Eugenics And Population Policy Research Paper

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Population policy refers to control of human reproduction by legislation or other official means for a given population of people (state, nation, social class, etc.). It involves setting goals for such population parameters as total size, maintenance of stability, and rates of growth. Population policy includes programs such as the privately funded contraception program introduced into India in the 1950s by the Rockefeller Foundation, and publicly-funded programs such as those promoted throughout the Third World by the United States Agency for International Development and by China’s official policy limiting families to two children. Although we are accustomed to thinking of population policies being aimed at reducing birth rate, policies such as the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception that increase birth rate, also represents a form of population policy.

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Population policy should be distinguished from what is known as family planning or birth control. The latter refers to decisions within a given family regarding when to start having children, how many children to have, their spacing apart, etc. Organizationally, in the West family planning is represented by groups such as Planned Parenthood, but occurs through a variety of individual channels in most cultures. Population policy and family planning have areas of overlap in that population policy can only be effected at the level of the individual reproductive process. Both population policy and family planning birth control include efforts to increase as well as decrease birth rate.

In Western Europe and the United States in the twentieth century population policy has often been associated with eugenics. The term ‘Eugenics,’ derived from the Greek ευγενη , or eugenes, and was first coined by English statistician Francis Galton (1822–1911) in his book Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development to refer to one born ‘good in stock, hereditarily endowed with noble qualities’ (Galton 1883). As an intellectual and social movement in the early twentieth century, eugenics came to mean, in the words of one of its strongest American supporters Charles B. Davenport (1866–1944), ‘the science of human improvement by better breeding’ (Davenport 1910). For both Galton and Davenport, better breeding implied improving the hereditary quality of the human species by the scientific principles of heredity. Eugenics was the human counterpart of scientific animal and plant husbandry. It seemed ironic to eugenicists that human beings paid such careful attention to the pedigrees of their farm and domestic stock, while ignoring the pedigrees of their children.

Eugenicists wanted to develop population policies that dealt not only with quantity but also the quality of children being born. In this sense they sought to increase the reproductive rate of that segment of the population deemed to be biologically (meaning genetically) well-endowed ( positive eugenics), and limit or prevent the reproduction of that segment of the population deemed to be biologically inferior or degenerate (negative eugenics). Eugenicists were concerned about what they saw as the increased reproductive rate of inferior (meaning working class and lower socioeconomic) classes, compared to superior people (meaning the middle and upper classes). While they were concerned with the inheritance of physical abnormalities such as hemophilia, color-blindness, brachydactyly (shortened digits), and debilitating diseases such as Huntington’s chorea (all recognized to be genetic prior to 1910), eugenicists were ultimately more interested in human behavioral and personality traits—including mental ability, mental illness, ‘moral degeneracy,’ and criminality, to list only a few—all of which they claimed were genetically determined to a significant degree. Eugenics represented one of the earliest theories in the twentieth century to be based on biological, or genetic determinism (the idea that genes determine more of what a person is like, both in personality as well as in physical traits, than environment; eugenics took the side of ‘nature’ in the long-standing nature-nurture debate).

Although the term ‘eugenics’ and the idea behind it were Galton’s, he himself did not found a movement either to develop eugenics as a ‘science’ or to put its principles into practice. Eugenics movements did not begin to arise in various countries of Europe or the United States until the first decade of the twentieth century, nor did they become generally effective in promoting social and political programs nationally or internationally until after 1910. The earliest eugenics movements were founded in Germany in 1904, in Britain in 1907, and in the United States in 1908–10. Other eugenics movements appeared subsequently around the world: in Western Europe (France, Norway, Spain), Russia, Latin America (Cuba, Brazil, Mexico), in Canada, and Asia (Japan). However, it was in the United States, Britain, and Germany where eugenics as an intellectual and social movement reached its greatest strides and from eugenicists’ point of view, greatest ideological and political results.

