Eugenics and Education

The Eugenics Movement affected the education system in Britain, and to some extent we can see patterns of it in policy even today.

Francis Galton believed that there was a hierarchy of society, and where you were reflected your intelligence. Those in the upper echelons of society were intelligent and had great worth to society. On the other hand, the lower classes were lacking in intelligence and of little use to society. He gathered statistics on memory, perception, and imagination, using them to define what ‘normal’ was. He was then able to determine how many people should be at each level of ‘mental ability’. These were then placed into various Education Acts throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The 1851 census gathered data on those who were deaf, dumb, and blind, but by 1871 this also included those who were classed as imbeciles and idiots. These changes were reflective of all aspects of society.

With the introduction of the 1870 Forster Education Act and the Education (Scotland) Act 1872, a link was created between teachers’ salaries and pupil results. Along with this, it also gave schools the ability to determine whether children were ‘ineducable’ and therefore could be excluded from education. This supported teachers who struggled to teach certain children, keeping their salaries low, but also meant that those excluded would have no education at all.

In 1886, The Idiots Act, created a definition between idiots and imbeciles. This led to the Departmental Committee on Defective and Epileptic Children. The Committee claimed that imbeciles would need placing in an asylum, and those who were feeble-minded could attend special schools. Those defined as idiots remained outside of education. Schools employed Medical Officers to determine what diagnosis a child should have and therefore whether they should be educated in schools or not.

The Egerton Report on the Royal Commission on the Blind, the Deaf and the Dumb of the United Kingdom, 1889, suggested a system whereby children who were blind and deaf, in any capacity, would have to have separate classes. In Central Scotland, these children were still educated in mainstream classes.

1893 Elementary Education (Deaf and Blind) Children Act implemented the Egerton Report suggestion of teaching children with disabilities in different classes. This was followed up by the Defective and Epileptic Children Act of 1899 which implemented special schools and classes for defective children, up to the age of 16. The idea being they would produce unskilled male labour and domestic workers, so they need not have any formal education.

By 1904, it became clear to certain people that there needed to be a formal test to determine mental capacity, rather than a doctor’s diagnosis. Alfred Binet came up with the Binet-Simon test, were they determined what score ‘normal’ children would have and then create a mental age.

This was expanded in 1910, by Stanford University’s Louis Terman. The Stanford-Binet test created the idea that by taking the mental age and dividing it by the child’s chronological age, which was then multiplied by 100, the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of a child could be calculated.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the 1902 Balfour Education Act created Local education Authorities, responsible for the schools, as well as specialist schools. The 1908 Royal Commission on the Feeble-minded, took their cue from the eugenicists, claiming that these children had inherited their feeble-mindedness. Those responsible for these children led lives of criminality, promiscuity and were degenerates. Sir James Crichton-Browne claimed that they were ‘our social rubbish [who] should be swept up and garnered and utilised as far as possible.’ The difficulty was, for those who wished to do this, that they apparently masqueraded as normal people and could not be picked out by sight. The Commission stated that these children were unfit for life, and therefore be placed into institutions. This also suited the idea that the family had created the problem, withdrawing them from it would be best policy. They also were not fit to have an education so should be excluded from it.

This was formalised in the 1913 Moral Deficiency Act, which allowed the LEA to determine who were the ‘moral defectives’, those that were idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded and create special schools for them, one was called the Colony for Mental Defectives. Eugenicists wanted the Act to go further and prohibit marriage between defectives. However, this was not included, though anyone who was caught having sex outside marriage was classed as mentally defective, then sent to a residential home.

The first child psychologist in the UK, Cyril Burt, collected data on twins and by using IQ tests confirmed that intelligence was inherited. He created a test that could determine whether a borderline child was deficient or not. The test took just six minutes, and it was later discovered the data he collected was fraudulent, created to fit in with his personal views.

The 1914 Act was never implemented due to the war, but it would have allowed LEAs to send any physically disabled child to the same place as those who were considered mentally defective. The 1918 Education Act made the education of ‘physically defective’ children compulsory, so they could no longer be out of the system.

Recording of the feeble-minded, defective, and backward, as well as those who were blind, deaf, mentally epileptic, and mentally defective, was made compulsory by the 1921 Education Act. By the 1927 Mental Deficiency Act, most of these children were placed into institutions.

