George William Hunter’s “Civic Biology” — the Eugenics Textbook at the Heart of the ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’

The so-called ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ was a media sensation at the time, but how it actually went down was shamelessly skewed afterwards to make it seem that the evolutionists were humble seekers of truth and those who stood against them ignorant, religious bigots.  This viewpoint was perpetuated effectively through movies on the trial such as Inherit the Wind.  To say that the movie distorted the facts is an understatement.  What few realize is that in the 1920s, Darwinism was intricately tied to the eugenics movement, which was in its full flower.  The Nazis had only just come into being–their rise to power would come a decade later and their ‘eugenic’ abuses still later than that.  Eugenics was considered a respectable way of looking at things, as inescapably true and valid as evolution itself.  To appreciate this fact, consider some of these quotes from the science book that John Scopes was actually using for teaching evolution in his science classroom.  All of the following are actual quotes from George William Hunter’s Civic Biology, a mainstream reputable science textbook in America at the time.  Ask yourself, dear reader, if you would like to see this taught in your classroom today!  (As an important aside, many of the people who testified on behalf of the theory of evolution at the request of Clarence Darrow were, you guessed it, eugenicists. [Example])

When you read these quotes, remember, this is what was actually taught in an American–not a Nazi–classroom.


George William Hunter — Civic Biology — 1914 —  [Source]

(Pages 195-196 in the section “Evolution”)

Man’s Place in Nature. Although we know that man is separated mentally by a wide gap from all other animals, in our study of physiology we must ask where we are to place man. If we attempt to classify man, we see at once he must be placed with the vertebrate animals because of his possession of a vertebral column. Evidently, too, he is a mammal, because the young are nourished by milk secreted by the mother and because his body has at least a partial covering of hair. Anatomically we find that we must place man with the apelike mammals, because of these numerous points of structural likeness. The group of mammals which includes the monkeys, apes, and man we call the primates.

Although anatomically there is a greater difference between the lowest type of monkey and the highest type of ape than there is between the highest type of ape and the lowest savage, yet there is an immense mental gap between monkey and man.

Instincts. Mammals are considered the highest of vertebrate animals, not only because of their complicated structure, but because their instincts are so well developed. Monkeys certainly seem to have many of the mental attributes of man.

 Evolution of Man. Undoubtedly there once lived upon the earth races of men who were much lower in their mental organization than the present inhabitants. If we follow the early history of man upon the earth, we find that at first he must have been little better than one of the lower animals. He was a nomad, wandering from place to place, feeding upon whatever living things he could kill with his hands. Gradually he must have learned to use weapons, and thus kill his prey, first using rough stone implements for this purpose. As man became more civilized, implements of bronze and of iron were used. About this time the subjugation and domestication of animals began to take place. Man then began to cultivate the fields, and to have a fixed place of abode other than a cave. The beginnings of civilization were long ago, but even today the earth is not entirely civilized.

The Races of Man. At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.

(Pages 251ff, in the section “Heredity and Variation”)

Improvement of Man. If the stock of domesticated animals  can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor  of the future generations of men and women on the earth might  not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This  improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which we as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.

Personal Hygiene. In the first place, good health is the one  greatest asset in life. We may be born with a poor bodily machine,  but if we learn to recognize its defects and care for it properly,  we may make it do its required work effectively. If certain muscles  are poorly developed, then by proper exercise we may make them  stronger. If our eyes have some defect, we can have it remedied  by wearing glasses. If certain drugs or alcohol lower the efficiency  of the machine, we can avoid their use. With proper care a poorly  developed body may be improved and do effective work.

Eugenics. When people marry there are certain things that  the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be  handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread  disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it  is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The  science of being well born is called eugenics.

The Jukes. Studies have been made on a number of different  families in this country, in which mental and moral defects were  present in one or both of the original parents. The “Jukes ”  family is a notorious example. The first mother is known as   “Margaret, the mother of criminals.” In seventy-five years the  progeny of the original generation has cost the state of New York  over a million and a quarter of dollars, besides giving over to the care of prisons and asylums considerably over a hundred feeble  minded, alcoholic, immoral, or criminal persons. Another case  recently studied is the ” Kallikak ” family.

