When we think of eugenics we usually think of Hitler, perhaps the most hated man in history. We are reminded of his plan to get rid of Jews, the mentally ill, homosexuals, and others he considered sub-normal human beings.We may also think of Joseph Mengele, known as the ‘angel of death’, who conducted eugenic experiments at Auschwitz on twins, many of whom were children.
But apparently the idea of eugenics and how to improve the human race by eliminating certain people was an idea that had been around for some time before it erupted in Nazi Germany. Darwin wrote about natural selection, a process in which the best and strongest survive. If this is the case, then the human race should improve naturally. The weak bodied, the weak-minded, those with inherited disabilitating diseases, even homosexuals, it was thought, should naturally disappear in time. But for some in the early 20th-century, natural selection wasn’t doing the job fast enough. What if science accelerated the process of improving human beings so that there would no longer be drug and alcohol addicts, the insane, and the mentally retarded? Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, coined the term ‘eugenics’ in 1883, from its Latin roots meaning ‘good in birth’ or ‘noble heredity’ and it was promoted as a science.
Some well known Americans and British jumped on the bandwagon to improve the human race by eugenics and backed the idea with their money and their writing. As is usual, the ideas filtered across the border into Canada as we will see. Here are a few of those in 20th century America who aided the birth of the so-called ‘science of eugenics’.
Charles Benedict Davenport -(1866-1944)was a Harvard zoologist who said, “Prevent the feeble-minded, drunkards, paupers, sex offenders and the criminalistic from having children or marrying their like, or cousins or any person belonging to a neuropathic strain.”
Harry Hamilton Laughlin (1880-1943), who with Davenport founded the Eugenic Record Office on Long Island, New York with their staff, compiled detailed records on 534,625 Americans whom they considered defective.Sixty thousand of them would face sterilization, the males by forced castration. Their aim was to sterilize fourteen million people in the United States and more worldwide to replace them with ‘pure Nordic stock’. Sound familiar?
Davenport had plenty of funds to accomplish this, but soon the Rockefeller Foundation poured in thousands more. In 1914, John Kellogg, brother of the Cereal King, founded the Race Betterment Foundation in Michigan.
Lucien Howe, was the ophthalmologist who discovered that bathing the eyes of newborns with diluted silver nitrate would save the sight of thousands.But he was an avowed eugenicist and proposed that blind people should be sterilized and forbidden to marry. The state of New York voted against this so it did not become law there.
In some states, prohibitions of marriage between certain races were prohibited: black/white marriages in several states, white/Asian marriages in Montana, white/Native Americans in other states.Delaware criminalized marriages of people on welfare!
Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote the decision that was voted on by the United States Supreme Court to uphold legalizedsterilization. In 1917 there were only 1,422 sterilized people in institutions in the US, but by 1941 there were 38,087. Not surprisingly, public support for sterilization was not strong and the movement against it was aided by the Hearst newspaper which published horror stories ofsterilzaitons
In 1908, Nova Scotia was home of the first ‘eugenics movement’ in Canada when the League for the Care and Protection of Feebleminded Persons was established in the province. In Quebec, Ontario, and elsewhere, academics and physicians worked to enlist others to publicly support eugenics.
The most damaging sterilization program in Canadian history was afforded via the passing of the Alberta Sterilization Act of 1928. Youths, minorities, and women were sterilized in disproportionately high numbers. Indigenous people and Métis, regardless of age, were also targeted making up 25% of the sterilizations performed even though they represented only 2.3% of the general population in Alberta. If the persons were deemed 'mentally defective' no consent was required.
British Columbia’s Sexual Sterilization Act, legislated in 1933 and repealed in 1973, closely resembled Alberta’s legislation. In BC however, t he Act created a Board of Eugenics, consisting of a judge, psychiatrist, and social worker and less people were sterilized there. Many were inmates of Riverview or Essendale Mental Institution.
When the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, they patterned their program of eugenics on American legislation. As well, they received financial assistance from those in the American movement. As we know, it turned into something horrific and 10,000 Jews alone were murdered.Many more who were deemed ‘undesirable’ by the Nazi regime were also killed. When the truth became known at the end of the war, the world recoiled at the very idea of forced sterilization and getting rid of so called ‘inferior’ human beings. Instead it turned to ‘more civilized’ methods of contraception and abortion which was supposed to rescue women from being slaves to their fertility and protect the world from over-population. Those who were deemed the undesirable segments of humanity were targeted. ‘A Woman’s Choice’ was the cry of the day and Margaret Sanger headed a new onslaught on who should be allowed to have babies. We will learn more about Margaret Sanger and this movement in the future articles.
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A few days before he was assassinated, Romero told a reporter, “You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.”