One of the acknowledged leaders of eugenics on an international level was American Charles B. Davenport. Although somewhat eccentric, Davenport was a highly respected biologist, with a Ph.D. from Harvard (1891), where he subsequently served on the faculty for a decade (1891–1900). Between 1900 and 1904 he taught at the University of Chicago before obtaining funds from the Carnegie Institution of Washington to establish his own research laboratory, the Station for the Experimental Study of Evolution (SESE) at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island (New York). In 1909 Davenport convinced the Harriman family of New York to establish a second institution, the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), also at Cold Spring Harbor to serve as a center for eugenical research, a clearing-house for exchange of eugenic information, a repository for eugenic data, and an organizational center for eugenic education and propaganda. Heading the ERO was Davenport’s chief administrative aide, Harry Hamilton Laughlin, formerly a teacher of agricultural sciences at the Kirksville Normal School in Missouri.

In its claim to be scientific, eugenics drew heavily on the newly discovered work of Gregor Mendel, the Moravian monk who, in 1866, had published a paper on breeding patterns in peas. Although ignored for the next 35 years, in 1900 Mendel’s paper was recognized for its path breaking approach to the problems of heredity by three investigators, more or less independently. By the time of World War I the Mendelian principles of heredity were being applied with great success to many varieties of animals and plants, including humans. It was in this atmosphere that eugenics flourished. It was hailed as a scientific solution to recurrent social problems. If alcoholism, criminality, pauperism, and feeblemindedness were all determined by genes, then the way to eliminate these problems would be to prevent the reproduction of those individuals thought to carry those genes. As eugenic ideas spread, other centers of eugenics activity arose in the United States, England, and in Europe: the Eugenics Research Association (ERA) and the American Eugenic Society (AES), both in the US, the Eugenics Education Society (England), and the Gesellschaft fur Rassenhygiene (Society for Racial Hygiene) in Germany, among many others.

1. Eugenic Research: Its Aims And Problems

Since eugenicists could not carry out planned matings in the manner of laboratory geneticists, the family pedigree chart was the main analytical means for displaying and analyzing data on the heredity of one or another trait. Information was collected from among a group of relatives, and it was displayed as a family pedigree chart, emphasizing that traits ran in families and thus how heredity influenced many behavioral, personality, and mental traits (see Table 1). Although Davenport was acknowledged in many ways as the intellectual and scientific leader of American eugenics, his research was often naive, careless, and overstated. Even Galton and his protege Karl Pearson, felt that despite Davenport’s enthusiasm, he was ‘not a clear, strong thinker’ (Kevles 1985). His claim that complex mental and behavioral traits were almost exclusively controlled by one or two Mendelian genes, ignored the complexity of human mental development and claimed that thalassophilia, or ‘love of the sea,’ was a sex-linked Mendelian recessive appearing in the families of prominent US naval officers (Davenport 1919). That the condition must be sex-linked was clear to Davenport, since in pedigree after pedigree only males in the various families he studied became naval officers. When one of his friends, a professional psychiatrist, criticized him for lumping complex human behaviors into single categories such as ‘insanity,’ Davenport dismissed the criticism as uninformed (Kevles 1985). Such simplistic Mendelian arguments were then extended from individuals to large groups as a way of explaining the differences between racial, ethnic, and national groups.

