The first president of Stanford University, David Starr Jordan, was an ardent eugenecist. In 1910, he gave a speech at Harvard University titled The Blood of the Nations. The Crimson glowingly reported:
President David Starr Jordan, of Leland Stanford, Jr., University, will lecture on “The Blood of the Nations” in the Living Room of the Union next Tuesday evening at 8 o’clock. The lecture will be open only to members of the Union.
After receiving the degree of Master of Science at Cornell in 1872, President Jordan has held chairs in various collegiate institutions. In 1885 he became president of Indiana University, which position he held until assuming his present office in 1891.
President Jordan is one of the leading biologists and scientists of the country and his interest in everything that is progressive and humanitarian stamps him as one of the leaders in modern thought. He is prominently connected with the International Peace Movement. He was the founder and is the first president of Leland Stanford, Jr., University. His great success is shown by the fact that today that university is the leading educational institution of the West.
If you need any more proof of Jordan’s good progressive standing, the book version of his speech–The Blood of the Nation: A Study of the Decay of Races Through the Survival of the Unfit–was published in 1902 in Boston by the American Unitarian Association. It is a short book and you may find it useful to read it before continuing, but I will quote briefly for those who don’t:
In this paper I shall set forth two propositions: … The blood of a nation determines its history… The History of a nation determines its blood. …
“Send forth the best ye breed.” This is Kipling’s cynical advice to a nation which happily can never follow it. But could it be accepted literally and completely, the nation would in time breed only second-rate men. …
This word “progress” is, however, used with a double meaning, including the advancement of civilization as well as race improvement.
Or as Wikipedia put it:
Jordan promoted the concept of improving human genetics, through removal from the breeding pool of those deemed unworthy to reproduce, in his series of publications titled The Blood of the Nation. He then chaired the first Committee on Eugenics of the American Breeder’s Association, from which the California program of forced deportation and sterilization emerged. Jordan then went on to help found the Human Betterment Foundation as a trustee. The Human Betterment Foundation published “Sterilization for Human Betterment,” a text which formed a cornerstone of the Nazi eugenics program. The latter grew to involve not just forced sterilization but also killing, often via gas; this in turn inspired the Nazi genocide programs.
Jordan made a eugenics-based argument against warfare, contending that war was detrimental to the human species because it removed the strongest men from the gene pool. Jordan was president of the World Peace Foundation from 1910 to 1914 and president of the World Peace Conference in 1915, and opposed U.S. involvement in World War I.
Jordan also served as an expert witness in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. Today, people tend to think of the trial as spawned by “creationists” who opposed the teaching of scientific concepts on religious grounds–which indeed they did–but they also opposed it because they opposed eugenics. William Jennings Bryan, of the “you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold” populist frame, was lead counsel for the prosecution and an anti-eugenics activist, with special concern for the Nietzschian, might-makes-right version becoming popular in Germany post WWI.
But this was still before the discovery of Nazi gas chambers, and eugenics was therefore still the darling of progressive minds. As the Foundation for Economic Education puts it:
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, ordinary Americans may generally have been in the grips of ethnic prejudice of one sort or another. The Progressives of that time were not, however, ordinary men, and they knew it. Like their successors today, they dominated America’s universities. With some justification, they thought of themselves as an intellectual elite; and, with rare exceptions, they enthusiastically embraced eugenics and racial theory. …
Wilson, our first professorial president, was a case in point. He was the very model of a modern Progressive, and he was recognized as such. He prided himself on having pioneered the new science of rational administration, and he shared the conviction, dominant among his brethren, that African-Americans were racially inferior to whites.
With the dictates of Social Darwinism and the eugenics movement in mind, in 1907, he campaigned in Indiana for the compulsory sterilization of criminals and the mentally retarded; and in 1911, while governor of New Jersey, he proudly signed into law just such a bill.
Woodrow Wilson also quite famously believed in the “self-determination of nations”–that is, the right of individual ethnic groups to democratically rule over their own countries–and was instrumental in founding the League of Nations. The ideas that different groups of people have their own biological characteristics which lead to the development of their own particular cultures and societies, that they have their own particular interests, and that they are the ones best positioned to pursue their own interests, are not incompatible and find expression in Wilson’s policies.
To return to David Starr Jordan, he feared that war and other violence had stolen the finest of Europe’s men, rendering them unable to contribute to the current generation:
Other influences which destroyed the best were social repression, religious intolerance, and the intolerance of irreligion and unscience. It was the atheist mob of Paris which destroyed Lavoisier, with the sneer that the new republic of reason had no use for savants. The old conservatism burned the heretic at the stake, banished the Huguenot, destroyed the lover of freedom, silenced the agitator. Its intolerance gave Cuvier and Agasiz to Switzerland, sent the Le Contes to America, the Jouberts to Holland, and furnished the backbone of the fierce democracy of the Transvaal.
