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Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South

Dorothy Nelkin, PhD
JAMA. 1995;274(5):433-434. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530050081044.
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The visibility of contemporary research in genetics has revived interest in the history of the eugenics movement. Edward J. Larson, in Sex, Race, and Science, focuses on eugenics in America's Deep South. The eugenic reforms during the early part of the century followed advances in biology indicating that human heredity could be manipulated through selected breeding. But reforms were mainly driven by social forces: concerns about purifying the Caucasian race and restricting the propagation of those deemed eugenically unfit and responsible for social problems. The movement, championed by a professional elite and based on the authority of science, advocated reforms through eugenic marriage restrictions and compulsory sterilization.

"control of human reproduction as a solution to pressing economic and social problems and a means of controlling the future."

Analyzing eugenic reforms in the context of state policies, Larson's detailed and interesting study suggests that the movement did not necessarily follow the


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