Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Two Eugenics Contests to find ideal "Grade A individuals".

As a means of contributing to the "social efficiency" movement, a former classroom teacher developed the "Scientific Baby Contest".  The movement advocated for the standardization of all aspects of American life as a means of increasing efficiency.  Mary de Gormo developed the baby contests which combines ideas about health and intelligence standards.  The contests were held at state fairs.  The first one being The Louisiana State Fair in Shreveport in 1908.  Pediatrician Dr. Jacob Bodenheimer assisted Mary de Gormo by developing grading sheets for contestants.  Physical measurements were combined with standardized measurements of intelligence.  Every child started at 1000 points and if they fell below in a designated area, points were deducted.  The child with the least defections (highest score) was ideal. In the scientific community, standardization through scientific judgement was a topic that was very serious. Time, effort and money were put into these contests, even though they have been downplayed as just a popular fad or trend.  Their scientific backing influenced cultural ideas as well as local and state governments.  Mary T Watts and Dr. Florence Brown Sherbon held the Better Baby Contests in Iowa.  They took the idea of positive eugenics for babies and a biology concept to form fitter family competitions.  These contests, like the baby contests, promoted certain physical and mental qualities.  The categories were: Size of family, overall attractiveness and health of the family.  All of those were considered the likelihood of having children that were healthy.  It was believed at this time that certain behavioral qualities were inherited from parents.  More categories were added because of this belief.  Such as, generosity, self-sacrificing and quality of the family bond.  Negative features judged were: selfishness, jealously, suspiciousness, high temperedness and cruelty. When looking at the contestants' family lineage, feeblemindness, alcoholism and paralysis were among the traits that were disapproved.  Originally sponsored by the Red Cross, these competitions were judged by specialists and doctors from the community.  A Bronze Medal and champion cups called "Capper Medals" were given to the winners.  Governor and Senator Arthur Capper, whom the cups were named after, would present them to "Grade A individuals".  By entering the contests, it provided a way to receive from a doctor a free health check up.  Also, the pride and prestige by winning.  The Eugenics Records Office by 1925 were distributing standardized forms for judging eugenically fit families.  These forms were used in contests for several U.S. states.

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