On Harry H. Laughlin: Scrutiny of a Eugenics Agent

This paper was written over the course of four months with extensive research.

Interest in eugenics sparked for me in 2016 when I came across an interview of Adam Cohen wherein he discussed his new book, Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. I had heard the term “eugenics” in passing but did not fully understand the concept. Needless to say, I purchased his book and was enthralled not long after. In essence, eugenics is the pseudo-scientific philosophy of aiming to improve the human race by encouraging those with desirable traits to reproduce and discouraging, or even preventing, those with undesirable traits from having children. Once one finds out this philosophy became a social movement in early twentieth-century America and influenced public policy, one may become both dumbfounded and enraged. My older brother is mentally handicapped and studying eugenics piqued my interest in finding out how previous generations of Americans would have treated him, including wanting to remove him, and others like him, from the human gene pool.

I happened upon an individual in my historical research earlier this year named Harry H. Laughlin. I remembered his name from Cohen’s book as he had been directly involved in the Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell whereby a young woman named Carrie Buck was forcefully sterilized, and it was justified by our highest court. In fact, the U.S. has yet to overturn the Buck decision explicitly.[1] The primary purpose of this paper is to diverge from other historians concerning Harry H. Laughlin in that he is often studied regarding his involvement with involuntary sterilization laws and Nazism. In my estimation, Laughlin played a prominent role in American immigration restriction by utilizing eugenics to prevent the country from becoming a nation filled with nonwhite “degenerates” and “social inadequates.” U.S. government bureaucrats continually sought his eugenic research for years.

In late 2016, Douglas C. Baynton, professor of history at the University of Iowa, published Defectives of the Land: Disability and Eugenics in the Age of Eugenics.[2] His unique book examined American immigration through the lens of disability, whereas most academic approaches in this field have focused on ethnicity and race. His main argument throughout his monograph is that American immigration policy was molded over decades and was mostly influenced by numerous factors, but ultimately revolved around preserving an efficient, pure, and competitive American populace. I find myself agreeing with Baynton throughout his research; however, I differ from him because I believe more attention should be paid to Harry H. Laughlin and his role in immigration policymaking. Baynton does not ignore Laughlin in his book, but some of his involvement was relegated to anecdotes.

More recently, Jay Timothy Dolmage, associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo, published Disabled Upon Arrival: Eugenics, Immigration, and the Construction of Race and Disability in March 2018.[3] Dolmage’s principal argument is that current anti-immigration rhetoric is linked to the classical rhetoric of the eugenics movement concerning immigration. His work focuses on the North American continent, specifically the United States and Canada, and photographic documentation of eugenics and immigration. My research differs by focusing on Harry H. Laughlin’s involvement solely in American immigration policy. While Dolmage tried explaining current day phenomena by exposing historical precedents, my goal is to focus on a man glossed over by historians and analyzing Laughlin’s work itself. Dolmage mentions Laughlin a handful of times and mostly in the context of coerced sterilization laws and Nazi influence. Surely, Laughlin is most known for his involvement in the sterilization of immigrants, but I aim to shed light on his other contributions to immigration, namely federal policy.

A seminal work set apart from the previous two is John Higham’s Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 published in early 2002.[4] While it is an impressive work, it mostly analyzes nativism as an emotional and defensive form of nationalism and diverges from my research from the start. Higham sought to find the causes of emotional and violent outbreaks throughout our nation’s history, and as one might expect from his title, he studies events between the American Civil War and the Johnson-Reed Act wherein Harry H. Laughlin was directly involved. For about ten pages, Higham mentions Laughlin’s relationship with Albert Johnson, his research facility, and Congress, but does not delve into much detail regarding Laughlin himself. Higham provides a decent backdrop of Laughlin’s activities, at least concerning immigration, which then sets his work apart from that of Baynton and Dolmage.

