1888 to the Fifteenth National Conference of Charities and Correction by the social reformer Reverend Oscar McCulloch. McCulloch, a Congregationalist minister from Indianapolis, presented a paper entitled Tribe of Ishmael: A Study of Social Degeneration. The widely-reported speech described whole nomadic pauper families dwelling in Indianapolis, all related to a distant forefather from the 1790s. 
Ishmael's descendants were in fact bands of roving petty thieves and con artists who had victimized town and countryside, giving McCulloch plenty of grist for his attack on their heredity. He compared the Ishmael people to the Sacculina parasites that feed off crustaceans. Paupers were inherently of no value to the world, he argued, and would only beget succeeding generations of paupers -- and all "because some remote ancestor left its independent, self-helpful life, and began a parasitic, or pauper life." His research, McCullouch assured, "resembles the study of Dr. Dugdale into the Jukes and was suggested by that." 
Many leading social progressives devoted to charity and reform now saw crime and poverty as inherited defects that needed to be halted for society's sake. When this idea was combined with the widespread racism, class prejudice and ethnic hatred that already existed among the turn-of-the- century intelligentsia -- and was then juxtaposed with the economic costs to society -- it created a fertile reception for the infant field of eugenics. Reformers possessed an ingrained sense that "good Americans" could be bred like good racehorses.
Galton had first pronounced his theory of the well-born in 1883. For the next twenty years, eugenics bounced around America's intellectual circles as a perfectly logical hereditary conclusion consistent with everyday observations. But it lacked specifics. Then, as one of the first sparks of the twentieth century, Gregor Mendel's theory of heredity was rediscovered. True, between 1863 and 1868, various theories of heredity had been published by three men: Spencer, Darwin and Mendel. But while Darwin and Spencer presided with great fanfare in London's epicenter of knowledge, Mendel was alone and overlooked by the world of science he aspired to.
The son of simple mountain peasants, Mendel was not socially adept. Combative exchanges with those in authority made him prefer solitude. "He who does not know how to be alone is not at peace with himself," he wrote. Originally, he had hoped to devote himself to the natural sciences. But he failed at the university and retreated to an Augustinian monastery in Brno, Moravia. There, while tending the gardens, he continued the work of a long line of students of plant hybridization. 
Mendel preferred peas. Peering through flimsy wire-rim glasses into short tubular microscopes and scribbling copious notes, Mendel studied over ten thousand cross-fertilized pea plants. Key differences in their traits could be predicted, depending upon whether he bred tall plants with short plants, or plants yielding smooth pods with plants yielding wrinkled pods. Eventually, he identified certain governing inheritable traits, which he called "dominating" and "recessive." These could be expressed in mathematical equations, or traced in a simple genealogical chart filled with line-linked A's and B's. Among his many conclusions: when pea plants with wrinkled skins were crossed with plants yielding smooth skins, the trait for wrinkled skin dominated.  In other words, the smooth pea pod skin was corrupted by wrinkled stock. Wrinkled pea pods ultimately became a powerful image to those who found the human simile compelling.
Mendel's scientific paper, describing ten years of tedious work, was presented to a local scientific society in Brno and mailed to several prominent biologists in Europe, but it was ignored by the scientific world. Mendel grew more unhappy with the rejection. His combative exchanges with local officials on unrelated issues were so embarrassing to the order that when Mendel died in 1884, the monastery burned all his notes. 
In May of 1900, however, the esteemed British naturalist and Darwin disciple William Bateson unexpectedly discovered references to Mendel's laws of heredity in three separate papers. The three papers were independently researched and simultaneously submitted by three different students. Amazed at Mendel's findings, an excited Bateson announced to the world through the Royal Horticultural Society that he had "rediscovered" Mendel's crucial studies in plant heredity. The science that Bateson called genetics was born. Mendel's laws became widely discussed throughout the horticultural world. 
But Galton's eugenic followers understood that the biological arithmetic of peapods, cattle and other lower species did not ordain the futures of the most complex organism on earth: Homo sapiens. Height, hair color, eye color and other physical attributes could be partially explained in Mendelian terms. But intelligent, thought-driven humans beings were too subtle, too impressionable, too variable and too unpredictable to be reduced to a horticultural equation. Man's environment and living conditions were inherent to his development. Nutrition, prenatal and childhood circumstances, disease, injury, and upbringing itself were all decisive, albeit not completely understood, factors that intervened in the development of any individual. Some of the best people came from the worst homes, and some of the worst people came from the best homes.
