Wendy Kline, Dema G. Seelye Chair in the History of Medicine at Purdue University, is internationally recognized for her scholarship in the history of medicine, history of women's health and the history of childbirth. She is the author of three major books: Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth (Oxford University Press, 2019); Bodies of Knowledge: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women’s Health in the Second Wave (U. of Chicago Press 2010); and Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom (U. of California Press, 2001). Her current project, “Psychedelic Birth: R.D. Laing and the Transformation of Psychiatry,” has been funded by a six-month research fellowship from the British Academy. She served as historical Consultant and speaker featured in “The Eugenics Crusade,” 2-hour documentary, PBS American Experience series, which premiered October 16, 2018.
In this talk, I argue that eugenics, a widespread popular movement during the first half of the twentieth century, appealed to Americans who believed that the best way to strengthen family and civilization was to regulate fertility. Robert Dickinson, Louis Terman, and Paul Popenoe were all involved in researching and promoting sterilization of the “unfit” in the 1910s and ‘20s. In the 1930s, they turn to marriage counseling as a way of encouraging the “fit” (the white middle class) to develop lasting marriages and have more children. Their campaign paved the way for the “baby boom” of the 1950s.