Two years after Higham’s exceptional monograph came yet another when Princeton University Press published Mae M. Ngai’s Impossible Subjects: Illegal Immigrants and the Making of Modern America.[5] Ngai cites Higham’s book a few times in her introduction to “Part I: The Regime of Quotas and Papers.” As did other authors, Ngai dedicated few words to Laughlin, and all discussion concerning his involvement in immigration restriction is contained within a single page of her first chapter. She clearly stated that historians often focus on race-nativism in the context of the Immigration Act of 1924, but she chose to focus on other ways race constructions morphed the immigration restriction debate. Ngai mentioned that the national quota system took racism to a new level beyond mere eugenics and that the national conversation shifted away from racial superiority to racial differences “as the basis for exclusionary policies.” However, I will argue how Harry H. Laughlin was very much involved in this, and his eugenics work was not far removed from the nationality hierarchy Ngai described in her book.

A scholarly article which immediately caught my attention was Steven A. Farber’s U.S. Scientists’ Role in the Eugenics Movement (1907–1939): A Contemporary Biologist’s Perspective published in 2008.[6] Farber gives a brief overview of how the scientific community was involved in the eugenics movement. His main argument is that the topic of eugenics was not fringe but instead embraced by mainstream institutions both in the United States and in Europe. Like other authors, sterilization laws are invoked when Laughlin is mentioned along with tying him to Nazi Germany. However, in a section where Farber is presenting American eugenicists’ relationship with Nazis, he provides a quote from Laughlin’s associate Charles B. Davenport regarding studies that Laughlin performed on behalf of the U.S. government. In my paper, I will explore these studies with a fine-tooth comb.

In Fit For Citizenship? published in 2015, Michelle Chen provides a quick overview of the intersection of racial science and immigration policy.[7] Harry H. Laughlin is mentioned on the very first page, although only in passing, as Chen goes on to provide a chronological narrative of eugenically influenced immigration. Her article focuses on racial science and its tests as administered at immigration gateways such as Ellis Island. Chen provides sourced photographs regarding the racist aspects of immigration tests very usefully, but this veers away from the focus of my own paper.

These four monographs and two scholarly articles set the tone for my paper, but also showcase arguments and thought processes that are distinct from my own analysis of American eugenics and immigration history. What is to follow is a careful dissection of several primary sources including, but not limited to: congressional hearing transcripts, private correspondence, institutional reports, journal articles, and pamphlets.[8] The original sources examined hereafter will be chronologically presented as to make their interpretation clean and linear. Before I delve into the documents, however, a background of Harry H. Laughlin and his eugenics work is required.

Harry Hamilton Laughlin came from humble beginnings. He was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa in 1880 and was among nine other siblings, four of them brothers. Once they moved to Kirksville, Missouri his father, George Hamilton Laughlin, taught English at Truman State University, which was Kirksville State Normal School at the time. H. L. Laughlin was first a principal, then a superintendent before becoming an agriculture professor at his father’s college in 1907.[9] He was very interested in plant breeding and sex determination in individual plants. That same year, he contacted Charles B. Davenport who was then working as a zoologist out of Long Island, NY and subsequently invited Laughlin to partake in his summer college course on genetics. They remained in contact after that. Laughlin had a few hobbies, including wanting to find out a way to breed a horse that could win every race. Davenport suggested he shift his focus to a more inviting space: humans and eugenics.[10] Three short years later, Laughlin was co-founding the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), which was a research department of the Carnegie Institute of Washington, and overseen by Davenport in Cold Harbor Spring, New York.

Laughlin’s eugenic views developed over the years while being superintendent of this research center. At the ERO, Laughlin drafted scientifically-not-so-rigorous questionnaires asking people about their family histories and their own physical and mental traits to create what the ERO specialized in, family pedigrees. He then scrutinized the information and created graphs and tables based on his statistical observations. The ERO was attempting to gain a rudimentary understanding of human traits and figure out if they could be isolated or not. Davenport instructed Laughlin to base his eugenics research off of Gregor Mendel’s theories of genetics and hereditary, like the laws of Mendelian inheritance. Mendel, a Czechoslovakian monk, found out in the mid-nineteenth century that plants had both dominant and recessive traits. This shifted the standard to which agricultural scientists studied genetics and heredity.[11]

The overall concentration of his work shifted from the discovery of human genes for specific traits that could be removed from the gene pool to applying his statistical findings to things the government was interested in like criminality. Interestingly, Laughlin suffered from epilepsy, which was one of the broader categories of defects the U.S. government listed as a deportable “offense.”[12] It makes one curious why this man was at the helm of promoting eugenics-inspired immigration law when he was “defective” himself. In his first official report in 1914, Laughlin directed his researchers to study and report their best ideas on how to eradicate a certain germ-plasm responsible for turning American citizens into criminals.[13] He was inspired by German biologist August Weismann’s germ-plasm theory which posited that heritable information was transmitted to offspring through germ cells of the gonads rather than by somatic cells. Laughlin became obsessed with stopping undesirable traits, the practice of negative eugenics, from spreading throughout the population.