Eugenics And Population Policy Research Paper

Because of their concern with the apparent rise in ‘feeblemindedness’ eugenicists embraced the nascent psychometric movement (intelligence testing) starting as early as 1912. In that year Henry H. Goddard administered a version of the French Binet-Simon test to immigrants at Ellis Island. Although the Binet-Simon test was intended to measure only an individual’s mental functioning at a given point in time, Goddard and a host of psychometricians in the United States, England, and Germany considered that it also measured innate, or genetically determined intelligence. Goddard coined the term ‘feeblemindedness’ (which he claimed was genetic) to refer to those people who scored below a given level (70) on his tests, and claimed that it ‘was a condition of the mind or brain which is transmitted as regularly and surely as color of hair or eyes’ (Kevles 1985). It was Goddard who carried out the famous study of the Kallikak family, showing what was presumed to be the hereditary effects of feeblemindedness and degeneracy (Goddard 1912). Most of the early psychometricians such as Lewis Terman and Robert Yerkes were members of the American Eugenics Society, while both Yerkes and Terman sat on the Society’s Committee on Psychometrics. For eugenicists, the new mental tests were seen as a precise, quantitative tool for measuring an otherwise elusive, but fundamental human trait. Like their British professional, middle-class counterparts, psychometricians felt that the scientifically-trained expert could at last solve with rational and scientific methods the social problems that muddle headed politicians and social workers had been unable to solve during the preceding century.

A major problem with eugenic research was that it quickly fell behind the work being done by geneticists in laboratories throughout the world. By the 1920s many geneticists had come to recognize that genes (collectively, known as the organism’s genotype) interact with one another (a phenomenon known as epistasis) and with the environment to produce any given trait (the organism’s phenotype). The interaction of genes with one another and environmental factors (for example, temperature, drugs, diet) was found to alter the gene’s expression in profound ways, yielding a variety of alternative phenotypes from the same genotype. Even the position of a gene along the length of its chromosome turned out to affect the way that gene is expressed. This malleability, or plasticity, of the genotype-phenotype relationship meant that even knowing the genotype of the offspring at conception did not provide a certain means of predicting the phenotype. Eugenicists’ understanding of Mendelian heredity seems to have become frozen in time somewhere around 1910–5. While they coat-tailed on much of the exciting new work in genetics in the 1920s and 1930s, it is apparent that many eugenicists did not really understand it fully, or take to heart its implications for their social programs.

2. Eugenics And Legislation Of Reproductive Policy

In the United States Harry H. Laughlin was particularly active in lobbying for the passage of a number of state eugenical sterilization laws in the 1920s and 1930s (Chase 1977, Kuhl 1993). Indeed, Laughlin drew up a ‘Model Sterilization Law’ that served as a prototype from which each state could derive its own modified version (Laughlin 1920). Although the earliest such laws had been passed before World War I, the majority was established during the interwar period (Reilly 1992). Eugenical sterilization was aimed specifically at those individuals in mental or penal institutions who, from family pedigree analysis, were considered likely to give birth to ‘socially defective’ offspring. Sterilization could be ordered only after a patient had been examined by a eugenics committee, usually composed of a lawyer or family member representing the individual, a judge, and a doctor or other eugenic ‘expert’ (Reilly 1992).

Between 1907 (when the first such law was put into effect in Indiana) and 1941, over 38,000 eugenical sterilizations were performed in the United States, with California leading all other states (Reilly 1992). By the early 1960s, the number had risen to some 60,000 (Robitscher 1973). The most famous of the sterilization cases in the US was that of Carrie Buck in Virginia. When Virginia passed its eugenical sterilization law in 1924, a test case was arranged the next year to determine if the law was constitutional. Buck s Bell was tried in 1925 in the Virginia Circuit Court (Lombardo 1985). When the lower court ruled in favor of the law, an appeal was sent to the Supreme Court of the United States, where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the majority report. In upholding the lower court ruling, Holmes made his oft-repeated assertion: ‘Three generations of imbeciles are enough.’ More to the legal point, Holmes claimed that: ‘The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes’ (Reilly 1992). Laughlin’s model sterilization law also served as the basis for a similar law in Germany passed by the National Socialist government in 1933 (Chase 1977). For this effort, as well as for his enthusiastic support of Nazi eugenic programs, Laughlin was awarded an honorary doctorate from Heidelberg University on the occasion of its 550th anniversary celebration in 1936: three years after the Nazis had come to power and two years after their sweeping sterilization act had gone into effect (Allen 1987).