Though the Eugenics movement did not have as much support as in other countries, such as Nazi Germany, during the 1920s and 1930s they did have a following. Ernest William McBride, of the Eugenics Education Society, was also Professor of Zoology at Imperial College, London, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1929, he wrote in the Eugenics Review:

‘The slums of Liverpool and Glasgow are being filled with a stunted population of so-called Celts from Wales and Ireland, really belonging to the Mediterranean race. They have a low standard of life and breed like rabbits, and under sentimental notions now in fashion the Nordic element [English and Scots] is called on to support them and thus indirectly contribute to its own undoing. The great problem of eugenics, in my view, is fundamentally racial: the breeding of mental defectives, deaf mutes, etc., is bad; but such mutations at worst from a small proportion of the population – and tend in the long run to die out. The real problem is to seek means to prevent the higher racial elements from being swamped by the lower.’

The Wood Committee Report, of 1929, defined the boundaries of IQ test results. Those scoring under 20 were classed as Idiots, Imbeciles had an IQ of between 20-50, with the Feeble-minded with an IQ of 60 or more. This last one was re-categorised as including the dull and backward and increased to an IQ of 70 or more.

During the years of the Depression, the most important category was that of being ‘fully human’, as they would be the ones who could be useful to society. Special schools were under utilised as people did not like the stigma attached to them.

During the war it was determined as necessary to create a three-tier system of grammar schools, secondary modern and technical colleges. The Butler Act of 1944 used IQ tests, in the form of the 11+, to determine which school children should be sent to, based on the tests designed in 1910. This was a way of keeping as many children as possible in the mainstream education system. What it created was a system were those who had most value to society where placed into grammar schools, the rest distributed between the secondary modern, and what technical colleges existed. The curriculum for them were completely different and girls were disadvantaged by quotas, at grammar schools, to ensure they did not outnumber the boys. This continued in some areas until the 1980s. The Act also defined 11 categories of deficiencies. These were the blind; diabetic; partially sighted; educationally subnormal; deaf; epileptic; partially hearing; maladjusted; delicate; physically handicapped; and speech defective. These categories would then determine how the children would be treated for educational purposes. Most ended up in segregated schools which were not allowed to take the 11+ and had a record of poor education. There was no opportunity for them to develop.

In 1947 there were 12,060 children in subnormal schools, by 1955 this shot up to 22,639, with 12,000 on the waiting lists and another 27,000 waiting a final diagnosis. This equated to 10% of the school population.

The Crowther Report on the Central Advisory Council for Education in 1959, believed that girls were genetically built for marriage and homemaking. This led to schools creating a special curriculum based on domestic science and childcare, with boys having more technical subjects such as woodwork. This continued right through until the National Curriculum was introduced in 1988. Poor children were genetically unable to cope with academic subjects, so those of the secondary modern and technical colleges tended to be more practical subjects. University for these children was not even considered a possibility. This tied in with the 1963 Newton Report which said that education needed to be more relevant to the requirements of the children.

The 1970 Education (Handicapped Children Act) and the 1974 Education (Mentally Handicapped Children) (Scotland), stated that all children should receive an education. The Local Education Authorities were responsible in providing a comprehensive system to be able to do this. The three-tier system of lower, middle, and upper schools was the response, with grammar schools falling out of favour for being elitist, and not benefitting all children. This was under the Labour government, which led to a campaign by Conservatives believing that the poor of the working class (Labour voters’ children) would hold back and diminish the intelligence of the intelligent children (Conservative voters’ children). The basis being the idea that working-class children were physically and mentally deficient compared to their middle-class counterparts.

By the time of the Warnock Report in 1978, 40% of schools had special classes. The Report determined the need for terms to be used as descriptive, rather than for classification of a child’s condition. It also suggested that special classes should be flexible in approach, as children should only use them when needed. The needs of the child were being considered as the main reason for the help and support given.

This came into force under the 1981 Education Act, but by 1987 a greater percentage of pupils were in special schools than in the 1950s.

By 1988 and the introduction of the National Curriculum, schools were treated as a business. Though the National Curriculum was based on attainment for all, the introduction of League Tables, in the Act, created a school market.