He continually lobbied for sterilization laws. Sterilization laws were common by 1914 as twelve states already had their own version. They were used to keep the American stock pure by sterilizing prisoners, mental hospital patients, and anyone else deemed unworthy of reproducing. Despite their popularity, the laws were rarely enforced throughout the years, and Laughlin wanted to find a solution. In 1922, he included his Model Eugenical Sterilization Law in chapter fifteen of his book, Eugenical Sterilization in the United States, which he wrote to avoid bureaucratic confusion over responsibility and any questionable clauses written by some state legislatures.[14] Virginia used his model law to craft their own the same year. The first person to be legally and forcefully sterilized by the state was Carrie Buck, subject of the infamous Supreme Court case, Buck v. Bell, referred to in the introduction.

Laughlin was determined to use eugenics to scientifically manage the country’s genetic makeup and worked both directly and indirectly with state and federal governments to make it happen. Beginning in 1920, Laughlin and the ERO conducted a study of mental hospital patients, then called inmates, in an attempt to record their nationalities and physical or mental defects. This information was used to determine immigration quotas for each country and was presented to Congress in a report near the end of 1922. In late 1923, Laughlin was commissioned by the Department of Labor to visit numerous European countries over eight months to study their policies concerning emigrants to the United States. He collected hundreds of pages worth of data. His findings were reported before Congress in early 1924 and were used in the congressional debates over national origin quotas and the upcoming change to immigration law. Now that an elemental background has been established, primary documents will be quoted from and analyzed. Along the way, eugenics will be shown to be a commonly accepted science among American elites like professors of prestigious colleges, wealthy entrepreneurs, and prominent scientists, but not without its detractors.

In a 1914 journal article, five professors of a small eugenics committee on immigration urged Congress and other readers to consider applying eugenic-inspired measurement tools to change immigration law. This was around the time that eugenics and immigration began to merge indeed. President Taft had just rejected the literacy test requirement for immigrants at our borders, and a year later, President Wilson did too.[15] These professors posited that American economic opportunities drew lots of immigrants and moneyed interests sought open, unrestricted immigration to satisfy their cheap labor force. Midway through the article, the author cited the ERO’s first report referenced earlier and quoted, “The Federal Government which has control of immigration owes it to the American people on biological grounds to exclude from the country this degenerate breeding stock.”[16] The author went on to criticize immigration inspectors for being lax on immigration laws and being paid off by steamship companies. The article concluded with a resolution all of the professors signed onto for Congress saying the 1914 bill would “unquestionably result in a more effective detection, exclusion, and deportation of mentally and physically defective aliens.” This article shows that academic elites favored eugenics, were aware of Laughlin’s research and wanted it applied to restrict immigration as early as 1914.

A reviewer named Henry B. Hemmenway heavily criticized the ERO’s first report on the elimination of the germ-plasm responsible for criminality using sterilization in 1914. Throughout his review, Hemmenway questioned the validity of the ERO’s methods, including the lack of the primary scientific method. Hemmenway stated, “[The ERO] is recommending radical operations [forced sterilizations] on a priori reasoning, and on ‘feeling’ generated in hearsay evidence.”[17] He consistently pointed out that Laughlin and his colleagues based much of their research results on untested anecdotal evidence and made proclamations based on their feelings. Hemmenway directly refuted the ERO’s theory when he claimed, “Since criminality is essentially an ethical problem, and dependent apparently upon lack of moral education, we should not expect it to be transmitted in the germ plasm.” This reviewer was one voice of many who spoke against the pseudo-science of eugenics and the work of Harry H. Laughlin.