Hence, during the first decade of the twentieth century, as Mendel was being debated, most Galtonian eugenicists admitted that their ideas were still too scantily clad to be called science, too steeped in simple statistics rather than astute medical knowledge, too preliminary to even venture into the far-reaching enterprise of organized human breeding. Eugenics was all just theory and guesswork anyway. For example, in 1904 Galton wrote to his colleague Bateson seeking any initial evidence of "Mendelianism in Man," suggesting that any data could contribute to what he still called a "theoretical point of view." In another 1904 letter, Galton reminded Bateson, "I do indeed fervently hope that exact knowledge may be gradually attained and established beyond question, and I wish you and your collaborators all success in your attempts to obtain it." 
As late as 1910, Galton's most important disciple, mathematician Karl Pearson, head of the Eugenics Laboratory, admitted just how thin their knowledge was. In a scientific paper treating eugenics and alcoholism, Pearson confessed, "The writers of this paper are fully conscious of the slenderness of their data; they have themselves stated that many of their conclusions are probabilities ... rather than demonstrations. They will no doubt be upbraided with publishing anything at all, either on the ground that what they are dealing with is 'crude and worthless material' or that as 'mathematical outsiders,' they are incapable of dealing with a medico-social problem." Pearson added in a footnote that he also understood why some would find the linkage of eugenics and alcoholism an act of inebriation in itself. He went on to quote a critic: "The educated man and the scientist is as prone as any other to become the victim ... of his prejudices .... He will in defense thereof make shipwreck of both the facts of science and the methods of science ... by perpetrating every form of fallacy, inaccuracy and distortion." 
Galton himself dismissed the whole notion of human breeding as socially impossible -- with or without the elusive data he craved. "We can't mate men and women as we please, like cocks and hens," Galton quipped to Bateson in 1904. At the time, Galton was defending his recently published Index to Achievements of Near Kinfolk, which detailed how talent and skill run in the same celebrated families. Wary of being viewed as an advocate of human breeding, Galton's preface cautioned Mendelian devotees with strong conditionals, ifs and buts. "The experience gained in establishing improved breeds of domestic animals and plants," he wrote, "is a safe guide to speculations on the theoretical possibility of establishing improved breeds of the human race. It is not intended to enter here into such speculations but to emphasize the undoubted fact that members of gifted families are ... more likely ... to produce gifted offspring." 
Nor did Galton believe regulated marriages were a realistic proposition in any democratic society. He knew that "human nature would never brook interference with the freedom of marriage," and admitted as much publicly. In his published memoir, he recounted his original error in suggesting such utopian marriages. "I was too much disposed to think of marriage under some regulation," he conceded, "and not enough of the effects of self-interest and of social and religious sentiment." 
Unable to achieve a level of scientific certainty needed to create a legal eugenic framework in Britain, Galton hoped to recast eugenics as a religious doctrine governing marriages, a creed to be taken on faith without proof. Indeed, faith without proof constitutes the essence of much religious dogma. Eugenical marriage should be "strictly enforced as a religious duty, as the Levirate law ever was," wrote Galton in a long essay, which listed such precedents in the Jewish, Christian and even primitive traditions. He greeted the idea of a religion enthusiastically, suggesting, "It is easy to let the imagination run wild on the supposition of a whole-hearted acceptance of eugenics as a national religion." 
Many of Galton's followers agreed that founding a national religion was the only way eugenics could thrive. Even the playwright George Bernard Shaw, a eugenic extremist, agreed in a 1905 essay that "nothing but a eugenic religion can save our civilization." Late in his life, in 1909, Galton declared that eugenics in a civilized nation would succeed only as "one of its religious tenets." 
But in America, it did not matter that Galton and his followers found themselves fighting for intellectual acceptance with little evidence on their side. Nor did it matter that British eugenic leaders themselves admitted that eugenics did not rise to a level of scientific certainty sufficient to formulate public policy. Nor did it matter that Mendel's newly celebrated laws of heredity might make good sense for peapods, but not for thinking, feeling men, women and children.