Creating a marketplace and instigating performance related pay, are not much different to the conditions of the 1870s. With comments on the restrictions of the curriculum, and now University degrees, who is it actually benefitting? It seems more of a backward step than a future development. Who can say what children of the future will go onto be once they have left school and University? They certainly cannot.

Sadly, it shows that 140 years later, education is still based more on economic policy than education policy. Only those who can pass a restrictive curriculum are any value to society. Though not eugenics in name, the rhetoric is incredibly similar.



Race and Eugenics

This particular piece of writing has been quite a few years in the making. I first encountered the Eugenics Movement when studying about inclusion in education, which I have written about here. Following that I studied European Identities as part of my degree and started to come across the same ideas. It is something we do not teach, that we do not even consider it a lot of the time. Adam Rutherford has written ‘How to Argue with a Racist’ on the science behind the Eugenics Movement, and how it relates to racism today. This is a brief history behind that movement, and what implications it has had on race and European and American lives.


We always consider that the Enlightenment movement was just that, a way of thinking that changed our perspective, and that drove the abolition of slavery. However, that is just one side of it. Enlightenment was about the freedom of expression, and supposedly about tolerance. Enlightened thinkers believed that the past was about prejudice and irrational behaviour and wanted that to change, but that was only some of them.

Rousseau wrote in his Discourse (1754) that Europe ‘was more continuously and better civilised than other parts of the world’. This was the view that became prevalent, that those of a different nation or colour had failed to progress and had not formed a civilised society. In 1795, in his conclusion of Sketch, Condorcet wrote ‘[S]urvey the history of our settlements and commercial undertakings in Africa or Asia, and you will see our trade monopolies, our treachery, our murderous contempt for men of another colour or creed.’ Rosseau also created the idea that there were distinct human races. This was continued with the Theory of Progress, in which man could improve the world, and the Theory of Evolution.

Origin of Species

Darwin’s idea of evolution is still studied in schools today, I was teaching it a couple of weeks ago. What is not taught is the unintended consequence of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

In 1859, Darwin published his Origin of Species, which Darwin only used to categorise plants and animals, not humans. These ideas led to Social Darwinism, that those who do the best are the fittest and that there was little point in doing anything for those who did not fit into that category. Social Darwinism and social reform are linked, but only from the viewpoint that reform for people in the lower rankings was not worth the time and the effort.

Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, was also a scientist and on reading Darwin’s book he set about investigating human development. In 1871, Darwin mentions Galton several times in his book on The Descent of Man, which he claims humans were part of natural selection, mainly through sexual activity.

Galton believed in the idea that you could improve human “stock” by controlled breeding, as you would farm animals and racehorses. Of course, it would not be any old stock but those who were classed as worthy ‘eminent men are naturally superior and […] superior men are naturally eminent’ (Miller, 1962). These were what the Americans would later describe as ‘Anglo-Saxon, Nordic types.’


In 1873, Galton wrote to The Times espousing that Africa should be left to the Chinese, that they should alter ‘and finally displace’ the native African. The Chinese were considered far more productive and committed than the work-shy and useless African. A little while later he wrote in Fraser’s Magazine that there was a genetic underclass which needed to be bred out of society. Soon his ideas would travel across the Atlantic.

In 1894, the Immigration Restriction League was founded in America. They believed that immigrants were diluting the Anglo-Saxon heritage of the American stock and wanted a literacy test for all immigrants. The belief was that immigrants were poorly educated and not intelligent enough to pass the tests so would not be allowed in the country. The Bill was overruled on a number of occasions, until it was finally passed in 1917.

In 1902, Galton was awarded the Darwin Award by the Royal Society, as well as made an Honorary Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1909 he was awarded a knighthood. This was not only for his work on eugenics, sadly this has overshadowed his amazing life as a scientist. His supporters for eugenics included H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, as well as some who we would now consider social reformers such as the Webbs.

In 1904, Galton created a research fellowship at UCL. This was followed soon after by the creation in Berlin of the German Society for Race Hygiene, who were staunch supporters of Galton. Galton appointed Karl Pearson as the Director of the Eugenics Record Office in London. The Record Office stored thousands of pedigrees of suitable people, and this was followed up by Offices in Germany, Canada and America in 1911.

In 1906, J.H. Kellogg created the Race Betterment Foundation, and at the same time The American Breeders Association was also founded. This was for breeding of humans, not animals.