The Committee on Immigration and Naturalization of the Sixty-sixth Congress heard statements in full by Laughlin regarding an allegedly necessary biological, read: eugenic, aspect of immigration policy in April 1920. Laughlin’s opening statement laid out a definition for a nation’s character, which he saw simply comprised of our racial qualities. Afterward, he hinted at a study he was currently in the process of carrying out by having wards of mental hospitals report back every patient’s own nationality and defect(s). Laughlin showed concern about defective immigrants reproducing and suggested foreign-born immigrant women had more children than natural-born citizens. The committee was also concerned about the economic burden caused by local and state mental hospital costs borne by taxpayers. Laughlin produced several examples he had on hand from a study he performed at the behest of the Bureau of the Census. In one case, Laughlin pointed out that, “Massachusetts spends 30.5 per cent [sic] of all her State government expenditures for the maintenance of the State institutions for the socially inadequate.”[18] By appealing to the committee’s concern for the economic welfare of American states, Laughlin was effectively using it as a wedge to further his negative eugenic agenda. One member of the committee, Mr. Box, questioned Laughlin if he had studied the inferiority difference between different European countries whose emigrants came here. Laughlin answered by stating much of our nation is made up of Northwestern European stock and that immigrants from this region assimilate better than other inferior areas. This may have been the beginning of the national origin quotas sought by other politicians of the time.

Laughlin wanted to extend the class taxonomy of the classic “3 Ds” (the defective, delinquent, and dependent) to which sociologists of the time often referred. In July 1921, he wrote a journal article calling for a more nuanced classification system for defective immigrants. He noted the types of people in need of further classification were those in need of “special care,” those who generally “do not contribute in net to the general welfare,” and those that are “in net a drag upon those [normal and productive] members of the community.”[19] The extent of the article was quoting lots of other scientists and politicians asking for more distinction in sorting the socially inadequate immigrants.

About six months after publishing his article on sorting the socially inadequate, Laughlin produced a pamphlet on behalf of the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization in January 1922.[20] Its purpose was to inform American state institutions on how to fill out certified forms the committee sent them regarding the “racial and diagnostic classifications” of their inmates. These forms were the basis of Laughlin’s “Melting Pot” survey. First, the officers were to record the racial identity of each inmate and then designate them with a secondary class regarding their mental, physical, or cultural “defects.” This congressional pamphlet is the first publication including Laughlin’s ten official categories of social inadequates and all of their subcategories. Laughlin’s primary diagnostic classifications, in full, consisted of the: (1) feeble-minded (including the mentally backward); (2) insane (including the neurotic and psychopathic) (3) criminalistic (including the delinquent and wayward); (4) epileptic; (5) inebriate (including drug habitués); (6) diseased (including the tuberculous, syphilitic, leprous, and others with chronic, infectious, segregated diseases); (7) blind (including those with greatly impaired vision); (8) deaf (including those with greatly impaired hearing); (9) crippled (including the deformed and the ruptured); and (10) dependent (including orphans, old folks, soldiers, and sailors in homes and institutions). These categories were similar to those for deporting “Class A” aliens that can be seen in the provisions of section three of the Immigration Act of 1917.[21] Laughlin’s designations were much broader and allowed for more deportations and exclusion.

Laughlin appeared before the immigration committee a second time in November 1922. His purpose in this hearing was to provide Congress statements regarding the ERO’s two-year mental hospital “Melting Pot” study to influence more immigration restriction. His report was precisely one hundred pages and covered such topics as the literacy test, intelligence levels, the total number of social inadequates, and included some conclusions, solutions, and statistical graphs and tables.[22] Inspired by Senator William Dunningham, Laughlin suggested a quota fulfillment system based on his “Melting Pot” data collection. At one point, Mr. Vaile of the committee asked Laughlin why he used the 1910 census instead of the one from 1920. Laughlin’s justification was that these social inadequates didn’t go directly from Ellis Island to the institutions, but alternatively mixed with the free population until segregated. Therefore, data from a previous census made more logical sense to account for the time it took for these immigrants to enter mental hospitals. With presenting the committee with statistical data for each type of social inadequacy, Laughlin showed immigrants of Southeastern European family stock were the most troublesome across all subtypes. In his conclusion, Laughlin stated, “the recent immigrants [of Southern and Eastern Europe], as a whole, present a higher percentage of inborn socially inadequate qualities than do the older stocks.”[23] In part, this suggestion was weighed heavily by the committee and influenced later immigration restriction debate.

