Thursday, February 29, 2024

"Human defectives"

His name is all over Madison. The University has chosen not to remove it from one of its more prominent buildings but, instead, install a plaque. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this morning:
[Charles] Van Hise received four degrees from UW-Madison, including the first Ph.D. degree granted by the university. He is the university's longest serving leader, serving as president from 1903 until his death in 1918. During his tenure, UW-Madison established a graduate division, founded a medical school and increased its faculty from 200 to 750 professors. ....

[Van Hise's] interest in [eugenics] came from reading Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species. Letters between Van Hise and his wife show he was curious about how to apply the ideas of animal evolution and natural selection to the human race, according to Luccini Butcher.

Van Hise lectured on eugenics, gave public speeches and talked to legislators. In one of his speeches, he said “[h]uman defectives should no longer be allowed to propagate the race" and sterilization "might be the proper method."

In another speech, Van Hise said “[w]e know enough about the breeding of animals so that if that knowledge were applied to man, the feeble minded would disappear in a generation, and the insane and criminal class be reduced to a small fraction of their present numbers.”

Van Hise wasn't the only academic espousing eugenics during this time. Edward Ross, a UW-Madison sociologist, also advanced the idea.

UW-Madison in 1910 established the country's first department of experimental breeding, which was initially led by Leon Cole, another eugenicist. The department is today called the genetics department.

Academics gave the eugenics movement legitimacy and helped drive the Wisconsin sterilization law passed in 1913. The law forced sterilization for "undesirables" at the discretion of medical professionals. The state conducted nearly 2,000 sterilizations, the 11th highest in the country.

Wisconsin repealed its sterilization law in 1978. ....

Eugenics was not widely supported when the law was in place, Luccini Butcher said. Many people saw it as an overstepping by the state. The Catholic Church, in particular, opposed forced sterilization. .... (more)

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