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

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

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

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

Synopsis

""Building a Better Race powerfully demonstrates the centrality of eugenics during the first half of the twentieth century. Kline persuasively uncovers eugenics' unexpected centrality to modern assumptions about marriage, the family, and morality, even as late as the 1950s. The book is full of surprising connections and stories, and provides crucial new perspectives illuminating the history of eugenics, gender and normative twentieth-century sexuality."--Gail Bederman, author of "Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the US, 1880-1917

"A strikingly fresh approach to eugenics.... Kline's work places eugenicists squarely at the center of modern reevaluations of females sexuality, sexual morality in general, changing gender roles, and modernizing family ideology. She insists that eugenic ideas had more power and were less marginal in public discourse than other historians have indicated."--Regina Morantz-Sanchez, author of "Conduct Unbecoming a Woman: Medicine on Trial in Turn-of-the-Century Brooklyn

Excerpt

“The American woman is the leader of the awakened social conscience in a country-wide crusade that is cooperating to build a better race, ” declared Progressive reformer Mabel Potter Daggett in 1912. Between 1900 and 1960, this “country-wide crusade” to strengthen family and civilization by regulating fertility—more commonly known as eugenics —developed into a powerful and popular ideal. The extraordinary story of how this crusade came about and why Americans found it appealing is noticeably absent from most studies of American culture. Yet if we continue to approach eugenics as merely an embarrassing mistake with little historical significance, we will never understand the movement 's powerful appeal to generations of Americans concerned about the future of morality and civilization.

In the early twentieth century, what Sigmund Freud called the “civilized morality” of the white middle class began to lose ground. Social observers noted the decaying morality of American youth, particularly working-class girls who refused to abide by genteel standards of Victorian femininity. By the 1920s, “civilized morality” had been replaced by what enthusiasts termed the “new morality.” One female supporter announced triumphantly in 1924 the “first result of the new morality”: “women are demanding a reality in their relations with men that heretofore has been lacking, and they refuse longer to cater to the traditional notions of them created by men.” Whereas “civilized morality” promoted female passionlessness and public reticence about sex, the “new morality” celebrated an equality of desire between the sexes. “The myth of the pure woman is at . . .

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