About two years later, Laughlin made his third appearance before the same immigration committee. This time around he was tasked with sharing his findings from an eight-month study done around Europe and the preliminary report was titled, “Europe as an Emigrant-Exporting Continent and the United States as an Immigrant-Receiving Nation.” At the beginning of the hearing, Laughlin was questioned in what official capacity was he working in Europe. He answered that he was a “dollar a year man” in that he received the salary of one dollar for his entire study on behalf of the Department of Labor which commissioned his work.[24] After showing the committee charts regarding Swedish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants to the U.S., Laughlin suggested the U.S. require countries exporting “would-be emigrants” to provide an American diplomat with family pedigrees of each and every potential immigrant. He also suggested the home countries of these immigrants should have performed extra mental and physical tests to add a filter to their immigration restriction. It is worth noting that this hearing and Laughlin’s report were issued two months before President Coolidge signed the Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act. It placed further restrictions on immigration following the 1921 policy by setting the “national origins” quota for each nationality as their representative percentage recorded in the 1890 census; a clear strategy to debar Southeastern Europe. Representative Albert Johnson of the immigration committee, among others, sought scientific justifications for their restriction agenda akin to how science, statistics, and data are used today by intellectuals and bureaucrats to justify their means to predetermined ends. Laughlin provided that data. He was not without his critics, however.

Less than a month later, Laughlin received correspondence from Irving Fisher, professor at Yale, in the official capacity as chairman of the Eugenics Committee of the United States of America. Fisher asked Laughlin, “Have you seen Ezekiel Cheever’s ‘School Issues’ for March 1924, containing a criticism of the statistical analysis in your Hearings before the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization?”[25] A couple of days later, Laughlin wrote Fisher back with saying very little of substance. He acknowledged awareness of the criticism but confessed he did not engage them in any meaningful fashion. Laughlin noted that “[W]e have made statistical studies in a field which is just now being argued in a very hot partisan manner in Congress.”[26] He concluded that his critics were pro-open immigration while partisans of his ilk “have found considerable ammunition in my papers.” Mostly, Laughlin brushed off legitimate concerns over his studies as mere zealotry from the other side of the aisle. A week later, Dr. Llewellyn F. Barker also sent Charles B. Davenport a Baltimore Sun clipping of Ezekiel Cheever’s criticism. Barker pointed out that Cheever criticized Laughlin’s lack of state-to-state data, and his conniving use of statistics to make it appear that “social inadequates” were more prevalent than they were in reality. Interestingly, in Davenport’s private correspondence back to Barker, he shared a damning statement regarding Laughlin’s scientific rigor. Davenport explained:

There were two reasons why he did not; first, the work of calculating for each of 10 to 40 more states the quota and its fulfillment for each of 9 classes of inadequacy, distributed among about 30 nationalities would have taken much more time and assistance than he had at his disposal. Also, to have segregated by state and nationality and trait would have left such small frequencies in many cases as to lead to the fantastic ratio often given by small numbers.[27]

Davenport implied that the Eugenics Record Office was working under a deadline for Congress to pass the 1924 act, Laughlin rushed his study and made the data skewed to their liking. As I claimed earlier, the elite eugenicists within Congress used Laughlin’s work as a means to justify their restriction ends. Harry H. Laughlin had a direct role in shaping U.S. immigration policy.

The U.S. government continued to heed the advice and contemplate data provided by Laughlin well after the Immigration Act of 1924. In 1927, the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization commissioned Laughlin to conduct a study on American inventors and their family trees. The study’s goal was to “explain the relation which we are finding between racial descent and inventiveness.”[28] Laughlin sent out returnable postcards whereby inventors were expected to fill out their name, sex, occupation, and place of birth. In a few lines, they were also told to provide their inventions’ purpose, patent numbers, and their Old World racial decent including how many generations of their family lived in America—this section was marked as “especially important.”[29] Several letters were exchanged between inventors and Laughlin in 1927. Some stood out more than others with one being the Browning Arms Company claiming John M. Browning was responsible for over 200 gun patents including the machine gun.[30] It took a few years for Laughlin to collect all of the letters he could and compile data. In 1931, he released a table titled, “Index of Inventiveness” showing in descending order the nationalities of the most inventive people. He reached a quotient for each nationality by dividing the total number of patents a racial group held by the percentage of their national origin. Laughlin deemed the French, Swedish, and Dutch as the most inventive nationalities while the Polish, Italians, Latin Americans, and Africans at the very bottom.[31] In the end, it was not entirely clear to what extent the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization used this data.