In America, racial activists had already convinced themselves that those of different races and ethnic backgrounds considered inferior were no more than a hereditary blight in need of eugenic cleansing. Many noted reformers even joined the choir. For example, in a 1909 article called "Practical Eugenics," the early twentieth-century education pioneer John Franklin Bobbitt insisted, "In primal days was the blood of the race kept high and pure, like mountain streams." He now cautioned that the "highest, purest tributaries to the stream of heredity" were being supplanted by "a rising flood in the muddy, undesirable streams." 
Bobbitt held out little value for the offspring of "worm-eaten stock." Although considered a social progressive, he argued that the laws of nature mandating "survival of the fittest" were constantly being countermanded by charitable endeavors. "Schools and charities," he harangued, "supply crutches to the weak in mind and morals ... [and] corrupt the streams of heredity." Society, he pleaded, must prevent "the weaklings at the bottom from mingling their weakness in human currents." 
Defective humans were not just those carrying obvious diseases or handicaps, but those whose lineages strayed from the Germanic, Nordic and/or white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideal. Bobbitt made clear that only those descended from Teutonic forefathers were of pure blood. In one such remonstration, he reminded, "One must admit the high purity of their blood, their high average sanity, soundness and strength. They were a wellborn, well-weeded race." Eugenic spokesman Madison Grant, trustee of the American Museum of Natural History, stated the belief simply in his popular book, The Passing of the Great Race, writing that Nordics "were the white man par excellence." 
Indeed, the racism of America's first eugenic intellectuals was more than just a movement of whites against nonwhites. They believed that Germans and Nordics comprised the supreme race, and a typical lament among eugenic leaders such as Lothrop Stoddard was that Nordic populations were decreasing. In The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, Stoddard wrote that the Industrial Revolution had attracted squalid Mediterranean peoples who quickly outnumbered the more desirable Nordics. "In the United States, it has been much the same story. Our country, originally settled almost exclusively by Nordics, was toward the close of the nineteenth century invaded by hordes of immigrant Alpines and Mediterraneans, not to mention Asiatic elements like Levantines and Jews. As a result, the Nordic native American has been crowded out with amazing rapidity by these swarming, prolific aliens, and after two short generations, he has in many of our urban areas become almost extinct." Madison Grant agreed: "The term 'Caucasian race' has ceased to have any meaning." 
By no means did the eugenics movement limit its animus to non- English speaking immigrants. It was a movement against non-Nordics regardless of their skin color, language or national origin. For example, Stoddard denigrated the "swart cockney" in Britain "as a resurgence of the primitive Mediterranean stock, and probably a faithful replica of his ancestors of Neolithic times." All mixed breeds were vile. "Where the parent stocks are very diverse," wrote Stoddard, "as [in] matings between whites, Negroes and Amerindians, the offspring is a mongrel -- a walking chaos, so consumed by his jarring heredities that he is quite worthless." 
Grant's tome lionized the long-headed skulls, blue eyes and blond hair of true Nordic stock, and outlined the complex history of Nordic migrations and invasions across Eurasia and into Great Britain. Eventually, these Nordic settlements were supplanted by lesser breeds, who adopted the Nordic and Anglo-Saxon languages but were in fact the carriers of corrupt human strains. 
Indeed, those Americans descended from lower-class Scottish and Irish families were also viewed as a biological menace, being of Mediterranean descent. Brunette hair constituted an ancestral stigma that proved a non- Nordic bloodline. Any claims by such people to Anglo-Saxon descent because of language or nationality were considered fraudulent. Grant railed, "No one can question ... on the streets of London, the contrast between the Piccadilly gentleman of Nordic race and the cockney costermonger [street vendor] of the Neolithic type."  Hence, from Ulster County to the Irish slums of Manhattan, to the Kentucky and Virginia hills, poor whites were reviled by eugenicists not for their ramshackle and destitute lifestyles, but for a heredity that supposedly made pauperism and criminality an inevitable genetic trait.
Even when an individual of the wrong derivation was healthy, intelligent and successful, his existence was considered dangerous. "There are many parents who, in many cases, may themselves be normal, but who produce defective offspring. This great mass of humanity is not only a social menace to the present generation, but it harbors the potential parenthood of the social misfits of our future generations." 
Race mixing was considered race suicide. Grant warned: "The cross between a white man and an Indian is an Indian; the cross between a white man and a Negro is a Negro; the cross between a white man and a Hindu is a Hindu; and the cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew." 
