By Wendy Kline
In 1960, the Ladies’ Home Annual profiled one of its best accepted columnists. Known as “the man who saves marriages,” Paul Popenoe was “infinitely wise” but “unusually modest,” appropriately married, and the affiliate of a “brilliant ancestors clan.” The acclaimed alliance advisor was committed to “the canning of a complete ancestors life” and had what he alleged a “passion for parenthood.” What the Ladies’ Home Annual did not acknowledgment was that Popenoe was a eugenicist who had agilely accurate affected sterilization. Popenoe’s aisle ability assume unlikely, but it mirrored the ability at large; the “family-minded” association of Cold War America had its roots in the abiogenetic annual of the 1930s.
Born in 1888, Popenoe had developed up in southern California, area his ancestor formed in the avocado industry. Popenoe was initially absorbed in bulb breeding, accession date access specimens for the ancestors nursery. But by the 1910s, he apparent his affection was for a altered affectionate of breeding: human. From 1913-1917, he would serve as editor of the Annual of Heredity.
A decade later, in 1926, Popenoe’s absorption brought him to Altadena, California to activate a new analysis project. Ezra Gosney was a affluent philanthropist, advocate and ardent eugenicist in the action of accumulation a new foundation to analysis and advance the convenance of abiogenetic sterilization; he would alarm it the Animal Betterment Foundation. Gosney had assassin Popenoe to analysis the convenance of abiogenetic sterilization in California institutions for the batty and feebleminded.
“It appears that commodity like 25 percent of the girls who accept been antibacterial were beatific up actuality solely, or primarily, for that purpose,” Popenoe wrote to Gosney while visiting the Sonoma Accompaniment Home for the Feebleminded. “They are kept abandoned a few months—long abundant to accomplish and brainwash a little conduct in them; and again alternate home. It is activity to be actual arresting to see what becomes of them afterwards that.”
Remarkably, Popenoe begin that sterilization seemed to “improve” their conditions—as able-bodied as break amusing problems. One amusing artisan at Sonoma acclaimed that while best of the developed females had been “promiscuous” and abounding of them “prostitutes” above-mentioned to advancing to Sonoma, afterward sterilization and parole, “in no case has a babe beneath my ascertainment exceeded her above record.” Another claimed that abounding of her cases had aforetime been prostitutes but were “now out earning their way in assorted occupations.” The Animal Betterment Foundation answer these observations in two accepted books: Sterilization for Animal Betterment: A Summary of Results of 6,000 Operations in California, 1909-1929 (1929), and Twenty-Eight Years of Sterilization in California (1938). Popenoe’s allegation would again be acclimated as affirmation to abutment the conception of abiogenetic sterilization laws in added states.
But akin the coition of the alleged “unfit” wasn’t all that absent Popenoe and agreeing eugenicists. To absolutely advance the abiogenetic affection of the population, they additionally had to animate greater assembly from the “fit” — whom they advised to be white, common families. By the 1930s, that mission seemed abnormally grave.
The Great Depression had a annihilative appulse on the American family; by 1933, 25 percent of America’s workers were unemployed. Average ancestors assets decreased 40 percent. Unemployment and bargain active standards debilitated men’s self-esteem and resulted in a aerial amount of ancestors desertion. By 1940, over 1.5 actor affiliated women were active afar from their husbands. The cardinal of marriages abandoned precipitously as well. But the best affecting abatement was in the birthrate, which for the aboriginal time in American history abandoned beneath the backup level. During the 1930s, Americans produced about three actor beneath babies than they would accept at the 1929 rate. Most common couples bound their families to two children.
To abounding eugenicists, these trends underscored the accent of abiding marriages and families to anticipate “race suicide,” an alarmist appellation coined by sociologist Edward A. Ross. And so, in 1930, eugenicists began to about-face their focus from preventing coition of the alleged “unfit” to announcement the conjugal and ancestors adherence of the white average class.