While studying the inventive characteristics of individual races, Laughlin was also conducting a study of the national origins of U.S. senators. In an amusing letter, the then-Senator from Maryland, William Cabell Bruce, scolded Laughlin. His correspondence was short enough to provide in full: “Believing that the science of eugenics, if it is a science at all, is still in its infancy. I prefer not to subject my family history as a sort of corpus vile for dissection to your association.”[32] Laughlin replied by saying the study had “nothing to do with politics” and that it was “simply a study of geographical and racial origins of members of the United States Senate.”[33] About a month later, Laughlin surprisingly wrote to the editor of the Baltimore Sun after William C. Bruce never replied. He stated, “We fail to find a statement of the racial descent of Senator William C. Bruce. Doubtless, because of your wide acquaintance with the distinguished men of your community you have this information in hand.”[34] These letters show that Laughlin was quite involved with the U.S. government in at least one committee’s work.

Throughout this paper, we have seen the number of ways in which Harry H. Laughlin was involved with U.S. immigration policy and utilized the pseudo-science of eugenics to do so. Apart from responsibility for involuntary sterilization policies and Buck v. Bell, Laughlin, his colleagues, and his eugenic associations were detrimental to shaping immigration quotas. His numerous studies were used by the U.S. government to justify limiting immigrants from certain parts of the world at different points throughout his career as superintendent of the Eugenics Record Office and on the board of a few other eugenics-related associations and groups. Unfortunately, his legacy of immigration restriction and forced sterilization laws carries on into the twenty-first century. The bright side is that most modern eugenics is of the Galtonian positive type and used by many families. Laughlin’s negative eugenics went by the wayside after its association with Nazism in the late 1930s and majority of Americans today do not think in terms of eliminating anyone from the gene pool. There are tremendous resources for the disabled, both physical and mental, and it is continually growing. For that, we should be grateful.

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Baynton, Douglas C. Defectives in the Land: Disability and Immigration in the Age of Eugenics. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Bird, Randall D., and Garland Allen. “The J. H. B. Archive Report: The Papers of Harry Hamilton Laughlin, Eugenicist.” Journal of the History of Biology14, no. 2 (1981): 339–353.

Browning, John. “Browning Arms Company Letter to Laughlin about Research Study on Immigration,” September 2, 1927. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/view_image.pl?id=1204.

Cance, Alexander E., James A. Field, Irving Fisher, Prescott F. Hall, and Robert Dec Ward. “Second Report of the Committee on Immigration of the Eugenics Section of the American Genetic Association.” Journal of Heredity5, no. 7 (July 1, 1914): 297–300.

Charles B. Davenport. “Letter from Davenport to Barker Concerning Baltimore Sun Writer’s Criticisms of Statistics in Relation to Quota System,” April 18, 1924. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1174.html.

Chen, Michelle. “Fit for Citizenship? The Eugenics Movement and Immigration Policy.” Dissent (00123846)62, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 73–80.

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Farber, Steven A. “U.S. Scientists’ Role in the Eugenics Movement (1907–1939): A Contemporary Biologist’s Perspective.” Zebrafish5, no. 4 (December 2008): 243–245.

Hemmenway, Henry B. “Review of ERO’s Germ-Plasm Report.” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology5, no. 4 (1914): 623–626.

Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925. ACLS Humanities E-Book. New Brunswick, N.J., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Irving Fisher. “Letter from Fisher to Laughlin about Cheever’s Attack on Laughlin’s Analysis,” April 9, 1924. Accessed May 11, 2019. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1171.html.

Laughlin, Harry H. Analysis of America’s Modern Melting Pot. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, November 21, 1922. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015037355750.

Laughlin, Harry H. Biological Aspects of Immigration. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1920. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/image_header.pl?id=1113&printable=1&detailed=0.

Laughlin, Harry H. “Classification Standards Pamphlet.” Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, January 1, 1922. Eugenics Archive. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/image_header.pl?id=1179&printable=1&detailed=0.

