Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Departmental Honors


Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences


While the evolution of American eugenics surrounding the time of Nazi Germany has been well-documented, the periods before the explosion of American eugenics and the result of the movement in the wake of the Holocaust are not so well known. Many historically-based works have described the path and growth of eugenics from the time the term was coined to the public acknowledgement of World War II and the point where Americans ended eugenic euthanasia and slowed eugenic sterilizations. There are also many works within the realm of disability history that document these events from the more common social viewpoint. This study provides an analysis of historical sources, primarily textbooks or medical references, from the earliest beginnings of eugenic ideas through to the 1970s where the term “eugenics” faded out of the public spotlight, with a particular aim to describe the early beginnings of the eugenics movement and additional details on how eugenics as a concept faded from its peak to where we are now. Surprisingly, it appears that eugenic ideals did in fact exist long before the term was coined, especially among the social elite and highly religious, who felt it was their duty to God to ensure they replenished the earth with healthy children. In studying textbooks published a few years after the holocaust came to public awareness as a moral atrocity, it also became clear that Americans still believed in their eugenics movement, yet sought to separate what was done here as a social and humanitarian movement from the acts of Hitler. Instead of the American eugenics movement suddenly blinking quickly in and out of existence, this study has found that the movement had deep roots before being named, and phased out very slowly, with a few of its roots remaining today without the “eugenics” label.

Included in

Nutrition Commons



Faculty Mentor

Seth Archer

Departmental Honors Advisor

Rebecca Charlton