The Jukes and Kallikaks “Studies”

Posted on January 2, 2018 By

by John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from the book The Roots of Racism and Abortion: An Exploration of Eugenics, pp. 52-54

In 1877, Richard Dugdale published a study of a family whom he called the “Jukes” family. He referred to a mother several generations back in the family as “Margaret, the mother of criminals,” and then studied her descendants. He said that in 75 years, her descendants had cost the state of New York over $1.25 million—which, at the end of the 19th century, was a stupendous sum of money. Dugdale’s book became very fashionable, and many other people wrote similar studies.

Henry Goddard, a member of the AES [American Eugenics Society], published a book in 1912, tracing the descendants of a man whom he called Martin Kallikak, a fictitious name for a Revolutionary War soldier. According to Goddard’s account, Martin seduced a feeble-minded girl, and she produced a feeble-minded son, who had 480 descendants (as of 1912). Of the 480, Goddard said, 33 were sexually immoral, 24 were drunkards, three were epileptics, and 143 were feeble-minded. To clarify the case, Goddard claimed that Martin married a young woman of normal intelligence, and they had 496 descendants, with no feeble-minded children at all. Goddard’s study seemed to provide evidence for a link between bad genes, feeblemindedness and immoral behavior.

Among the books in the new literary genre, the Kallikak case history was the most dramatic, and was cited often. The point of all the stories, of course, was that feeble-minded people multiply like hamsters, dragging society down more and more in each generation. Allowing them to breed just makes a bad problem worse.

Writers used Goddard’s study to stir up prejudice against the disabled and to build support for eugenics programs. For example, in her book Woman and the New Race, Margaret Sanger (AES member) wrote: “The offspring of one feebleminded man named Jukes has cost the public in one way and another $1,800,000 in seventy-five years. Do we want more such families?”

Goddard’s work went beyond his effort to link bad genes, weak brains and poor morals. He was one of the pioneers in the effort to measure intelligence. Like [Francis] Galton, he believed that intelligence was an innate ability, rather than a set of abilities that a child develops under supervision and training. Like Galton, he thought that intelligence could be measured on a sliding scale.

Galton’s ideas about measuring intelligence attracted researchers in Europe and America. In France, Alfred Binet (1857-1911) developed tests to measure intelligence, and Lewis Terman (1877-1956) of Stanford University revised them for the United States. Terman was also a member of the Advisory Council of the AES. The Stanford-Binet tests are still used to measure one’s intelligence quotient, or IQ.

Goddard did research at the Training School for Feebleminded Boys and Girls in southern New Jersey, and he invented the word “moron” to describe some of the children there. Moron is the Greek word for fool, and Goddard used it to refer to people with an IQ of 50 to 75.

Goddard was on a committee that developed IQ tests for the Army in World War I. Robert Means Yerkes (AES member) organized IQ testing for 1.7 million US Army recruits in 1919, and summarized his findings in Psychological Examining in the United States Army. This was the report that led to Henry Fairfield Osborn’s nasty remark that World War I was worth the bloodshed because this book came out of it, and showed “once and for all that the negro is not like us.”


For other excerpts from this book, see:

Plato’s Words about Eugenics

Sterilizing the “Unfit”

Post World War II Eugenics

Eugenics in Roe v. Wade


For more of our blog posts on racism, see:

Historical Black Voices: Racism Kills 

The Poor Cry Out for Justice, and We Respond with Legalized Abortion (Graciela Olivarez)

More than Double the Trouble: Another Way of Connecting (intersectionality)


disability rightseugenicsracism

  1. Roger Wilco says:

    Where is Kermit Gosnell when we need him most?

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