The racial purity and supremacy doctrines embraced by America's pioneer eugenicists were not the ramblings of ignorant, unsophisticated men. They were the carefully considered ideals of some of the nation's most respected and educated figures, each an expert in his scientific or cultural field, each revered for his erudition.
So when the facts about Mendel's pea pods appeared in America in 1900, these influential and eloquent thinkers were able to slap numbers and a few primitive formulas on their class and race hatred, and in so doing create a passion that transcended simple bigotry. Now their bigotry became science -- race science. Now Galtonian eugenics was reborn, recast and redirected in the United States as a purely and uniquely American quest.
To succeed, all American eugenics needed was money and organization.
Enter Andrew Carnegie.
Steel made Andrew Carnegie one of America's wealthiest men. In 1901, the steel magnate sold out to J.P. Morgan for $400 million and retreated from the world of industry. The aging Scotsman would henceforth devote his fortune to philanthropy. The next year, on January 28, 1902, the millionaire endowed his newly created Carnegie Institution with $10 million in bonds, followed by other endowments totaling $12 million. The entity was so wealthy that in 1904, Washington agreed to reincorporate the charity by special act of Congress, chartering the new name "Carnegie Institution of Washington." This made the Carnegie Institution a joint incarnation of the steel man's money and the United States government's cachet. 
The Carnegie Institution was established to be one of the premier scientific organizations of the world, dedicated by charter "to encourage, in the broadest and most liberal manner, investigation, research, and discovery, and the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind." Twenty-four of America's most respected names in science, government and finance were installed as trustees. The celebrated names included National Library of Medicine cofounder John Billings, Secretary of War Elihu Root and philanthropist Cleveland Dodge. Renowned paleontologist John C. Merriam became president. Merriam and his staff were required under the bylaws to closely scrutinize and preapprove all activities, audit all expenditures and regularly publish research results. 
Several principal areas of scholarly investigation were identified from the worthy realms of geophysics, astronomy and plant biology. Now another scientific endeavor would be added: negative eugenics. The program would quickly become known as "the practical means for cutting off defective germ-plasm" and would embrace a gamut of remedies from segregation to sterilization to euthanasia.  This radical human engineering program would spring not from the medical schools and health clinics of America, but from the pastures, barns and chicken coops -- because the advocates of eugenics were primarily plant and animal breeders. Essentially, they believed humans could be spawned and spayed like trout and horses.
America's formless eugenics movement found its leader in zoologist Charles Davenport, a man who would dominate America's human breeding program for decades. Davenport, esteemed for his Harvard degrees and his distinguished background, led the wandering faithful out of the wilderness of pure prejudice and into the stately corridors of respectability. More than anyone else, it was Davenport who propelled baseless American eugenics into settled science -- wielding a powerful sociopolitical imperative.
Who was Charles Benedict Davenport?
He was a sad man. No matter how celebrated Davenport became within his cherished circles, throughout his career he remained a bitter and disconsolate person boxing shadows for personal recognition. Even as he judged the worthiness of his fellow humans, Davenport struggled to prove his own worthiness to his father and to God. Ironically, it was his mother who inspired the conflict between devotion to science and subservience to God that Davenport would never bridge. 
Davenport grew up in Brooklyn Heights as the proud descendent of a long line of English and Colonial New England Congregationalist ministers. His authoritarian father, Amzi Benedict Davenport, did not join the clergy, but nonetheless cloaked his family's world in the heavy mantle of puritanical religion. The elder Davenport's business was real estate. But as a cofounder of two Brooklyn churches -- ruling elder of one and a longtime deacon of the other -- Amzi Davenport infused his household with pure fire and brimstone, along with the principles of commerce and market value. He demanded from his family impossible levels of Bible-thumbing rectitude and imposed an unyielding disdain for joy. 
A close friend described the father's face as one of "bitter unhappiness," and characterized his parental manner as "harsh masterfulness." Charles Davenport was the last of eleven children. Siblings were born like clock work in the Davenport home, every two years. Rigorous and often punishing Gospel studies intruded into every aspect of young Davenport's upbringing, morning and night. The boy's diary records one typical entry about grueling Sunday school lessons. Using personal shorthand and misspelling as a boy would, young Davenport scribbled, "stuiding S.S. lesson from 8:30 A.M. to 9:30 P.M. All day!" Once, it was the day after Christmas, he jotted, "Woke at 6:30 A.M. and was late for prayers. After breakfast father sent me to bed for that reason for two hours." 
