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Goddard's book traced the genealogy of "Deborah Kallikak", a woman in his institution.

The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness was a 1912 book by the American psychologist and eugenicist Henry H. Goddard. The work was an extended case study of Goddard's for the inheritance of "feeble-mindedness," a general category referring to a variety of mental disabilities including mental retardation, learning disabilities, and mental illness. Goddard concluded that an entire variety of mental traits were hereditary in nature and that it was important for society to institute a check upon the reproduction of "unfit" individuals.

Goddard's research and argument[edit | edit source]

Goddard's Kallikak pedigree.

The book begins by discussing the case of "Deborah Kallikak" (the name Kallikak is a pseudonym derived from the Greek "kalos" and "kakos," meaning "good" and "bad," respectively), a woman in Goddard's institution, the New Jersey Home for the Education and Care of Feebleminded Children (now Vineland Training School). In the course of investigating her genealogy, Goddard claims to have discovered that her family tree bore a curious and surprising moral tale.

The book follows the genealogy of Martin Kallikak, Deborah's great-great-great grandfather, a Revolutionary War hero. On his way back from battle, the normally morally upright Martin dallied one time with a "feeble-minded" barmaid. The young Martin soon reformed and went on with his upright life, becoming a respected New England citizen and fathered a large family of prosperous individuals.

But according to Goddard, a child was born by the dalliance with "the nameless feeble-minded girl." This single child, a male, went on to father more children, who fathered their own children, and on and on down the generations. And so with the Kallikaks, Goddard claims to have discovered, one has as close as one could imagine an experiment in the hereditability of intelligence, moral ability, and criminality.

On the "feeble-minded" side of the Kallikak family, descended from the barmaid, the children wound up poor, insane, delinquent, and mentally retarded. Much of Goddard's work is devoted to one Deborah Kallikak, a girl in the institution he ran, the Training School for Backward and Feeble-minded Children at Vineland, New Jersey. Deborah was, in Goddard's assessment, "feeble-minded": a catch-all early 20th century term to describe various forms of mental retardation or learning deficiencies. Goddard was interested in the hereditability of "feeble-mindedness" -- and often wrote of the invisible threat of recessive "feeble-minded" genes carried by otherwise healthy and intelligent looking members of the population (Mendel's laws had only been rediscovered a decade before; Goddard's genetic shorthand was, in its day, considered to be on par with cutting edge science). It was in tracing the family history of Deborah that Goddard and his assistants -- usually upper-class girls from nearby colleges -- discovered that Deborah's family of drunks and criminals was related -- through Martin Kallikak -- to another family tree of economy and prosperity.

A set of Kallikak children on the "feeble-minded" side of the family.

On the "normal" side of the Kallikak family tree, the children ended up prosperous, intelligent, and morally upstanding. They were lawyers, ministers, and doctors. Goddard concluded from this that intelligence, sanity, and morality were hereditary, and every effort should be undertaken to keep the 'feeble-minded' from procreating, with the overall goal of potentially ending 'feeble-mindedness' and its accompanying traits. The damage from even one dalliance between a young man and a "feeble-minded" girl could create generations and generations worth of crime and poverty, with its members eventually living off of the generosity of the state (and costing taxpayers a fortune), Goddard argued. His work contains intricately constructed family trees, showing near-perfect Mendelian ratios in the inheritance of negative and positive traits.

Not surprisingly, Goddard recommended segregating them in institutions exactly like the one he himself ran, where they would be taught how to work various forms of menial labor.

Present-day evaluation of the work[edit | edit source]

Two Kallikaks.

In its day, The Kallikak Family was a tremendous hit and went through multiple printings. It helped propel Goddard to the status of one of the nation's top experts in using psychology in policy, and along with the work of Charles B. Davenport and Madison Grant is considered one of canonical works of early 20th century American eugenics.

In recent years, its methodology and conclusions have been standard examples of the problems with early eugenics and heredity research. Though Goddard was considered a true scientist in his day — he was the first to bring Alfred Binet's IQ test to the United States and to translate it into English — his work is now relegated to the same realm of pseudoscience and chicanery as that of the other eugenicists of his era. The majority of Goddard's data was collected by his assistants, upper-class girls from nearby colleges, who would wander into the slums of the "bad" side of the Kallikak family, and spend only a moment before pronouncing a member "feeble-minded." It comes as no surprise that, when confronting the realities of poverty up close for the first time, the sheltered assistants were quick to conclude them suffering from in-born defectiveness.

It has also been argued that, if anything was going along family lines in the Kallikak family, it was wealth or poverty. Malnutrition, for example, goes hand in hand with poverty, and hand in hand with families. If the father of a family cannot afford decent food, then the children will not have it either. Goddard's peer, Davenport, even identified various forms of diseases now known to be caused by diet deficiencies as being hereditary for the same reason: the failure to realize that shared living situations often can make a great many things travel along family lines which have nothing to do with genetic information.

A detail of faces from the book — Stephen Jay Gould alleged that Goddard had doctored them to make them look more sinister.

The paleontologist and popular science writer Stephen Jay Gould also alleged that Goddard -- or someone working with him -- had retouched the photographs used in his book in order to make the "bad" Kallikaks appear more menacing. In older editions of the books, Gould said, it has become clearly evident that someone has drawn in darker, crazier looking eyes and menacing faces on the children and adults in the pictures. Gould argues that photographic reproduction in books was still then a very new art, and that audiences would not have been as clued into photographic retouching, even on such a crude level.

The psychologist R. E. Fancher, however, has claimed that retouching of faces of the sort which is apparent in Goddard's work was a common procedure at the time, in order to avoid a "washed out" look which was common to early photographic printing methods (poor halftones). Furthermore, Fancher argued, malicious editing on Goddard's part would take away from one of his primary claims: that only a trained eye can spot the moron in the crowd.

The overall effect of The Kallikak Family was to temporarily increase funding to institutions such as Goddard's, but these were not seen to be worthwhile solutions of the problem of "feeble-mindedness" (much less "rogue" "feeble-mindedness" -- the threat of idiocy as a recessive trait), and more stringent methods, such as compulsory sterilization of the mentally retarded, were undertaken.

The term "Kallikak" became, along with "Jukes" and "Nams" (other case studies of similar natures), a cultural shorthand for the rural poor in the South and Northeast United States.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Henry H. Goddard, The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness, New York: Macmillan, 1912.
  • Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, Norton: New York, 1996, revised edn.
  • R. E. Fancher, "Henry Goddard and the Kallikak family photographs," American Psychologist, 42 (1987), 585-590.
  • J. David Smith, Minds Made Feeble : The Myth and Legacy of the Kallikaks, Rockville, MD : Aspen, 1985 ISBN 0-87189-093-3

External links[edit | edit source]

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