> Visual History

« Back to Visual History

Harry Laughlin was the Superintendent of the Eugenics Records Office in Cold Spring Harbor, on Long Island. There he plotted with others to save the "Nordic Race" in America from being overrun by fast-breeding "degenerates." He was an active participant in the Congressional hearings that led to the Johnson-Reed Act (1924) which closed down immigration for those groups seen as a threat to Aryan supremacy in the United States.

He was also the author of a model forced-sterilization law, designed to be appeal proof. The law was passed in Virginia and provided the framework for a Supreme Court test case regarding the forced sterilization of a woman named Carrie Buck. Buck, sent to an asylum for the feeble-minded for being the second in her family line to have a child out of wedlock, was set up by the Eugenics movement even though her pregnancy was the result of being raped by the nephew of her guardian after her mother, Emma Buck, was incarcerated after being deemed feeble-minded for bearing an "illegitimate child," Carrie.

In his opinion on the case, "Buck v Bell," delivered in 1927, Supreme Court Associate Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. defended the idea of protecting the nation's gene pool, announcing that "three generations of imbeciles are enough" (counting Carrie's 8-month old baby who had likewise been diagnosed as "feeble-minded). This made the Eugenics movement's goal of state-sanctioned forced sterilization the law of the land.

With the rise of the Nazis, Eugenics began to get a bad name in the United States, even though the Third Reich had imported much of its thinking about breeding and cutting off bloodlines from the American Eugenics movement. In a tribute to his contribution to the protection of the Aryan race, Harry Laughlin was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Heidelberg in 1938.