Ancestry was a regular theme in the Davenport household. The elder Davenport organized two extensive volumes of family genealogy, tracing his Anglo-Saxon tree back to 1086. That was the year William the Conqueror compiled his massive Domesday census book.  Shades of Davenport's glorified fore bearers must have pursued the boy at every moment.
Yet in the midst of young Davenport's dour, patriarchal domination, his mother Jane was somehow permitted to live a life of irrepressible brightness. A Dutch woman, Jane offered unconditional affection to her children, a wonderful flower garden to delight in, and a fascination with natural history. Young Davenport's refuge from the severe and unapproachable man he trepidatiously called "Pa" was the world of beauty his mother represented. 
When Davenport as a young man escaped from theology into academia, it was to the world of measurable mysteries: science, math and engineering. In doing so, he declared that God's work was not infinite-it could indeed be quantified. That surely spurned the absolutist precepts of his father's sermonizing. Later, Davenport dedicated his first scientific book, Experimental Morphology, "to the memory of the first and most important of my teachers of Natural History -- my mother." Such inscriptions were not a sign of intellectual liberation. Davenport was never quite comfortable with his defection to the world of nature. At one point, he formally requested his father's written permission to study the sciences; seven weeks later he finally received an answer permitting it. His father's written acquiescence hinged on "the question of prime importance, [that] is how much money can you make for yourself and for me." 
After his graduation from Brooklyn Polytechnic, Davenport became a civil engineer. His love of animals and natural history led Davenport to Harvard, where he enrolled in nearly every natural science course offered and quickly secured his doctorate in biology. In the 1890s, he became a zoology instructor at Harvard. Later, he held a similar position at the University of Chicago. 
Long-headed and mustachioed, Davenport always looked squeezed. His goatee created a slender but dense column from chin to lower lip; as he aged, it would fade from black to white. With a deeply parted haircut hanging high above his ears, Davenport's face tapered from round at the top to a distinct point at the inverted apex of his beard. 
Davenport married Gertrude Crotty in 1894. A fellow biologist, Gertrude would continually encourage him to advance in personal finance and career. However, Davenport never escaped his upbringing. Puritanical in his sexual mores, domineering in his own family relationships, inward and awkward in most other ways, Davenport was described by a close lifelong colleague as "a lone man, living a life of his own in the midst of others, feeling out of place in almost any crowd." Worse, while Davenport's thirst for scholarly validation never quenched, he could not tolerate criticism. Hearing adverse comments, reading them, just sensing that rejection might dwell between the lines of a simple correspondence caused Davenport so much distress, he could blurt out the wrong words, sometimes the exact opposite of his intent. Criticism paralyzed him.  Yet this was the scientist who would discover and deliver the evidence that would decide the biological fate of so many.
Davenport's pivotal role as eugenic crusader-in-chief began taking shape at the very end of the nineteenth century. He found a modicum of professional and personal success directing the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences's biological laboratory on Long Island. There, he could apply his precious Harvard training. The quiet, coveside facility at Cold Spring Harbor was located about an hour's train and carriage ride from Manhattan. Situated down the road from the state fish hatchery, and ensconced in a verdant, marshy inlet ideal for marine and mammal life, the biological station allowed Davenport to concentrate on the lowest species. He investigated such organisms as the Australian marine pill bug, which clings to the underside of submerged rocks and feeds on rotted algae. He employed drop nets to dredge for oysters and other mollusks. Flatfish and winter flounder were purchased for spawning studies. 
To supplement his income during school breaks, Davenport, aided by botany instructors from other institutions, offered well-regarded summer courses at Cold Spring Harbor. Students in bacteriology, botany and animal biology from across the nation were attracted to these courses.  Davenport also corresponded with other academic institutions, which pleased him greatly.
While at the Brooklyn Institute's biological station, Davenport became fascinated with Galton. In a series of fawning missives to Galton during the spring of 1897, Davenport praised the British scientist's work, requested his photograph, and ultimately tried to schedule a meeting in London that summer. Galton hardly knew what to make of the unsolicited admiration. "I am much touched," Galton replied to Davenport's earliest praise, "by the extremely kind expression in your letter, though curious that you ascribe to me more than I deserve."  The two exchanged brief notes thereafter. Davenport's were formal and typed. Galton's were scrawled on monarch stationery.