While not all agitators are sane, and not all heretics right-minded, yet no nation can spare from its numbers those men who think for themselves and those who act for themselves. It cannot afford to drive away or destroy those who are filled with religious zeal, nor those whose religious zeal takes a form not approved by tradition nor by consent of the masses. All movements toward social and religious reform are signs of individual initiative and individual force. The country which stamps out individuality will soon live in the mass alone.
You may be wondering what sort of man was Leland Stanford, Sr., to appoint a eugenicist to lead the university named for his deceased son. The elder Stanford was a colorful character–railroad tycoon, robber baron, philanthropist, driver of the “golden spike” that completed the trans-continental railroad. In today’s dollars, his net worth in the late 1800s was well over a billion; about a billion of this was donated to the university, for, as Leland told his wife, “The children of California shall be our children.”
Stanford was founded as a tuition-free, coeducational institution with no (formal) restrictions on race; the founding class included 12 international students, largely from Canada and Japan. In keeping with his vision of a university that served all of California’s children, not just the wealthy, Stanford’s first class included 147 “special” or probationary students (25% of the total.) The program was aimed at older, working students who had not had the opportunity to attend quality highschools and had not met the college’s minimum entrance requirements, but whom Mr. Stanford believed still deserved a chance to attend college.
From Jordan’s The Blood of the Nation:
Not long ago I visited the town of Novara, in northern Italy. There, in a wheat-field, the farmers have ploughed up skulls of men till they have piled up a pyramid ten or twelve feet high. … These were the skulls of young men of Savoy, Sardinia, and Austria–men of eighteen to thirty-five years of age, without physical blemish so far as may be… who met at Novara to kill each other over a matter in which they had very little concern. … here in thousands they died.
Further on, Frenchmen, Austrians, and Italians fell together at Magenta, in the same cause. You know the color that we call Magenta, the hue of the blood that flowed out under the olive-trees. Go over Italy as you will, there is scarcely a spot not crimsoned by the blood of France, scarcely a railway station without its pile of French skulls. You can trace them across to Egypt, t the foot of the Pyramids You will find them in Germany… You will find them in Russia, at Moscow; in Belgium, at Waterloo. “A boy can stop a bullet as well as a man,” said Napoleon; and with the rest are the skulls of and bones of boys, “ere evening to be trodden like the grass.” …
Read the dreary record of the glory of France, the slaughter at Waterloo, the wretched failure of Moscow, the miserable deeds of Sedan, the waste of Algiers, the poison of Madagascar, the crimes of Indo-China, the hideous results of barrack vice and its entail of disease and sterility… The man who is left, the man whom glory cannot use, becomes the father of the future men of France. …
The final effect of each strife for empire has been the degradation or extinction of the nation which led in the struggle.
Whatever faults or sins Jordan had, I think he and William Jennings Bryan–who supported Woodrow Wilson’s presidential bid–would have agreed that the World Wars were horrific events.
But let us turn to Stanford’s other famous eugenicist: Lewis Terman. Born in 1877, he joined the university as a professor of educational psychology in 1910 and remained until his death, in 1956.
In 1916, Lewis published the Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Scale, which became the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, one of the world’s most respected IQ tests. Alfred Binet had originally begun work on the test to aid the French government–which had recently passed law mandating universal education–in placing “slow” children in special education programs rather than locking them away in asylums.
Neither Lewis nor Binet developed IQ tests because they wanted to prove that certain people were dumb–rather, they wanted an objective way to assess which students needed special help–or advanced programs–that wasn’t prone to the potential class prejudices or racial biases of teachers who would otherwise be judging the students. IQ tests were also developed in order to identify students who were intelligent but has not received the same educational opportunities as other students.
According to StateUniversity.com:
Terman viewed the widespread adoption of tests in the schools as a reflection of how testing could be of use to American society. It was to be the major means of achieving his vision of a meritocracy; a social order based on ranked levels of native ability.
This is consistent with Leland Stanford’s original vision of a free Stanford at which even students from poorer educational backgrounds could attend.
The SAT has a similar history:
By the mid-1920s, the increasing use of IQ tests, such as the Army Alpha test administered to recruits in World War I, led the College Board to commission the development of the SAT. The commission, headed by Carl Brigham, argued that the test predicted success in higher education by identifying candidates primarily on the basis of intellectual promise rather than on specific accomplishment in high school subjects. In 1934, James Conant and Henry Chauncey used the SAT as a means to identify recipients for scholarships to Harvard University. Specifically, Conant wanted to find students, other than those from the traditional northeastern private schools, that could do well at Harvard. The success of the scholarship program and the advent of World War II led to the end of the College Board essay exams and to the SAT being used as the only admissions test for College Board member colleges.