3. Criticism Of Eugenics, 1925–50

Almost from the beginning many of the basic premises of eugenics were brought under critical scrutiny by biologists, medical doctors, social workers, and lay persons from all walks of life. Among the first and most important critics from the biological side was Thomas Hunt Morgan, the Drosophila geneticist at Columbia University and, in 1933 the first recipient of the Nobel Prize for work done in genetics, and one of the earliest members of the Committee on Animal Breeding of the American Breeders’ Association (a Committee that had taken on itself organizing the first eugenic activities in the US). In a personal letter sent to his close friend Davenport in 1915, Morgan resigned from the Committee, explaining that the claims being made on behalf of eugenics were exaggerated beyond what any scientific evidence could support (Allen 1978). Although Morgan did not criticize eugenical work in print at the time, from 1925 on, starting with his book E olution and Genetics (Morgan 1925) he publicly chastised eugenicists for lumping many mental behavioral conditions together under a rubric like ‘feeblemindedness’ and treating it as if it had a single underlying cause. Especially critical, he noted, was the fact that personality and social traits were the most malleable of our characteristics, and hence the most difficult in which to tease apart the relative contributions of heredity and environment:

The important point … is that mental traits in man are those that are most often the product of the environment which obscures to a large extent their inheritance, or at least makes very difficult their study (Morgan 1925).

The pedigree charts on which Mendelian analyses were based, were also strongly criticized by Morgan and others as giving the impression of tracing genetically determined transmission when, of course, they equally well could be interpreted as showing culturally-determined effects:

The pedigrees that have been published showing a long history of social misconduct, crime alcoholism, debauchery and venereal disease are open to the same criticism from a genetic point of view; for it is obvious that these groups of individuals have lived under demoralizing social conditions that might swamp a family of average persons. It is not surprising that, once begun from whatever cause, the effects may be to a large extent communicated [socially] rather than inherited [genetically] (Morgan 1925).

Pedigree charts do not separate ‘nature’ from ‘nurture.’

Other geneticists followed suit. Raymond Pearl, a geneticist and supporter of general eugenical principles at Johns Hopkins University, also voiced public criticism of eugenicists claims, especially those regarding the supposed biological inferiority of various racial and ethnic groups (Pearl 1927). Along with his colleague Herbert Spencer Jennings, Pearl felt that propagandists like Laughlin, Madison Grant, and others made claims that went far beyond any reasonable evidence (Barkan 1992). Jennings devoted the better part of the ensuing decade (after 1924) to lecturing all over the United States about the dangers of oversimplified and racially based eugenical claims. H. J. Muller, a student of Morgan’s, and later himself to become a Nobel laureate in genetics, delivered a searing attack on ‘old style’ eugenics at the Third International Eugenics Congress in New York City in 1932 (Muller 1932). Muller, who still harbored strong eugenical beliefs, argued that until the economic and social environment could be equalized it would be impossible to know how much of any individual’s ‘social inadequacy’ was due to heredity and how much to environment (see also Ward 1935, and for a review, Paul 1984). Much of feeblemindedness might be due to poor maternal diet during pregnancy or during the early years of childhood, or to maternal drug and alcohol use; although these effects might appear at a superficial glance to be genetic, they had nothing to do with defective germ plasm. The same point was made also by influential Danish plant breeder Wilhelm Johannsen, who wrote:

There is no reason to assume that the weak and sickly would represent the genetically inferior stock: they could be individuals of the same [hereditary] value as children from higher social classes who are better cared for (Hansen, in Broberg and Roll-Hansen 1995).

English mathematician/geneticist and sometime eugenics critic Lancelot Hogben made one of the clearest statements at the time about the over-simplified concept of genetics that informed much of the eugenics movement:

No statement about a genetic difference has any scientific meaning unless it includes or implies a specification of the Environment in which it manifests itself in a particular manner (Ward 1935).

