Alexander Graham Bell letter to Charles Davenport about Eugenics Record Office (2)

In this letter, the American inventor of the telephone argues that the new Eugenics Record Office should devote efforts to studying the inheritance of desirable traits (eugenics) rather than focusing exlcuisvely on undesirable traits (cacogenics).

433. American Breeders' Association David Starr Jordan, Chairman C. B. Davenport, Secretary Eugenics Record Office H.H. Laughlin, Superintendent Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, N. Y. 3. merely the erection of a building, but of a fireproof building and library for the safe custody of eugenical records. Then I think that the main part of the income should be devoted to the study of the inheritance of desirable characteristics rather than undesirable. The appropriations approved at the first meetin of the Board related exclusively to undesirable characteristics (feeble-mindedness, insanity, defective and criminalistic immigrants, and cancer) - cacogenics not eugenical: Why not vary a little from this programme and investigate the inheritance of some desirable characteristics. A good subject for investigation would be the family history of persons who have lived to extreme old age in full possession of their faculties. Other subjects of a desirable character will readily suggest themselves, if we make eugenics instead of cacogenics the distinguishing feature of our work. It is the fostering of desirable characteristics that will advance the race; whereas the cutting off of undesirable characteristics simply prevents deterioration. Of course, in studying eugenics we deal largely with the question of marriage; and, for the above reason it is more important to consider how to promote desirable marriages than how prevent undesirable marriages; both subjects are of importance, but my point is, that our endeavors should be mainly directed to the positive side of the question, rather than to the negative. The whole subject of eugenics has been too much associated in the public mind with fantastical and improbable schemes for restricting marriage and preventing the propagation of indesirable characteristics, so that the very name "Eugenics" suggests, to the average mind, insanity, feeble-mindedness &c and an attempt to interfere with the liberty of the individual in his pursuit of happiness in marriage. If we make the promotion of desirable marriages our chief aim, and relegate interference with marriage to a subordinate position, the public will gain a truer

  • ID: 10428
  • Source: DNALC.EA