Cornell economics professor Walter F. Willcox is a leading authority on the science of eugenics. Last year he spoke on its rooting in statistics, a subject also recently addressed by Dr. Charles B. Davenport of the Carnegie Institution. Last night he spoke on its purpose and methods.
The purpose of eugenics, Dr. Willcox explained, is “to do for our highly civilized existence what natural selection does for plants, animals and savages. That is, it seeks to perpetrate only the best elements in society and to destroy the worst.” One wonders whether there is anyone in Europe who might be agreeable to such an approach.
The “repressive” branch of eugenics, he elaborated, has “accomplished tangible results,” through legislation, in three areas: (1) the “almost universal . . . compulsory confinement of feeble-minded persons”; (2) mandatory sterilization of criminals; and (3) the requirement of a health certificate as a prerequisite to marriage.
The “constructive” branch of eugenics, he said, “is infinitely more complicated”:
“One of the most deplorable phases of our modern life, from a eugenic standpoint, is the fact that our college men and women, supposed to represent the best element in our social fabric, are marrying in steadily decreasing numbers,” said [Willcox] . . . . Not only are fewer college people marrying, but they are entering matrimony later in life, and those who do marry have very small families . . . .
Theoretically, Dr. Willcox noted, one might by legislation “encourage early marriages and large families among those who are recognized as being notably beneficial in the community.” But practically speaking “constructive eugenics” can proceed mainly by influencing public opinion to encourage “the best elements in our society” to marry satisfactorily early and raise very large families. In that way only can our social fabric be materially improved.”