Davenport incorporated the statistical theories of Galton and Galton's disciple, Pearson, into an 1899 book, Statistical Methods with Special Reference to Biological Variation. He wanted the volume to be a serious scientific publication of international merit, and he proudly mailed a copy to Galton for his inspection. Galton penned back a short word of thanks for "your beautiful little book with its kindly and charming lines." Later, Galton sent Davenport some sample fingerprints to examine.  But meteorology, statistics and fingerprints were only the threshold to the real body of Galtonian knowledge that riveted Davenport. The precious revelation for the American biologist was the study of superiority and ancestry, the principle Galton called eugenics.
Eugenics appealed to Davenport not just because his scientific mind was shaped by a moralized world choked with genealogies and ancestral comparisons, but because of his racial views and his obsession with race mixture.  Davenport saw ethnic groups as biologically different beings -- not just physically, but in terms of their character, nature and quality. Most of the non-Nordic types, in Davenport's view, swam at the bottom of the hereditary pool, each featuring its own distinct and indelible adverse genetic features. Italians were predisposed to personal violence. The Irish had "considerable mental defectiveness," while Germans were "thrifty, intelligent, and honest." 
Social reformers may have held out hope that America's melting pot might one day become a reality, but eugenicists such as Davenport's outspoken ally Lothrop Stoddard spoke for the whole movement when he declared, "Above all, there is no more absurd fallacy than the shibboleth of 'the melting pot.' As a matter of fact, the melting pot may mix but does not melt. Each race-type, formed ages ago, and 'set' by millenniums of isolation and inbreeding, is a stubbornly persistent entity. Each type possesses a special set of characters: not merely the physical characters visible to the naked eye, but moral, intellectual and spiritual characters as well. All these characters are transmitted substantially unchanged from generation to generation." 
When Mendel's laws reappeared in 1900, Davenport believed he had finally been touched by the elusive but simple biological truth governing the flocks, fields and the family of man. He once preached abrasively, "I may say that the principles of heredity are the same in man and hogs and sun-flowers."  Enforcing Mendelian laws along racial lines, allowing the superior to thrive and the unfit to disappear, would create a new superior race. A colleague of Davenport's remembered him passionately shaking as he chanted a mantra in favor of better genetic material: "Protoplasm. We want more protoplasm!" 
Shortly after the Carnegie Institution appeared in 1902, in its pre- Congressional form, Davenport acted to harness the institution's vast financial power and prestige to launch his eugenic crusade. The Carnegie Institution was just months old, when on April 21, 1902, Davenport outlined a plan for the institution to establish a Biological Experiment Station at Cold Spring Harbor "to investigate ... the method of Evolution." Total initial cost was estimated to be $32,000. 
By the time Davenport penned his formal proposal to Carnegie trustees two weeks later on May 5, 1902, his intent was unmistakably racial: "The aims of this establishment would be the analytic and experimental study of ... race change." He explained how: "The methods of attacking the problem must be developed as a result of experience. At present, the following seems the most important: Cross-breeding of animals and plants to find the laws of commingling of qualities. The study of the laws and limits of inheritance." Davenport tantalized the trustees with the prospect: "The Carnegie fund offers the opportunity for which the world has so long been waiting." 
Hence from the very start, the trustees of the Carnegie Institution understood that Davenport's plan was a turning-point plan for racial breeding.
Redirecting human evolution had been a personal mission of Davenport's for years, long before he heard of Mendel's laws. He first advocated a human heredity project in 1897 when he addressed a group of naturalists, proposing a large farm for preliminary animal breeding experiments. Davenport called such a project "immensely important." With the Carnegie Institution now receptive to his more grandiose idea, Davenport knew it was important to continue rallying support from the scientific establishment. He convinced the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science, which controlled the lab site at Cold Spring Harbor, to form a prestigious scientific committee to press the "plan for a permanent research laboratory ... in connection with the Carnegie Institution at Washington." 
Knowing Carnegie officials would refer the question to the institution's Zoological Committee, Davenport elicited support from prominent zoologists.  In May of 1902, he sent a letter of tempting intrigue to his friend Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn, director of the New York Zoological Society and the American Museum of Natural History. "I do not think this is the place to tell in detail what I should expect to do," wrote Davenport, adding only, "The station should undertake to do what is impracticable elsewhere." 