This family has  been traced back to the War of the Revolution, when a young  soldier named Martin Kallikak seduced a feeble-minded girl.

 *The name Kallikak is fictitious.  See  Charles Davenport for more information. [editor]

 She had a feeble-minded son from whom there have been to the  present time 480 descendants. Of these 33 were sexually immoral,  24 confirmed drunkards, 3 epileptics, and 143 feeble-minded. The  man who started this terrible line of immorality and feeble-mindedness later married a normal Quaker girl. From this couple a line  of 496 descendants have come, with no cases of feeble-mindedness.  The evidence and the moral speak for themselves !

Parasitism and its Cost to Society. Hundreds of families  such as those described above exist to-day, spreading disease,  immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to  society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals  or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families  have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others  by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually  protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely  for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from  society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

The Remedy. If such people were lower animals, we would  probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity  will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the  sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing  intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and  degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried success fully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.

Blood Tells. Eugenics show us, on the other hand, in a study  of the families in which are brilliant men and women, the fact that  the descendants have received the good inheritance from their ancestors. The following, taken from Davenport’s Heredity in Relation to Eugenics, illustrates how one family has been famous  in American History.

In 1667 Elizabeth Tuttle, “of strong will, and of extreme  intellectual vigor, married Richard Edwards of Hartford, Conn.,  a man of high repute and great erudition. From their one son descended another son, Jonathan Edwards, a noted divine, and  president of Princeton College. Of the descendants of Jonathan  Edwards much has been written ; a brief catalogue must suffice :  Jonathan Edwards, Jr., president of Union College; Timothy Dwight, president of Yale ; Sereno Edwards Dwight, president of  Hamilton College; Theodore Dwight Woolsey, for twenty-five  years president of Yale College ; Sarah, wife of Tapping Reeve, founder of Litchfield Law School, herself no mean lawyer ; Daniel  Tyler, a general in the Civil War and founder of the iron indus tries of North Alabama ; Timothy Dwight, second, president of  Yale University from 1886 to 1898 ; Theodore William Dwight,  founder and for thirty-three years warden of Columbia Law  School ; Henrietta Frances, wife of Eli Whitney, inventor of the  cotton gin, who, burning the midnight oil by the side of her ingenious husband, helped him to his enduring fame ; Merrill Edwards  Gates, president of Amherst College; Catherine Maria Sedgwick of graceful pen; Charles Sedgwick Minot, authority on  biology and embryology in the Harvard Medical School ; Edith  Kermit Carow, wife of Theodore Roosevelt ; and Winston Churchill,  the author of Coniston and other well-known novels.”   [editor:  Clarence Davenport]

Of the daughters of Elizabeth Tuttle distinguished descendants  also came. Robert Treat Paine, signer of the Declaration of  Independence; Chief Justice of the United States Morrison R.  Waite ; Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland, presidents of the  United States. These and many other prominent men and women  can trace the characters which enabled them to occupy the positions of culture and learning they held back to Elizabeth Tuttle.

Euthenics. Euthenics, the betterment of the environment,  is another important factor in the production of a stronger race.  The strongest physical characteristics may be ruined if the surroundings are unwholesome and unsanitary. The slums of a city are  “at once symptom, effect, and cause of evil.” A city which allows foul tenements, narrow streets, and crowded slums to exist will spend too much for police protection, for charity, and for  hospitals.

Every improvement in surroundings means improvement of the  chances of survival of the race. In the spring of 1913 the health  department and street-cleaning department of the city of New  York cooperated to bring about a ” clean up ” of all filth, dirt, and  rubbish from the houses, streets, and vacant lots in that city. During the summer of 1913 the health department reported a smaller  percentage of deaths of babies than ever before. We must draw  our own conclusions. Clean streets and houses, clean milk and  pure water, sanitary housing, and careful medical inspection all do their part in maintaining a low rate of illness and death, thus  reacting upon the health of the citizens of the future. It will be the purpose of the following pages to show how we may best care for our own bodies and how We may better the environment in which we are placed.

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  1. […] Davis, I suspect Swamidass is ignorant of the entire story associated with the Scopes Monkey Trial. Here is one place to broaden that understanding of the battle being waged in that case. At any rate, he […]

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