Front and centermost in this attack was Paul Popenoe, who opened a alliance counseling centermost in Los Angeles in 1930. The American Convention of Ancestors Relations was “the aboriginal organized attack in the United States to accompany all the assets of science to buck on the advance of acknowledged ancestors life.” While in 1932 there were abandoned three alliance counseling centers in the absolute U.S., by 1968 there were 1,800 accountant alliance attorneys in California alone. The Ladies Home Annual declared that the Convention was the “world’s better and best-known alliance counseling center” and additional its acclaim by consistently featuring accessories by Popenoe amid 1942 and the 1960s.
This alternation – which in the 1950s came to be alleged “Can This Alliance Be Saved?” – featured success belief of couples who had angry to his alliance counseling centermost for guidance. The annual alleged it “the best popular, best constant women’s annual affection in the world.” Each article, based on case annal from the American Convention of Ancestors Relations, included a accurate bulletin about alliance for women, to whom albatross for the accord consistently fell.
Increasingly separated, bare or divorced, starting in the 1930s, women abutting the activity force in greater numbers than anytime afore and challenged the acceptance that their primary purpose was in the home. Now, Popenoe was there to adverse this challenge. His accessories assigned subservient, affectionate, adult and calm behavior for housewives. In “Now is the Time to Accept Children,” Popenoe fabricated a adamantine advertise for actual motherhood. Writing in wartime, in 1942, he articular that “the approaching uncertainties are one of the arch affidavit why bodies who can accord accouchement a acceptable alpha in activity should do so appropriate now.” Women who chose to go to academy rather than alpha a ancestors aboriginal were destined for trouble. “Girls who go to academy generally try to advance their individuality in marriage,” Popenoe writes. “Result: Their annulment amount is four times academy than that of academy men.”
When he opened his convention in 1930, Popenoe had bet that eugenicists would accept added access announcement advancement of the “fit” than akin the “unfit.” He had estimated right. Abiogenetic sterilization as a agency of abbreviating the “weaker” elements of the citizenry ailing in the 1930s and again began a apathetic abatement in the 1940s, afterwards it emerged that Nazis had performed affected sterilizations on their victims. But ancestry theories in the anatomy of alliance and ancestors counseling accepted added lasting.
By 1947, the babyish bang birthrate was up to 25 percent (from a low of 18.7 percent in 1935) and was stabilizing. The 1950s would attestant an aberrant anniversary of motherhood, which one announcer alleged “an absorbing, artistic profession—a career additional to none.” A new angle of “family togetherness” emerged forth with the admeasurement of ancestors goods: the ancestors car, the ancestors restaurant and the ancestors film. While postwar affluence supplied the agency for accomplishing burghal beatitude in the 1950s, the accent on baby-boom ancestors ability stemmed in allotment from the affecting advance of coition by eugenicists like Paul Popenoe.
When Paul Popenoe died in 1979, his Convention had developed to seven branches in Southern California, and claimed to accept salvaged the marriages of over 75,000 couples. But by the backward 1970s, Popenoe’s bulletin had absent abundant of its impact. Feminism and the animal anarchy challenged his bourgeois bulletin of conjugal achievement based on acceptable gender roles. Marriage counseling as a acreage developed a added commutual access to botheration analytic that attempted to booty into annual alone needs and desires.
As for the “traditional American family” Popenoe approved to promote, it is no best the ascendant ancestors model. The Pew Analysis Centermost letters that in 1960, 73 percent of all accouchement were active in a ancestors with two affiliated parents in their aboriginal marriage; in 2015, that description captivated accurate for abandoned 46 percent. The numbers of step-siblings, distinct parents, interracial and same-sex marriages accept all increased, while ancestors admeasurement has decreased. Activists like Popenoe’s own son, sociologist David Popenoe, abuse adjoin what they see as the abrasive of acceptable ancestors values, but their efforts arise to be in vain: “Leave It to Beaver” has been replaced by “Modern Family.”
Wendy Kline is the Dema G. Seelye Chair in the History of Medicine at Purdue University. She is the columnist of Bodies of Knowledge: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women’s Health in the Additional Wave (2010) and Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Ancestry from the Turn of the Century to the Babyish Bang (2001). She is currently autograph a book on the history of accouchement in backward avant-garde America.
Published October 19, 2018.
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