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American Eugenics Society

The American Eugenics Society (AES) served to promote a popular education program for eugenics in the United States. Following the success of the Second International Congress of Eugenics held in New York in 1921, a Eugenics Committee of the United States was established that ultimately led to the incorporation of the AES in 1926. The AES sought to coordinate the efforts of the smaller, local eugenics groups such as the Galton Society in New York and the Race Betterment Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. The founders of the AES included Madison Grant, Harry Laughlin, Irving Fischer, and Henry Fairfield Osborn.

The organization championed racial betterment, eugenic health, and genetic education through lectures and exhibits. A popular promotion of the Society was the Fitter Family contest, held at state fairs across the United States. These contests often required submission of a family’s eugenic history, a medical examination, and an intelligence test.

In 1930, the Society consisted of 1,260 mostly prominent and wealthy members who more often than not were non-scientists. By 1960, the membership had dropped to 400 but consisted of almost exclusively professionals in science and medicine. This shift in the demographics of the membership was echoed in a shift from the Society’s promotion of class-, economic-, and racial-based eugenics to genetics and medical genetics. In 1972 the AES was renamed the Society for the Study of Social Biology. The interests of the Society were spelled out in a 1972 issue of its publication, Social Biology, as being “the trends of human evolution and the biological, medical, and social forces that determine these trends.”

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Eugenics in America