In 1934, a special blue-ribbon committee of the British government published the Brock Report (named for its chairman, Laurence B. Brock, head of the Joint Committee on Mental Deficiency), outlining difficulties in determining the relative contribution of genetics to mental deficiency. Among others, the Committee included Ronald A. Fisher, himself a staunch eugenicist but also one of the world’s foremost statisticians and population geneticists. The Brock Report agreed with the criticisms of eugenics put forward a few years earlier by Lionel Penrose, who had demonstrated that the category of ‘feeblemindedness’ was ill-defined; was used carelessly and indiscriminately to cover a host of mental problems; was caused in many cases by disease and social deprivation; and for the most part little was known of the genetic cause of mental disability (Kevles 1985). As the Brock Report stated:

the more closely individual records are examined the more difficult it becomes to fix on one cause to the exclusion of others, or to say with certainty that the genetic endowment of any individual is such that it must produce a given result (Kevles 1985).

An even more comprehensive and devastating critique of the whole range of eugenic claims was published by the American Neurological Association in the mid-1930s, just a few years after the appearance of the Brock Report (Myerson et al. 1936). Work for the book was funded by the Carnegie Foundation through the New York Academy of Sciences. Like the Brock Report the findings of the Myerson Committee found that by the mid-1930s abundant evidence was available throwing into doubt such well-accepted eugenical beliefs as: (a) the vast number of mental and moral/personality traits are genetically determined; (b) environment (upbringing) plays a relatively minor role in the development of mental and personality traits; and (c) sterilization is the most effective means of reducing the frequency of socially inadequate behavior in future generations.

The Myerson Committee supported many of the general conclusions of the Brock Report. Citing the work of Morgan, Jennings, and others in the US, and that of J. B. vs. Haldane in England the authors argued that we do not know ‘enough about the mental diseases and the effects of the social structure to manipulate in a successful way the procreation of the race’ (Myerson et al. 1936). The level of genetic knowledge was too slight to formulate any social policies or carry out any specific manipulations guaranteed to alter the genetic basis of future generations.

More specifically, Myerson et al. found that eugenicists consistently downplayed the role of the environment in the development of mental and behavioral problems, even when it seemed obvious that social and economic conditions must be playing a highly significant role. H. vs. Jennings at Johns Hopkins University made the same point, emphasizing that ‘environment’ included the internal, cellular, as well as external environment in affecting how genes were expressed. Even if a person is clearly shown to have a genetic defect, as in hereditary thyroid deficiencies, Jennings argued, the condition can be treated with dietary and/or drug supplements, which can restore normal function. A whole host of human anatomical and physiological conditions that were clearly genetic did not need to be debilitating or limiting to the individual, according to Jennings, because in many cases we possess the technological means to restore, or at least compensate for, the genetic defect. Genetics, according to Jennings, was not destiny (Jennings 1927). For eugenicists, however, it was, and this remained one of the underlying assumptions of hereditarian thinking from the past to the present.

On the eve of World War II (literally one week before), another strong criticism of eugenical thinking emerged as the ‘Geneticists’ Manifesto,’ a document signed in early August, 1939, by a group of geneticists assembled in Edinburgh at the VIIth International Congress of Genetics. Among the major initiators were J. B. vs. Haldane and Lancelot Hogben (England), and Hermann Joseph Muller (United States). The Manifesto put forth Muller’s argument that from a genetics point of view as long as vast disparities in wealth and access to resources continued to exist in Western societies, no claims could be made about the relative contribution of heredity over environment to human mental capacity and social behavior (Chase 1977). They condemned racialist thinking, especially the attempt to rank races with respect to one another on the basis of genetic worth. The geneticists who initiated and signed the Manifesto were among the most well-known and respected workers in the field during the twentieth century.