The point of the SAT is to give colleges an objective measure of applicants’ intellectual abilities without any racial, class, or gender biases tainting the results.
Of course, Lewis Terman was a eugenicist who believed intelligence was hereditary. In 1921, he launched the Genetic Studies of Genius (now known as the Terman Study of the Gifted.) His goal (at which he succeeded) was to disprove the belief that gifted children were weak, sickly, and socially inept. According to Wikipedia:
Genetic Studies of Genius revealed that gifted and genius children were in at least as good as average health and had normal personalities. Few of them demonstrated the previously-held negative stereotypes of gifted children. … they were not weak and sickly social misfits, but in fact were generally taller, in better health, better developed physically, and better adapted socially than other children. … The gifted children thrived both socially and academically. In relationships, they were less likely to divorce. … Though many of the children reached exceptional heights in adulthood, not all did. Terman explored the causes of obvious talent not being realized, exploring personal obstacles, education, and lack of opportunity as causes.
Then came the Nazis. While they definitely did not like mentally disabled or low-IQ people, they also hated smart people:
The Nazi movement was overtly anti-rationalist, favoring appeals to emotion and cultural myths. It preferred such “non-intellectual” virtues as loyalty, patriotism, duty, purity, and blood, and allegedly produced a pervasive contempt for intellectuals. Both overt statements and propaganda in books favored sincere feeling over thought, because such feelings, stemming from nature, would be simple and direct. In Mein Kampf, Hitler complained of biased over-education, brainwashing, and a lack of instinct and will and in many other passages made his anti-intellectual bent clear. Intellectuals were frequently the butts of Hitler’s jokes. …
One popular Munich speaker, declaring biological research boring, called instead on racial emotions; their “healthy ethnic instincts” would reveal the quality of the Aryan type.
… Pure reason was attacked as a colorless thing, cut off from blood. Education Minister Rust ordered teachers training colleges to relocate from “too intellectual” university centers to the countryside, where they could be more readily indoctrinated and would also benefit from contact with the pure German peasantry.
An SS paper declared that IQ varied inversely with male infertility, and medical papers declared that the spread of educational pursuits had brought down the birth rate.
This frequently related to the blood and soil doctrines and an organic view of the German people. “Blood and soil” plays, for instance, depicted a woman rejecting her bookish fiance in order to marry an estate owner.
It also related to antisemitism, as Jews were often accused of being intellectual and having a destructive “critical spirit.” The book burnings were hailed by Goebbels as ending “the age of extreme Jewish intellectualism.”
Wikipedia claims that the Nazis got their ideas from the Californians. But whatever Jordan and Terman’s faults–and their faults were many–I don’t think Nazi eugenics were their goals.
The past is a complicated place. The point is neither that Terman and Jordan were evil nor that they were good. But looking at how radically “progressive” morality has changed, let’s be careful about over-confidence in the latest moral fads of our own day–and perhaps we should also be careful about condemning the past:
Two Palo Alto middle schools named after leading advocates of eugenics will be renamed… Trustees voted 5-0 to rename Jordan Middle School… and Terman middle school, because it is named in part after Lewis Terman…
It is also named after Terman’s son, Frederick Terman, who is credited alongside William Shockley as the “Father of Silicon Valley,” which enjoys the world’s third highest per capita gdp.
Of course, Shockley was also a eugenecist.
…the district must incorporate a unit about California and Palo Alto’s role in the eugenics movement into the history curriculum of secondary schools by next year.
The cost of renaming the schools is estimated at $60,000. The article doesn’t say how much the new curriculum will cost.
“There’s been a lot of very moving testimony, and I found the testimony from those who felt personally excluded or discriminated against particularly powerful,” Collins said. “I think that is a very difficult and real burden to bear, and so I agree with that.” …
“To ask a student to walk into a building that is named after someone who fundamentally did not think they had the right to be there is not OK, and I don’t want to ask them to do that anymore,” DiBrienza said.
Jordan and Terman middle schools both perform substantially above the California average, (unsurprising, given the average IQs of Palo Alto’s residents,) so any student who can do well here would, by Jordan and Terman’s standards, “fundamentally have a right to be there.”
The past–and its morals–cannot be judged simply by our present standards. Should statues of Julius Caesar be torn down because he conquered Gaul, and act which no doubt killed many of the Gauls? Rename all you want, but it is still because of men like Jordan, Lewis and Frederick Terman, and Shockley that Stanford and Silicon Valley exist.