Osborn, a like-minded eugenicist, wrote back with encouragement, reporting that Carnegie's committee had considered the general topic before. British eugenicists had already approached Andrew Carnegie directly. But Osborn assured, "I know of no one better qualified to do this work than you." 
Shoring up his knowledge and enlisting wider consensus, Davenport traveled to Europe for four months, where he briefly visited with Galton. The founding eugenicist warned Davenport that any such effort must be a serious scientific enterprise, not just "any attempt at showy work, for the sake of mere show." Untroubled, Davenport traveled to several European marine life research centers gathering academic accord for his project. 
Fresh from his European travels, and fortified with the latest international views on eugenics, Davenport dispatched to the Carnegie Institution a more detailed letter plus a lengthy report on the state of human evolution studies to date. The documents made clear that far-reaching American race policy could not be directed without supportive scientific data based on breeding experiments with lower species. The results of those experiments would be applied in broad strokes to humans. "Improvement of the human race can probably be effected only by understanding and applying these methods," he argued. "How appalling is our ignorance, for example, concerning the effect of a mixture of races as contrasted with pure breeding; a matter of infinite importance in a country like ours containing numerous races and subspecies of men." 
Davenport hoped to craft a super race of Nordics. "Can we build a wall high enough around this country," he asked his colleagues, "so as to keep out these cheaper races, or will it be a feeble dam ... leaving it to our descendants to abandon the country to the blacks, browns and yellows and seek and an asylum in New Zealand." 
Man was still evolving, he reasoned, and that evolution could and should be to a higher plane. Carnegie funds could accelerate and direct that process. "But what are these processes by which man has evolved," posited Davenport, "and which we should know ... in hastening his further evolution." He disputed the value of improved conditions for those considered genetically inferior. He readily admitted that with schooling, training and social benefits, "a person born in the slums can be made a useful man." But that usefulness was limited in the evolutionary scheme of things. No amount of book learning, "finer mental stuff" or "intellectual accumulation" would transfer to the next generation, he insisted, adding that "permanent improvement of the race can only be brought about by breeding the best." 
Drawing on his belief in raceology, Davenport offered the Carnegie trustees an example he knew would resonate: "We have in this country the grave problem of the negro," he wrote, "a race whose mental development is, on the average, far below the average of the Caucasian. Is there a prospect that we may through the education of the individual produce an improved race so that we may hope at last that the negro mind shall be as teachable, as elastic, as original, and as fruitful as the Caucasian's? Or must future generations, indefinitely, start from the same low plane and yield the same meager results? We do not know; we have no data. Prevailing 'opinion' says we must face the latter alternative. If this were so, it would be best to export the black race at once." 
Proof was needed to fuel the social plans the eugenicists and their allies championed. Davenport was sure he could deliver the proof. "As to a person to carry out the proposed work," he wrote Carnegie, "I am ready at the present moment to abandon all other plans for this." To dispel any doubt of his devotion, Davenport told the institution, "I propose to give the rest of my life unreservedly to this work." 
The men of Carnegie were impressed. They said yes.
During 1903, while the esteemed men of the Carnegie Institution were readying their adventure into eugenics, Davenport worked to broaden support for the perception of American eugenics as a genuine science. Since the great men of medicine were, for the most part, devoted to improving individual health, not stunting it, few of them wanted to be affiliated with the nascent movement. So Davenport instead turned to the great men of the stable, the field and the barnyard.
He found a willing ear at the newly established American Breeders Association. The ABA was created in 1903 by the Association of Agricultural Colleges and Experimental Stations, after four years of preparatory effort spurred by a request from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The American government urged animal breeders and seed experts to "join hands." The idea of bringing the two groups together was first suggested to Washington in 1899 by the Hybridizer's Conference in London meeting under the auspices of the Royal Horticultural Society. In light of Mendel's discoveries about peapods, the American government pushed the plan. 
Many breeders were convinced that their emerging Mendelian knowledge about corn and cattle was equally applicable to the inner quality of human beings. A typical declaration came from one New York State breeder: "Every race-horse, every straight-backed bull, every premium pig tells us what we can do and what we must do for man .... The results of suppressing the poorest and breeding from the best would be the same for them as for cattle and sheep." 
