Who were the British Eugenicists?

5 May 2008, 17:00 - 18:30

Room 606, Centre for Family Research

Matt Reed (History, University of Cambridge)

Abstract

In the first decades of the twentieth century, eugenics was thought of by many people as the logical consequence of the latest scientific discoveries in heredity. Eugenic legislation was advocated and supported by a pressure group, the Eugenics Education Society, among others, and the activities of the eugenicists were reported in the popular press as well as small-circulation journals. People from the spheres of philanthropy and medicine put forward the eugenic viewpoint in various Royal Commissions, but the eugenicists were also aware that they had a popular reputation as cranks. Who were the supporters of eugenics, and how did they fit eugenics into their broader political outlooks?


There were few ideological positions incompatible with eugenic views, but hostility to eugenics was also spread across the political spectrum. In some contemporary debates, particularly on state provision of welfare and the endowment of motherhood, eugenic arguments were used to support both sides of the argument. Invariably, contemporary attitudes to class, marriage and the role of women were blended into the supposedly scientific programmes suggested by the eugenicists as invisible and unquestioned assumptions.

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