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Archives On The Air 215: Eugenics And Compulsory Sterilization—Paul Popenoe Papers

Before the Nazis made eugenics synonymous with ethnic cleansing, it was considered a viable tool for managing public health. In the early 20th century, applying eugenic methods such as forced sterilization was a way to improve the human race.

The theory was undesirable traits such as mental disabilities, criminality and promiscuity were hereditary. Adherents believed that removing these traits from the gene pool would better society.

Paul Popenoe was a major supporter. He had little medical training but that didn't stop him from referring to himself as "Dr. Popenoe" after receiving an honorary degree. In his view, anyone with an IQ below 70 should be sterilized, which he estimated was around 6 million people in the U.S.

After the Nazi atrocities of World War II came to light, public opinion turned against compulsory sterilization and American eugenics laws were struck down by courts.

Learn more in Paul Popenoe's papers at UW's UW American Heritage Center.