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Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom

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Wendy Kline's lucid cultural history of eugenics in America emphasizes the movement's central, continuing interaction with popular notions of gender and morality. Kline shows how eugenics could seem a viable solution to problems of moral disorder and sexuality, especially female sexuality, during the first half of the twentieth century. Its appeal to social conscience and Wendy Kline's lucid cultural history of eugenics in America emphasizes the movement's central, continuing interaction with popular notions of gender and morality. Kline shows how eugenics could seem a viable solution to problems of moral disorder and sexuality, especially female sexuality, during the first half of the twentieth century. Its appeal to social conscience and shared desires to strengthen the family and civilization sparked widespread public as well as scientific interest. Kline traces this growing public interest by looking at a variety of sources, including the astonishing "morality masque" that climaxed the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition; the nationwide correspondence of the influential Human Betterment Foundation in Pasadena, California; the medical and patient records of a "model" state institution that sterilized thousands of allegedly feebleminded women in California between 1900 and 1960; the surprising political and popular support for sterilization that survived initial interest in, and then disassociation from, Nazi eugenics policies; and a widely publicized court case in 1936 involving the sterilization of a wealthy young woman deemed unworthy by her mother of having children. Kline's engaging account reflects the shift from "negative eugenics" (preventing procreation of the "unfit") to "positive eugenics," which encouraged procreation of the "fit," and it reveals that the "golden age" of eugenics actually occurred long after most historians claim the movement had vanished. The middle-class "passion for parenthood" in the '50s had its roots, she finds, in the positive eugenics campaign of the '30s and '40s. Many issues that originated in the eugenics movement remain controversial today, such as the use of IQ testing, the medical ethics of sterilization, the moral and legal implications of cloning and genetic screening, and even the debate on family values of the 1990s. Building a Better Race not only places eugenics at the center of modern reevaluations of female sexuality and morality but also acknowledges eugenics as an essential aspect of major social and cultural movements in the twentieth century.


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Wendy Kline's lucid cultural history of eugenics in America emphasizes the movement's central, continuing interaction with popular notions of gender and morality. Kline shows how eugenics could seem a viable solution to problems of moral disorder and sexuality, especially female sexuality, during the first half of the twentieth century. Its appeal to social conscience and Wendy Kline's lucid cultural history of eugenics in America emphasizes the movement's central, continuing interaction with popular notions of gender and morality. Kline shows how eugenics could seem a viable solution to problems of moral disorder and sexuality, especially female sexuality, during the first half of the twentieth century. Its appeal to social conscience and shared desires to strengthen the family and civilization sparked widespread public as well as scientific interest. Kline traces this growing public interest by looking at a variety of sources, including the astonishing "morality masque" that climaxed the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition; the nationwide correspondence of the influential Human Betterment Foundation in Pasadena, California; the medical and patient records of a "model" state institution that sterilized thousands of allegedly feebleminded women in California between 1900 and 1960; the surprising political and popular support for sterilization that survived initial interest in, and then disassociation from, Nazi eugenics policies; and a widely publicized court case in 1936 involving the sterilization of a wealthy young woman deemed unworthy by her mother of having children. Kline's engaging account reflects the shift from "negative eugenics" (preventing procreation of the "unfit") to "positive eugenics," which encouraged procreation of the "fit," and it reveals that the "golden age" of eugenics actually occurred long after most historians claim the movement had vanished. The middle-class "passion for parenthood" in the '50s had its roots, she finds, in the positive eugenics campaign of the '30s and '40s. Many issues that originated in the eugenics movement remain controversial today, such as the use of IQ testing, the medical ethics of sterilization, the moral and legal implications of cloning and genetic screening, and even the debate on family values of the 1990s. Building a Better Race not only places eugenics at the center of modern reevaluations of female sexuality and morality but also acknowledges eugenics as an essential aspect of major social and cultural movements in the twentieth century.

30 review for Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom

  1. 4 out of 5

    Max

    Neat info but kinda a drag to read (even though it’s pretty short) and she’s got this very funky tendency to look for bright sides to eugenics; even in the acknowledgments she finds common ground with eugenicists? Worth a read, her research is cool, it just doesn’t seem like she goes as far as she could and her politics sorta confuse me

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Fascinating reading, although I am using it to write my research paper. Seemed a bit repetitive in places. Interesting fact: California started the sterilization of undesirables, Germany was interested, so we gave them the info that Hitler used to start his cleansing. In the 1930s.