In the period after World War II overt criticisms of eugenics and eugenical thinking became more widespread. Revelation of Nazi atrocities committed in the name of eugenics played an important role in this change of attitude. In addition, hard-line eugenicists such as Davenport, Laughlin, Grant, and others on the American scene were retired or deceased by the end of the war, and were replaced by what historian Daniel J. Kevles has dubbed moderate, or ‘reform eugenicists.’ Although it might be questioned how really ‘reformed’ these eugenicists were, it is clear they were more knowledgeable about the nuances of what traits genes might and might not control, less overtly racist, and more modest in their claims for what eugenics might accomplish. Partly because of the criticism, it was difficult for the field of human genetics to get a fresh start after the war, and many geneticists shied away from dealing with human heredity (Kevles 1985, pp. 193ff., Ludmerer 1972). Textbooks and other writings on human genetics were careful to distinguish themselves from old style eugenic thinking (Ludmerer 1972). Laurence H. Snyder’s Human Genetics (1951), for example, stated clearly: ‘We should hesitate at accepting without careful analysis the claims and recommendations that are present in a large portion of the eugenics literature.’ An understanding of the historical development of the eugenics movement, Snyder went on to say, would suggest ‘why professionally trained geneticists, on the whole, have given relatively little support to eugenic theories and programs’ (Ludmerer 1972). Anthropologist and prolific popular writer Ashley Montague echoed the same feeling in his 1959 Human Heredity when he wrote that much unfortunate public policy—by which he meant immigration restriction and state sterilization laws— had been based on ‘the ill-considered, prejudiced, and unscientific judgments of the late Harry Laughlin … Madison Grant … and Charles Benedict Davenport’ (Montague 1959, pp. 25–6). And, in 1960, the American Medical Association came out with a report, A Reappraisal of Eugenic Sterilization Laws, that called into question virtually all the assumptions of the old eugenic movement.

Despite these severe criticisms, eugenics continued to thrive in the Scandinavian countries and especially in Nazi Germany (Proctor 1988). After passage of the sterilization laws in 1934, the Nazi government enacted the first of the infamous Nuremberg Laws in 1935, dismissing Jewish and half-Jewish citizens from state jobs (including all university positions) and prohibiting marriage between Aryans and Jews and other ‘non-Nordic’ groups. Doctors were required to report to the Reich Health Department cases of what they deemed to be hereditary diseases among their patients. After the large-scale deportation to concentration camps, many doctors became involved in a variety of genetic and other studies, including painful and deadly experiments, on twins. All in all, the Nazis carried eugenic principles further than in any other country of Western Europe or North America.

4. Later Development Of The American Eugenics Movement

The period of greatest growth and political influence of eugenics ideology in the United States occurred between 1920 and 1935. By the mid-1930s American eugenics began to experience a decline in general popularity and in political effectiveness (Haller 1963, Ludmerer 1972, Paul 1995). Scholars have disagreed on the extent to which the movement went into ‘decline’ in the United States, or the reasons for its change of fortune. Clearly, both the depression of 1929–33 and reports of Nazi eugenics in the American press played some part in a general disaffection with eugenical principles. In the depression people without jobs became ‘paupers’ and ‘social inadequates’ overnight with no change in their genetic make-up, while in Germany the wholesale sterilization of those deemed biologically inferior demonstrated the logical conclusion to which eugenic principles could lead.