Laughlin, Harry H. Eugenical Sterilization in the United States. Chicago, IL: Psychopathic Laboratory of the Municipal Court of Chicago, 1922. Accessed March 8, 2019. http://archive.org/details/eugenicalsterili00laug.

Laughlin, Harry H. Europe as an Emigrant-Exporting Continent and the United States as an Immigrant-Receiving Nation. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1924. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.c063885764.

Laughlin, Harry H. “Index of Inventiveness,” 1931. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1220.html.

Laughlin, Harry H. “Laughlin Response to C. Bruce’s Objections to the Racial Descent Study of U.S. Senators,” February 23, 1927. Accessed May 11, 2019. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1216.html.

Laughlin, Harry H. “Laughlin’s Letter to Baltimore Sun about Getting Data on C. Bruce for Racial Descent Study of U.S. Senators,” March 28, 1927. Accessed May 15, 2019. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1217.html.

Laughlin, Harry H. “Letter from Laughlin to Irving Fisher about Statistical Criticisms,” April 11, 1924. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1172.html.

Laughlin, Harry H. Report of the Committee to Study and to Report on the Best Practical Means of Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the American Population: The Scope of the Committee’s Work. Long Island, NY, February 1914.

Laughlin, Harry H. “The Socially Inadequate: How Shall We Designate and Sort Them?” American Journal of Sociology27, no. 1 (1921): 54–70.

Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Politics and society in twentieth-century America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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Robinson, Richard. “Mendel, Gregor.” In Genetics, edited by Richard Robinson, 3:30–32. New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003. Accessed May 15, 2019. http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX3406500175%2FGVRL%3Fu%3Dsanmarcoscsu%26sid%3DGVRL%26xid%3D79848a7e.

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William C. Bruce. “C. Bruce Letter to H. Laughlin Objecting to the Racial Descent Study of U.S. Senators,” February 5, 1927. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1215.html.

Wilson, P. K. “Harry Laughlin’s Eugenic Crusade to Control the ‘socially Inadequate’ in Progressive Era America.” Patterns of Prejudice36, no. 1 (January 1, 2002): 49–67.

“Alien Ancestry of Inventors Is Studied by U.S.” Science Service. Washington, D.C., November 2, 1927. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1208.html.

“Inventor’s Foreign Ancestry Studied.” Baltimore Evening Sun, 1927. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1210.html.

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“Wilson Will Veto Immigration Bill; Objects to Literacy Test for New Citizens, as President Taft Did. May Be Passed over Veto. Literacy Test Had Big Majority in Both Houses — Rejection Message Goes to Congress Today.” The New York Times, January 28, 1915. Accessed February 22, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/1915/01/28/archives/wilson-will-veto-immigration-bill-objects-to-literacy-test-for-new.html.


[1]“Lessons in an Unappealing Law,” Harvard Gazette, October 11, 2013, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/10/lessons-in-an-unappealing-law/.

[2]Douglas C. Baynton, Defectives in the Land: Disability and Immigration in the Age of Eugenics, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2016).

[3]Jay Dolmage, Disabled Upon Arrival: Eugenics, Immigration, and the Construction of Race and Disability, (Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press, 2018).

[4]John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002).

[5]Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004).

[6]Steven A. Farber, “U.S. Scientists’ Role in the Eugenics Movement (1907–1939): A Contemporary Biologist’s Perspective,” Zebrafish 5, no. 4 (December 2008): 242–45.

[7]Michelle Chen, “Fit for Citizenship? The Eugenics Movement and Immigration Policy,” Dissent62, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 73–80.

[8]It’s worth mentioning that my access to Laughlin primary sources was limited by the fact that most of them are not available online, but rather, kept in storage boxes at Truman State University where he and his father worked as professors. Still, I made great use of eugenicsarchive.com, which is a legitimate web source run by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory with scanned documents from the treasure trove known as the “Harry H. Laughlin Papers.”

[9]Rachel Gur-Arie, “Harry Hamilton Laughlin,” in Embryo Project(Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University, December 19, 2014), https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/harry-hamilton-laughlin-1880-1943.