Oscar Romero was born in 1917 in Cuidad Barrios, a small town in the mountains of El Salvador.He left school at the age of twelve and became an apprentice carpenter.He wished to become a priest but his family wanted him to continue studying carpentry. Romero somehow managed to convince his parents that hwe wanted to study for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest in Rome in 1942 and continued to study there for his doctoral degree in theology. For several years after he worked as a parish priest in El Salvador.In 1975 he became the bishop of Santiago de Maria and in 1977 he was appointed the Archbishop of San Salvador. During the 1970’s, El Salvador was wracked by Civil War stemming from a poor economy and a repressive dictatorship.This war between right-wing government and the leftist antigovernment units led to around 30,000 people being killed.The US backed the military dictatorship in spite of its human rights violations.At that time there was a movement of priests who followed Marxist teachings as a solution to El Salvador’s problems and they sided with the poor against the rich landowners and elite of the country. Romero was considered to be predictable, conservative and not concerned with political views by his fellow bishops and priests, the probable reason he was appointed an Archbishop.It was expected that he would carry on as others had before him and would not cause any political ‘waves’. However, Romero let it be known that, although he did not support Liberation Theology, he was on the side of the poor. Shortly after being elected as bishop, a Jesuit priest, Father Rutillo Grande and two of his parishioners were killed.One was a seven year old child.When this happened Bishop Romero truly understood what the farmers were facing and promised to be their shepherd. Romero asked for international intervention but it fell on deaf ears.With one exception, the Bishops of El Salvador turned their back on him and it is said that they sent a letter to Rome accusing him of using politics to seek popularity.In 1980, Romero wrote to the President of the United States asking them to stop sending military aid because he said it was being used to repress the people.They did not stop. On March 23, 1980 he ended a broadcasted homily with, “Brother, you are from the same people ... No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God.In the name of God, in the name of the suffering people, I ask you .... in the name of God to stop the repression.” The day after that speech as Romero was celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel, as he raised the chalice, he was shot by an assassin.His blood spilled over the altar mixing with the wine from the chalice. During his funeral Mass on March 30 a bomb exploded and shots rang out. From 30 to 50 people were killed that day.From this, the people recognized the horror of all the killing and violence in El Salvador finally subsided. In 2012, the United Nations declared the International Day of the Right to the Truth recognizing the contribution of Archbishop Romero. In March 2015, Pope Francis beatified Oscar Romero bringing him one step closer to sainthood.
Saint Marie Among the Hurons, Midland, Ontario
Photo By Pjposullivan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
This year Canada is celebrating 150 years since Confederation.Here is a bit of history of the Catholic Church in Canada and some of the people who helped make Canada.
1535Jacques Cartier arrives in Canada and erects a cross at Saint Servan on the northern coast of the St. Lawrence River
1611 - The first Jesuits arrive in New France (now Quebec)
Samuel de Champlain founds the first Catholic colony in Quebec City.
1615Fr. Joseph Le Caron, a Franciscan arrives in New France
1639St. Marie L’incarnation (a nun of the French Ursuline Order who established the first girls’
school in New France), and Madeline de la Peltrie (a patron of the Ursuline Order) arrive in Quebec
Jesuits establish St. Marie -Among -the Hurons near Midland, Ontario.
1642Jeanne Mance, the first lay nurse in New France, establishes Montreal’s first hospital, Hôtel Dieu de Montréal.
1649Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant are martyred in Saint Ignace near Midland, Ontario.
1659 St. Francois de Laval arrives in Quebec City as its new Bishop.
1659St. Marguerite de Bourgeoys founds the Congregation of Notre-Dame
1737St. Margeurite d’Youville founds the Sisters of Charity in Montreal (The Grey Nuns)
1841Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate arrive in Montreal.
1843Bl. Marie-Rose Durocher founds the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Longueil,
1861Fr. Zépherin Gascon of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) arrives in the Yukon
1864 - Father Lacombe worked among the Cree and Blackfoot aboriginals in Western Canada. 1882 Fr. Lacombe negotiated an agreement with Crowfoot, the Blackfoot leader ,that allowed the railway to pass through Blackfoot land. Crowfoot was given a lifetime pass to travel on the
railway by CPR president as was Lacombe. When the Northwest Rebellion erupted the Prime Minister enlisted Father Lacombe's assistance in assuring the neutrality of the Blackfoot Indians.Fr. Lacombe translated the New Testament into Cree and wrote a grammar and a dictionary as well as a biography of Chief Crowfoot.
1867 -Canada’s Confederation
1873Dominican priests arrive in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec
1873 - Convent of Discalced Carmelites is founded in Montreal
1885 - the transcontinental CPR railway was completed
1939Benedictine Monks establish Westminster Abbey in Mission, BC
1967 - St. Joseph’s Oratory is completed in Montreal.