The creation of the Eugenics Education Society (EES), in 1907, was hoped to run alongside Pearson and the Record Office. Pearson though, was not as extreme in his thinking, and diverged from the EES.

Galton died in 1911, but his legacy of eugenics lived on.

The Liberal government and the start of the welfare state, in Britain, stopped the Eugenics Movement taking hold except in 1931, when the first compulsory sterilisation act was put forward, but never passed.

Thirty-two American states had sterilisation programmes for ‘undesirables.’ These included immigrants, people of colour, the poor, unmarried mothers, the disabled and mentally ill as well as Native Americans. California was so successful in its programme that a man called Adolf Hitler copied some of their ideas into his own vision of the perfect Aryan.

After 1924, Americans became concerned about the ‘inferior stock’ coming from Eastern and Southern Europe, so a hierarchy of nationalities was created of those welcome in the country. The top included anyone of Anglo-Saxon or Nordic descent, with those from China and Japan at the bottom.

The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring was created by the Nazi party in 1933. This prevented children being born to people with certain medical conditions, it is estimated that 400,000 sterilizations were carried out.

1935 saw the Nazi party introduce the Marital Health Law, which made marriage between those who were healthy, and those who were genetically unfit, illegal. The same year saw the Nazi Blood Protection Law introduced which made marriage between Jews and non-German Jews a criminal offence. Followed by the Reich Central Office for Combating Homosexuality and Abortion, the year after.

In 1938, The Euthanasia Society of America was started, but luckily did not take off and ideas of segregation and sterilisation were the preferred methods.

Between 1939 and 1940, 140,000 physically and mentally disabled people were murdered by the Nazi Party, in Germany. The period of 1941-1945 saw six million Jews murdered; 1.8-3 million Poles; 5.7 million Soviet Civilians; 2.8 million – 3.3 million Soviet POWs; 300,000-600,000 Serbs; 270,000 disabled; 130,000-500,000 Romanies; 80,000-200,000 Freemasons; 20,00-25,000 Slovenes; 5,000-15,000 Homosexuals; 3,500 Spanish Republicans; 1,250-5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was the extreme end of the Eugenics Movement, but it did not stop the movement from continuing.

Lower class whites, and all people of colour were determined as a risk to the breeding of the perfect Americans. There was a need to control those who were part Asian and part Mexican, and in the Southern States the need to control the reproduction of black African Americans. ‘Mississippi appendectomies’ was the name for the sterilisation of those who went in for simple appendectomies. Girls between the ages of nine and eighteen were sterilised as practice for medical students.

In the 1970s and 1980s appendectomies of Native American women also involved sterilisation. Between 1970 and 1976 in the region of 25-50% were sterilised in this way.

Between 2006 and 2010, 150 female inmates in Californian jails were sterilised without consent, because of their criminality.

The Eugenics Movement had such an impact on American society that in 2015 the Eugenics Compensation Act was passed. This allowed survivors of the Eugenics Movement to be financially compensated. In North Carolina they gave $35000 to 220 survivors, in Virginia the compensation amounted to $25000 each.

From the late nineteenth century and into the twenty-first century, eugenics has formed the basis of policy and political thinking across continents. This brief history is only a small part of what the Eugenics Movement has achieved.  From the poor to the disabled, those of colour, non-Christians, LGBT, we are still carrying on the myths created by the Movement back in the 1870s, and sadly, these ideas are still flourishing in some areas. When we finally recognise where the problem exists, it may be easier to stop it.

Archaeology in the history classroom

Archaeological Record

I am completely biased on this, as a community archaeologist I know what impact archaeology can have on the community, and how exciting it is to children! The archaeological record is a vital part of our heritage.

I think this often gets forgotten in the classroom setting. For our current Year 7’s, I compiled a series of lessons on the different aspects of archaeology, and how archaeologists help tell the real hidden stories of the world.

Before any archaeology company, or group, carries out excavation work, desktop assessments have to be carried out. These include mapping the area, as well as recording the information regarding each time period. These are called Written Schemes of Investigation (WSI). Due to the amount of building work, houses and infrastructure, the archaeology is changing the way that we view certain periods of history.

The archaeology tells us what the written records often can’t, about the daily lives of those throughout history. What they ate, the type of houses they lived in, how they were buried, to name just a few.