At the ABA's first annual meeting in St. Louis during the chilly final days of December 1903, Davenport was well received and elected to the permanent five-man oversight committee. Two organizational sections were established: Plants and Animals. But Davenport prevailed upon the ABA to add a third group, a so-called Eugenics Committee. The establishing resolution declared the committee should "devise methods of recording the values of the blood of individuals, families, people and races." The resolution specified that the goal was to "emphasize the value of superior blood and the menace to society of inferior blood." 
Eventually, Davenport bluntly confessed to an ABA audience: "Society must protect itself; as it claims the right to deprive the murderer of his life, so also it may annihilate the hideous serpent of hopelessly vicious protoplasm." A report to the committee called for broad public awareness through "popular magazine articles, in public lectures ... in circular letters to physicians, teachers, the clergy and legislators." The report decried "such mongrelization as is proceeding on a vast scale in this country .... Shall we not rather take the steps ... to dry up the springs that feed the torrent of defective and degenerate protoplasm?" In the process, the report claimed, the United States would curtail the $100 million in annual expenditures for the destitute, insane, feebleminded, defective and criminal elements-a group comprised of at least two million people. How? The report, circulated to the entire ABA membership and the federal government, was explicit: "By segregation during the reproductive period or even by sterilization." 
Once defectives were eliminated in America, the same methods could be employed worldwide. ABA president Willet Hays, who also served as assistant secretary of agriculture, authored an article entitled "Constructive Eugenics" for American Breeders Magazine, in which he proposed a global solution to all unwanted races. "Eugenic problems are much the same throughout as the problems of plant breeding and animal improvement," wrote Hays, adding, "May we not hope to ... lop off the defective classes below, and also increase the number of the efficient at the top?" His suggestion? A massive international numbering convention, assigning descriptive eleven-digit "number names" to every man, woman and child on earth using census bureaus. By creating a series of nearly 100 billion numbers, for an estimated world population of only 1.5 billion, Hays hoped to enroll "every person now living, any person of whom there is any history, and any person who might be born in the next thousand years .... No two persons would have the same number." These eleven-digit "number names" would not only identify the individual, they would trace his lineage and assign a genetic rating, expressed as a percentage. Methodically, one nation after another would identify its population and eliminate the unwanted strains. "Who, except the prudish, would object if public agencies gave to every person a lineage number and genetic percentage ratings, that the eugenic value of every family and of every person might be available to all who have need of the truth as to the probable efficiency of the offspring." 
On January 19, 1904, the Carnegie Institution formally inaugurated what it called the Station for Experimental Evolution of the Carnegie Institution at bucolic Cold Spring Harbor. Davenport's annual salary was fixed at $3,500 plus travel expenses. It was a significant compensation package for its day. For example, in 1906, the president of the University of Florida received only $2,500 per year, and Northwestern University's librarian earned only $1,200. 
A new building for the experimental station costing $20,000 was approved. Everything would be first class, as it should be, endowed by Andrew Carnegie's fortune. The undertaking was not merely funded by Carnegie, it was an integral part of the Carnegie Institution itself. Letterhead prominently made it clear at the top that the station was wholly part of the Carnegie Institution. Moreover, the purse strings would be tightly held with the smallest activity being considered in advance and authorized after approval. "The sum of $300 [shall] be paid to Prof. Davenport to enable him to procure certain animals for the proposed laboratory," instructed Carnegie's chairman, John Billings, "... provided that he shall furnish properly acceptable vouchers for the expenditure of this money." 
Billings was fastidious about record keeping and supervision. He was one of America's most distinguished citizens. Some would eventually call him "the father of medical and vital statistics" in the United States. He ensured that medical statistics were included in the United States Census of 1880, and he took a leadership role in drawing up the nation's vital statistics for the censuses of 1890 and 1900. During Billings's tenure in the Surgeon General's Office, he was considered America's foremost expert on hygiene. 
Billings and the Carnegie Institution would now mobilize their prestige and the fortune they controlled to help Davenport usher America into an age of a new form of hygiene: racial hygiene. The goal was clear: to eliminate the inadequate and unfit. Now it was time to search the nation, from its busiest metropolises to its most remote regions, methodically identifying exactly which families were qualified to continue and which were not.