Title: Tomorrow’s Mother, Today’s Menace: Women as the Focus of the American Eugenics Movement in the 1920s and 30s
Abstract: While the eugenics movement began in the late 19th century in the United States, it reached its height in the national consciousness and action in the 1920s and 30s. Its rise was due to a fear of overpopulation by the poor, uneducated, criminal, and disabled. To control this imbalance, eugenicists and their supporters targeted women of all classes. The upper and middle classes were encouraged to have large families through newspaper and magazine articles, high school textbooks, and community-wide contests. Inversely, poor and rural women were shamed for their sexual activity, experimented on with birth control methods, and coerced into permanent sterilization. By re-conceptualizing motherhood as a scientific process and political duty, eugenic rhetoric reinforced the idea of women as a controllable reproductive tool for public gain.