[10]P. K. Wilson, “Harry Laughlin’s Eugenic Crusade to Control the ‘Socially Inadequate’ in Progressive Era America,” Patterns of Prejudice36, no. 1 (January 1, 2002): 49–67, https://doi.org/10.1080/003132202128811367.

[11]Richard Robinson, “Mendel, Gregor,” in Genetics, ed. Richard Robinson, vol. 3 (New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003), 30–32.

[12]Gur-Arie, “Harry Hamilton Laughlin”

[13]Harry H. Laughlin, “Report of the Committee to Study and to Report on the Best Practical Means of Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the American Population: The Scope of the Committee’s Work” (Long Island, NY: Eugenics Record Office, February 1914).

[14]Harry H. Laughlin and Chicago Municipal Court. Psychiatric Institute, Eugenical Sterilization in the United States(Chicago, IL: Psychopathic Laboratory of the Municipal Court of Chicago, 1922).

[15]“Wilson Will Veto Immigration Bill; Objects to Literacy Test for New Citizens, as President Taft Did. May Be Passed over Veto. Literacy Test Had Big Majority in Both Houses — Rejection Message Goes to Congress Today,” The New York Times, January 28, 1915, https://www.nytimes.com/1915/01/28/archives/wilson-will-veto-immigration-bill-objects-to-literacy-test-for-new.html.

[16]Alexander E. Cance et al., “Second Report of the Committee on Immigration of the Eugenics Section of the American Genetic Association,” Journal of Heredity5, no. 7 (July 1, 1914): 298, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.jhered.a107874.

[17]Henry B. Hemmenway, “Review and Criticism of the ERO’s Germ-Plasm Report,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology5, no. 4 (1914): 623–626.

[18]Harry H. Laughlin, “Biological Aspects of Immigration,” § Committee on Immigration and Naturalization (April 16-17, 1920), http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/image_header.pl?id=1113&printable=1&detailed=0.

[19]Harry H. Laughlin, “The Socially Inadequate: How Shall We Designate and Sort Them?” American Journal of Sociology27, no. 1 (July 1921): 68.

[20]Harry H. Laughlin, “Classification Standards Pamphlet” (Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, January 1, 1922), http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/image_header.pl?id=1179&printable=1&detailed=0.

[21]U.S. Public Health Service, “Regulations Governing the Medical Inspection of Aliens, August 1917” (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917), 24-25, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/nnc1.cu16909640.

[22]Harry H. Laughlin, “Analysis of America’s Modern Melting Pot” (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, November 21, 1922), http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015037355750.

[23]Harry H. Laughlin, “Analysis of America’s Modern Melting Pot,” 755.

[24]Harry H. Laughlin, “Europe as an Emigrant-Exporting Continent and the United States as an Immigrant-Receiving Nation” (1924) 1231-1232, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.c063885764.

[25]Irving Fisher, “Letter from Fisher to Laughlin about Cheever’s Attack on Laughlin’s Analysis,” April 9, 1924, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1171.html.

[26]Harry H. Laughlin, “Letter from Laughlin to Irving Fisher about Statistical Criticisms,” April 11, 1924, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1172.html.

[27]Charles B. Davenport, “Letter from Davenport to Barker Concerning Baltimore Sun Writer’s Criticisms of Statistics in Relation to Quota System,” April 18, 1924,http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1174.html.

[28]“Inventor’s Foreign Ancestry Studied,” Baltimore Evening Sun, 1927, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1210.html.

[29]“Alien Ancestry of Inventors Is Studied by U.S.,” Science Service, November 2, 1927, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1208.html.

[30]John Browning, “Browning Arms Company Letter to Laughlin about Research Study on Immigration,” September 2, 1927, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/view_image.pl?id=1204.

[31]Harry H. Laughlin, “Index of Inventiveness,” 1931, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1220.html.

[32]William C. Bruce, “C. Bruce Letter to H. Laughlin Objecting to the Racial Descent Study of U.S. Senators,” February 5, 1927, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1215.html.

[33]Harry H. Laughlin, “Laughlin Response to C. Bruce’s Objections to the Racial Descent Study of U.S. Senators,” February 23, 1927, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1216.html.

[34]Harry H. Laughlin, “Laughlin’s Letter to Baltimore Sun about Getting Data on C. Bruce for Racial Descent Study of U.S. Senators,” March 28, 1927, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/1217.html.