  3. 5 out of 5

    mega them

    An enlightening and horrifying survey of the history of eugenics in the 20th century. Clearly shows how eugenics did not disappear from American culture in the 30s, but instead simply took on a new form in America's obsession with the nuclear family. An enlightening and horrifying survey of the history of eugenics in the 20th century. Clearly shows how eugenics did not disappear from American culture in the 30s, but instead simply took on a new form in America's obsession with the nuclear family.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Isabella

    This book was a fascinating read! It gave me a greater understanding of 20th century gender discrimination within the context of the discussion of eugenics. Chapter 5 and the Epilogue were particularly interesting. Disclaimer, this isn’t a light read, and its content probably won’t make for solid dinner party chat.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Penni Echeverria

    Very interesting and very informative. I have read one other book about eugenics, so some of the information contained in this book was not new to me, but still just as appalling. The author discusses negative eugenics ( the segregation and sterilization of the "unfit") and positive eugenics ( the promotion of marriage and motherhood of the white middle class for the betterment of the race). A couple of my favorite outrageous quotes: The "aggressive, overactive wife" was likely to be a discontente Very interesting and very informative. I have read one other book about eugenics, so some of the information contained in this book was not new to me, but still just as appalling. The author discusses negative eugenics ( the segregation and sterilization of the "unfit") and positive eugenics ( the promotion of marriage and motherhood of the white middle class for the betterment of the race). A couple of my favorite outrageous quotes: The "aggressive, overactive wife" was likely to be a discontented partner, while a wife " dominated by her husband is often quite happy." ( Paul Popenoe, one of the nations most influential eugenicists) "for the American girl books and babies don't mix" (Newsweek, 1946) I guess we need to give up our book club, girls. Hahahahaha!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    We read this in my Gender and Science course. It is the most compelling book that I've read on eugenics -- and that's saying something! The sharper focus on gender, race, and sexuality is refreshing -- as is the stronger attention to public reactions to eugenics. Really, my only complaint about the book is that the title makes the book sound more wide-reaching than the content actually is. The book focuses mainly on California -- which, admittedly, was a major bellwether for eugenics in the US, a We read this in my Gender and Science course. It is the most compelling book that I've read on eugenics -- and that's saying something! The sharper focus on gender, race, and sexuality is refreshing -- as is the stronger attention to public reactions to eugenics. Really, my only complaint about the book is that the title makes the book sound more wide-reaching than the content actually is. The book focuses mainly on California -- which, admittedly, was a major bellwether for eugenics in the US, and whose sterilization law was the direct model for the Nazis' version. But I get irked when a book's title and jacket description don't acknowledge the book's geographic specificity.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kate O'connor

    By far my favorite book about the history of Eugenics. It is an approachable text that clearly outlines many of the factors which led to the eugenic movement in the 20th century. Further, she shows how eugenics is still alive and well in many respects with conservative organizations that push for only "fit" or "proper" families. A must read for anyone interested in history, race, sexuality, or modern politics. By far my favorite book about the history of Eugenics. It is an approachable text that clearly outlines many of the factors which led to the eugenic movement in the 20th century. Further, she shows how eugenics is still alive and well in many respects with conservative organizations that push for only "fit" or "proper" families. A must read for anyone interested in history, race, sexuality, or modern politics.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nils

    Contains a very useful account of the sterilization movement in California, and a thoughtful accounting of how it reflected changing sexual mores and was enabled by the advancing technology of sterilization. Not much transnational context.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mason

    A rather plodding analysis of otherwise fascinating source material. Kline tends to repeat herself, making and remaking the same point ad nauseam, but the untold history of California's eugenics movement is riveting enough to make up for the shortcomings in the writing itself. A rather plodding analysis of otherwise fascinating source material. Kline tends to repeat herself, making and remaking the same point ad nauseam, but the untold history of California's eugenics movement is riveting enough to make up for the shortcomings in the writing itself.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Randy

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melanie McAllaster

  12. 5 out of 5

    John Hunt

  13. 4 out of 5

    Hannah K

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Marshall

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bren

  17. 4 out of 5

    Grace

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marissa

  19. 4 out of 5

    Beano.santiago

  20. 5 out of 5

    Holly Barton

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jill

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jaala

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

  25. 5 out of 5

    Christine (TheOtherChristineThatReads) McMillan

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alok Vaid-Menon

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kat

  29. 4 out of 5

    Heather Carrillo

  30. 5 out of 5

    Derek

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