During the early 20th century, the United States became one of the most active centers in the development of eugenic ideas and theories. The first eugenic researchers came to believe that heredity was the foremost cause in delinquent or criminal behavior and that the cost to society and the state for the care of the insane, criminal, afflicted, or even feeble-minded (signifying individuals with less than average intelligence) was so high, that restrictions and controls on the propagation of these seemingly less desirable members of society were critical to the continued and improved health of the human race as a whole. In short, deliberate or selective breeding or controlled or restricted breeding could allow science to address social problems—even as Loring Moody had attempted in 1880 with the establishment of the Institute of Heredity in Boston.
In 1880, Bostonian Loring Moody, familiar with Galton’s work, issued a circular to form an Institute of Heredity, part school, part library, to promote lectures and interest in addressing social ills through eugenic principles. The circular caught the interest of Elizabeth Thompson, a New York philanthropist. She and Moody became correspondents, and the volume pictured here, Heredity : its relation to human development, reproduces a selection of their letters.
In his letter of October 31, 1881, Moody states, “As a means of eliminating the inherited effects of disorders from posterity, I would have the government establish and maintain good, comfortable, attractive hospital homes for the care, treatment and life residence of all habitual drunkards, confirmed criminals, idiots and incurable lunatics, who should be treated as people suffering from dangerous congenital diseases, liable to propagation through heredity; and so they should be strictly guarded from having any offspring, as far as possible by moral, and the remainder by legal, restraint. So the hereditary transmission of innumerable disorders would soon come to an end.” The Institute of Heredity was founded on November 27, 1880, “to reconstruct and establish the foundations of social order upon natural laws of human life and relations”; it was still sponsoring lectures as late as 1888.