An additional factor may have been the recognition that American eugenicists were out of touch with the most recent findings of laboratory genetics. Davenport and Laughlin’s simple unit-character concept did not square with recent experimental data suggesting that most traits were produced by the interaction of many genes, and that the evidence for a genetic basis of complex human social behaviors was almost nonexistent. Nonetheless, it is the opinion of historian of science Diane Paul, among others, that neither the scientific criticisms nor the pre-war use of eugenics by the Nazi government had much influence on the movement’s decline. More specifically, G. E. Allen argues that a major cause for the decline of eugenics was that the movement had served the purposes of the economic elites (Rockefellers, Harrimans, Kelloggs, Carnegies) whose philanthropies had supported it. That function was to try and bring science to bear on the solution of social problems in a period rocked by violent labor-capital confrontations, and by the rise of a variety of social problems engendered by rapid industrialization and urbanization (Allen 1986). Whatever the exact causes, what has been labeled ‘mainline’ or ‘old-style’ eugenics was losing favor in the US and England especially, by the late 1930s; symbolically, the Carnegie Institution of Washington withdrew funding for the Eugenics Record Office by late 1939, and it closed on December 31 of that year (Allen 1986). Secretary of the American Eugenics Society, Frederick Osborn, retired railway executive and nephew of American Museum of Natural History President, Henry Fairfield Osborn (a wealthy-elite New York family who supported eugenics in a variety of ways), has been described as a ‘moderate’ among eugenicists, perhaps a misleading term but nonetheless signaling the different twist that he gave to eugenics in the postwar period (Mehler 1988). That approach did not involve a rejection of eugenic ideology or goals, but a toning down of the overtly racist claims and simplistic genetic analyses put forward by Davenport, Laughlin, Grant, and others of their generation. The face of eugenics had begun to change, even if the principles at its core remained largely the same.

5. Eugenics And Population Control

As early as 1926 Raymond Pearl of Johns Hopkins University claimed that eugenicists had focused too much attention on the quality of offspring from particular (usually ‘degenerate’) families, and had lost sight of the equally important issue of the rapid birth rate of the biologically ‘degenerate’ at home and abroad. In a series of scientific and popular articles he began to articulate the ideology of population control. While critical of much of the current eugenical propaganda, Pearl did not disavow basic eugenical principles. He simply emphasized the importance of quantitative as well as qualitative considerations.

In the aftermath of World War II the United States emerged as a contender for global power, inheriting the mantle of international economic and political involvement that had previously been carried by the British and, to a lesser extent, the French. In 1952 President Dwight D. Eisenhower formed a blue-ribbon panel, headed by David Rockefeller of the Chase National (later Chase-Manhattan) Bank, to evaluate the future prospects for US industrial and commercial expansion around the world. In the same year, the Rockefeller Foundation organized a conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, under the direction of John D. Rockefeller III, to study what Pearl had highlighted as the ‘population problem.’

The blue-ribbon panel concluded that the single greatest obstacle to US industrial expansion (meaning access to cheap raw materials, labor, and ultimately markets) was the rapid population growth occurring in most Third World countries. Such population increases not only required the retention of more of countries’ raw materials (including agricultural products) at home, but also fueled local revolutionary movements aimed at eliminating foreign control. Not surprisingly, the Williamsburg conference called for the formation of an organization to look into methods for controlling population growth. Out of this meeting came the proposal for establishing the Population Council, with Rockefeller funds and John D. III himself as President. Frederick Osborn, still Secretary of the American Eugenics Society at the time, soon took over as Council President, running both organizations out of his office in Rockefeller Center in New York.

One of the first major projects of the Council was the funding of investigations of various forms of birth control, including the IUD (intra-uterine device), and eventually, the first birth-control pill (Watkins 1998). Initial trials in Puerto Rico beginning in April 1956, led to field studies in other Third World countries such as India and Pakistan. One of the major incentives used to promote these studies was the economic benefit that would accrue to families that had fewer children. That such pilot population control movements encountered considerable resistance in the countries where they were introduced, suggested that local people saw the matter quite differently. The programs provided a lesson in the cultural and social components of reproductive life. For many in agricultural, Third World countries, large families were the only way to insure some manner of economic survival. Children worked on farms at an early age, and thus more than earned their ‘keep,’ while large families often provided the only form of old-age insurance in countries that lacked programs for the elderly. This lesson is still one to be learned by leading political and many environmental and conservation groups, who continue to advocate population control as the major agenda for Third World countries. Today, for example, the United States Agency for Inter- national Development, a branch of the State Department, devotes a significant portion of its budget to its Population Office. Programs emerging from USAID support population control programs in over 20 Third World countries. Eugenic ideology is still providing as a basis for population policy throughout much of the industrialized world.


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