Archaeology doesn’t just happen in the UK, but across the world. In the last year archaeology has changed the view of the Ancient Maya, increased the amount of known Ancient Egyptian buildings along the Nile, found new African migration patterns during the early human period, and new DNA studies have shown contact between Ancient Polynesians and South Americans in 1200 AD, this is only a fraction of the new discoveries! These are all fantastic additions to ‘Meanwhile, Elsewhere’ and can easily be found online as archaeologists are always keen to share their findings on a global scale.

Contacting your local museum, or even searching online for the Heritage Environment Record (HER) for your area, can show information that will add greatly to local studies. These may be find spots, but will be able to tell you how far back your local history goes. My local written record only goes to the late Anglo-Saxons, our archaeology record goes back to the Mesolithic. Some of our local geophys shows the change from Iron Age building to Roman. With LIDaR freely available anyone can see what is hidden beneath their feet! Local Archaeology companies often do outreach. My Year 6’s and 7’s loved being able to touch Anglo-Saxon pottery, I am lucky enough to be custodian of my local archaeological group’s archive which often ‘visits’ our school. Some companies, and local archaeology groups, will even come and carry out a dig in your school (Covid-19 not withstanding). They will also come and give talks, adding to your cultural capital. There is so much that archaeology can add to your history lessons!


Newspapers and Parish Magazines

Researching local history can sometimes be a bit hit and miss. It can either lead to a fruitful abundance or leave you with nothing! This happened to me several times whilst doing my research, so I thought I would share how I found a solution.


I knew our village was a straw plait village. I had anecdotal evidence, the names were recorded in the census records, but there was nothing written down! My local archive had nothing for our village, so I felt like I was going to have to give up on a significant part of our village history of the Industrial Revolution. I started reading books and studies on the area, hoping to glean something, but the information was no different to what I already knew. I was almost going to give up hope when I decided to do a local newspaper search. I struck gold. I found myself researching crimes linked to the plaiting, details of the plait school contravention of the 1867 Factory Act, as well as a push towards a revival at the end of the nineteenth century. It became a very different story to the one I was going to tell originally, it gave me more depth and understanding. I have recently used this information to create a ‘Meanwhile, Nearby…..’.

Newspapers are a fantastic source of information. I use them all the time. They also reflect the different newspaper owners, very much like today. Some comparisons between how one paper reports to another is fascinating. Just as they are used today in teaching law and politics, they also have a place in the history classroom, vitally important if you are teaching local history.

Parish Magazines

Pre-Masters, whilst I was still doing my History degree, I was tasked with researching Emergency Planning. This involved a visit to the archive for a search of the Parish Council Minutes for WWI and WWII. It turned out to be a complete waste of time, there was barely any mention of the wars, except for complaints about the RAF men and the local village dances! I explained to the archivist what I wanted, and he didn’t seem surprised at all that my search had been fruitless! He suggested the Parish Magazines, disappeared and come out with two huge piles. As I went through them a new project started to take hold. The War Memorial was the only information that we had for those that served in WWI. Reading the Magazines I managed to get the names of more than 300 men that served. In most cases I also had details of which theatre of war they served in. It was also an almost complete history of the home front. Sadly, the magazines stopped in mid 1918, but the information prior to that was fantastic. I created a blog, with the plan of adding in WWII as well, but never quite got around to it. I researched some of the topics so I could understand better how the village’s home front fitted in with a more national picture. The site does need updating, though it does show how a project could work within a school.

Parish Magazines first started in 1859, with the Rev. John Erskine Clarke, the Vicar of St. Michael’s in Derby. By the end of the Victorian era they were widely used in dioceses across the country. The insert was generally mass produced and could contain anything from stories to recipes. In WWI and WWII, they also included information on air raid precautions and wartime recipes. The outside pages were devoted to the Parish. This was whatever information the person/s writing it wanted to include. Generally, this was parish news, connected to the church and school, births, deaths and marriages. Ours also included information about the local gentry, the Dispensary, and anything else the Vicar was involved in or had friends involved in. I am currently transcribing them so we can see the Victorian alterations of our Church ahead of works to repair, all painstakingly detailed in the magazines, as well as cost.

If you are struggling to find that piece of information, it is always worth asking the local records office if they have the Parish Magazines, you never know what it might lead to!